WHO IS LAUGHING?

Social media is a major force in our world. In general, I am not a great user of it, though. I know that there are some real possibilities for the church in social media and if I were at a different stage in my ministry, I might be more interested. But truthfully, beyond this blog, I don’t have a very large social media presence.

I am, however, a consumer of social media to some extent. There are a few blogs that I read regularly and many others that I check now and then. And, I have to confess to a growing addiction to YouTube, an addiction that began during the difficult time a few years ago when I was between jobs and somewhat depressed about being between jobs. It isn’t a debilitating addiction—I haven’t missed work because of it and don’t skimp on sermon preparation to watch but it has become a part of my life.

I have learned some things from YouTube—my attempt to put ceramic tile on a wall succeeded because of a YouTube video, with a little help from a TV home improvement program as well. But mostly, I watch because I find the videos funny or because they deal with stuff I am interested in. But I am also troubled by what I see, not because the videos reveal anything I didn’t know but because of something I do know but which seems heightened by the availability of social media.

We human beings are cruel and nasty and self-centered. And thanks to social media, we get to share our cruelty and nastiness and self-centeredness with the whole world, or at least that part of the world who chooses to go online. It may be just the videos that I choose to watch but it seems to me that a high proportion of social media videos involve people being put down or tricked or harmed—but since it is supposed to be a joke, they are not supposed to be upset.

What bothers me even more, I think, is the fact the people want to share the evidence of this cruelty, nastiness and self-centeredness so openly. It seems like we want attention so much that we will do anything to get it—and if that anything involves something that is less than flattering about someone else, no problem. Even worse, the victims of many of the cruel, nasty and self-centered stuff seem as happy to get the attention as the perpetrator.

I am probably showing my age and am probably sounding like a grumpy old man but I am troubled by the attitudes and actions I sometimes see. When attention comes at the cost of the dignity and value of an individual, it is really worth it? Is getting the social media spotlight on me worth degrading myself or others? As troubling as it seems to me, the answer appears to be yes for many people—getting views justifies whatever.

And truthfully, we can’t actually blame social media. People have always been willing to use others to get attention for themselves. The stories of what we did or said to so and so have always been told—over campfires, over coffee, over a beer, over a tea, in the kitchen, in the living room, in the church foyer. All social media has done is give us access to a larger audience, giving us more attention and making our cruelty, nastiness and self-centeredness evident to many more people. What might have gone no further than the kitchen table now circles the world endlessly.

I am not going to stop social media—truthfully, I am not even going to stop watching YouTube. I doubt very much if I can reform human nature enough to keep the cruel, nasty and self-centered out of social media. As human beings we are loving, caring and considerate—and we are also cruel, nasty and self-centered. All of us are a blend of both. But in the end, the more we feed and encourage the dark side of our natures, the worse it is for us, others and the world in general because “… those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.” (Job 4.8 NIV)

May the peace of God be with you.

Advertisements

HOW FAR?

I am a pastor, a person called by God to help others find and understand the love of God.  I teach, I preach, I counsel and go to a lot of meetings, some of which actually have a point.  And in the course of  all that activity, I encounter a lot of people–even as the pastor of small congregations in a rural area, I encounter a lot of people.

Some of these people are church people, people who are kind and loving and accepting and could be referred to as the “salt of the earth”.  Others, well, others are somewhat less likable–and a few are incredibly easy to dislike.  Some are comfortable to be around; some are okay for a while; a few I prefer to avoid if I can and there are a few who create a bit of fear in me when I encounter them.

But I am a pastor and part of my job is a commitment to serving God through serving people.  But every now and then, I have to deal with the issue of just how far I am supposed to go in dealing with people.  Sometimes, the problem comes in the way the person treats me–while it isn’t common, I have come across people who insult me, want to dominate me or who threaten me in some way shape of form.  More often, the problem comes about when I realize that the person I am encountering has been guilty of some particular behaviour.

For example, because of my work with victims of childhood sexual abuse, I tend to seriously dislike people who sexually abuse children.  I am sure that God loves them–but I generally find it difficult to be around them, let alone minister to them.  My response comes from years and years of listening to the pain and hurt and struggles of people trying to re-create a life seriously damaged by abuse.  When I am around such people, I tend to be angry and judgemental.

