Re: Community – Online or Otherwise…

A  week or so before vacation, I published some fairly strident comments about the Bible’s authority and got all kinds of responses. In addition, the article has had numerous hits since then.  My friend Bob seriously disagrees with what I wrote. My friend Cathi seems to agree with me. My friend Dave had other options that were a mix of it all. My friend Carroll wrote and gave her understandings of the topic.  Amazingly, though I expected it to get ugly, it didn’t.  Somehow, with enough voices, we got the full spectrum of ideas and that is good.

Recently, my friend Dawn posted to her Facebook page, “why do I read an article, then read the comments, when I know they’ll make me upset?” or something like it. Tonight, I read two articles online that exemplified what Dawn was saying. One was about Dr. Laura who’s “had her free speech rights trampled by people who don’t want to debate. They just want to shut other voices down”  — or some quote approaching that.  The next was an article about Barnes and Noble’s apparent decline.  Someone wrote in a comment that the reason it was having problems (BN says it’s not, BTW, according to the article) is because B & N is “just like everything else the left does — spends a lot and mismanages” … something, something, something, blah, blah, blah.

What the hell is going on?  I missed the whole Dr. Laura thing while I was gone, so I don’t understand it.  I can’t comment because I don’t really get it. I can say that I would never use “The N word” in public speech no matter who I was — male, female, black, white, Chinese, Mexican, rich, poor.  I don’t understand why she used it, nor do I understand why she’s now in so much trouble that she’s leaving her show after years of spewing hate.  Now she leaves? It’s kind of like Imus. After years of being a “shock  jock” one day he gets in trouble for using “nappy-headed girls” in a tirade? He was paid to make people mad.  One day he got — what? — too good at his job?

But more than that is the comments about the left and Barnes and Noble… The article didn’t say anything about the left, the right, or the center and yet here was this guy (I assume it was a guy. I could be wrong.) going to town about the left and extending a bad argument to an even sillier position. He didn’t use the words “pinko”, “commie”, or “sympathizer”, but it might just as well have been from the days of McCarthyism. Have we gone that far back in our thought? It’s like the guy who sees a bottle of milk and thinks it’s about White Power vs. the NAACP if the milk is chocolate or white. I understand that on the internet a person uses CAPS to show they’re YELLING!!! A person doesn’t have to do that if they hate all liberals or all conservatives or all of  any group. There are people that comment on articles just to hear themselves yell. There are people on the radio that just like to hear themselves talk.

Community is a great thing — but it’s not real community, real communion with each other if it doesn’t involve listening. “Com” — meaning “with” requires both sides of the conversation. I love free speech — I love it a lot. But I also like being heard. Because I love free speech, I have to hear other people’s point of view.  That’s a fair trade.  And, even though I might violently disagree with their viewpoint, it’s theirs and I will listen to it. But I have to say that it makes it a lot easier to do that if people talk to me or with me rather than at me.

Every once in a while, I get the itch to start a new Christian community (aka a form of church) and every once in awhile I get the feeling that it’s possible to do it on-line.  Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and all those other social networks do, indeed, make it more possible for people to connect from any part of the U.S., so friends in California, the mid-west (Hi, Greg!) and the East could do something together online. With skype it’s even possible to see each other. It wouldn’t exactly be the same as church all together (passing the bread and cup gets a little difficult online), but as a place for prayer, reflection, caring, etc., it’s possible if people can get their head around it.

That aside, however, I’d like to propose some rules for on-line communication and in-person, real conversation that make it safe to “speak” (or post) and be heard, make real conversation possible.

1)  Use “I statements” — talk about what you actually believe, what you actually think, what you actually feel. Maybe talk about your experience and why you think that way. In this way, nobody can argue about your reality. If something happened to make you think  x, then ok, fair enough. People might be able to argue with what you made of the experience, but not the experience itself.

2) Don’t use talking points, or somebody else’s ideas, unless you say, “I heard” (whoever) say so-and-such…” or “I read so-and-such”  If you want to throw around Rush Limbaugh quotes or Michael Moore quotes, or Bishop Sprong or Pat Robertson quotes, be my guest. If you want to talk about a Zippy the Pinhead comic or a Peanuts comic, fair enough.  Wherever you get your wisdom is ok with me, but it should be the start of a conversation about you.  Just saying, “Obama’s a Muslim” doesn’t do anything but disregard or implies that we should disregard the man.  Enough of disregarding people, already.  If you want to say, “I heard Pat Robertson say, “Obama’s a Muslim” and I think he shouldn’t be president if that’s true”, then OK.  We can find common ground maybe. (Actually, we can’t on that one.  A) He’s not; and B) It’s ok with me if we have a Muslim president, or a Jew, or a Buddhist, Taoist, Quaker, Catholic, etc.  A good president is a good president. A bad one is a bad one.  Just don