There are other people who react to other things.  On a somewhat regular basis, I talk to people in the church who wonder if it is possible for us to do something about so and so, who says/does/did/ might do that thing that really upsets them.  At least once, I had a church member suggest that it might be better if I didn’t make a pastoral visit to a family because, well, “they” were “like that”.

How far does tolerance, acceptance and Christian love go?  When do people cross the line that separates being included in God’s command to love from the legitimate withholding of that love?  I know, I know–the Gospel message is for all people, no matter who they are and what they have done.  Jesus came to rescue all people, including whichever group I happen to be having problems with at any given time.

But does God expect the same limitlessness love from me?  Do I have to minister to the child abuser?  Do I have to welcome “those” people into the church I pastor?  Do I have to defend them from the sanctified abuse the church sometimes likes to dish out to those who break the rules?

What does God expect of me?  Well, he does expect me to push my limits.  He does expect me to follow him into the places and to the people I would prefer to ignore or condemn.  He does call me to challenge my positions and bring them into congruence with his positions.

That is painful, difficult, frustrating, scary.  It also produces serious anger.  But in the end, it is part of my commitment to the faith.  I wish I could conclude this blog by saying that I have overcome all the limits and love everyone as God loves them and calls me to love them.  But I am trying to be as honest as possible in this writing and so the best I can say is that God’s grace is at work and he is patiently working with me.  I know that because there are a couple of people I know who have abused children whom I see on a semi-regular basis.  God is working in me and helping me learn how my faith needs to help shape loving response to them.  It isn’t easy–but it is coming.

I am glad that God’s love is not limited by my limits.

May the peace of God be with you.

SEARCHING FOR PERFECTION

One of the constant realities of my work as a pastor is the connections I have made with victims of childhood abuse.  As I have worked with people who have suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse during their early years, I have become deeply aware of how painful and traumatic such abuse is.  It can and does affect an individual for the rest of their lives.  It affects the ability to form healthy relationships; it affects the ability to develop healthy self-esteem; it may even affect the ability to live a long life.

Any kind of abuse at any age is wrong and evil.  And for that reason, I am hopeful about the developing trend for abuse victims to feel able to report their abuse and name names.  As long as abusers of any kind can do their evil without fear of the consequences, abuse will flourish.  Fear of being named may not change an abuser’s basic drives but it might prevent at least some of them some from abusing some people some of the time–and while that may not seem like a great victory, it is a victory for the potential victim who doesn’t get abused.

So, my hope and prayer is that our culture continues this recent trend to empower victims of all kinds of abuse to speak out.  Evil flourishes when it is hidden in the dark–shining light in the dark corners of life is a positive and powerful force that benefits everyone.   Taking away the power that fear and concealment provide to abusers and giving it to those who need protection from abuse is an essential part of changing our world.

But I have to say that I do find one part of the developing process interesting, at least from a theological point of view.  While there are some people whose outing as abusers surprises no one, there are other situations where everyone is surprised that so and so could ever do something like that.

For a variety of reasons, we assume that certain people would never do anything bad.  They are such nice people or they play such nice people in the media or that have such a great job or wonderful family or they have lots of money or are so smart.  We assume that because they are X they could never do evil–another application of the halo effect (see my post for Nov. 24/17).

And because we assume some people are incapable of such terrible things, we have one of two reactions.  Sometimes, we simply deny the reports–they accuser has to have made them up for some evil reason of their own.  But mostly, we believe the report and end up disappointed and become even more cynical–if we can’t trust so and so, who can we trust?

Theologically, we shouldn’t actually be surprised.  We can be disappointed and hurt and upset–but not surprised.  The Christian faith–and most other faiths, for that matter–is very clear on the fact that there are no perfect people.  As Paul puts it in  Romans 3.23, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (NIV).  All of humanity shares this fatal reality:  the best of us harbour dark and evil sides and the worst of us harbour light and good sides.

And that means that all of us are guilty of something.  Dig deep enough into someone’s life and you will find the darkness and the evil.  This is a reality well known to politicians seeking to ruin an opponent, investigative reporters looking for a big story and theologians seeking to understand the world.  We all have a dark and evil side and we all will either act on that darkness or fight it for our whole lives.

When people act out their dark and evil side, it really shouldn’t be a surprise.  It can be wrong; it can be criminal; it can be devastating; it will have consequences and it must be dealt with appropriately–but it really shouldn’t be a surprise.  It is a reality of the human condition, a reality that God recognizes and seeks to deal with through the live, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

May the peace of God be with you.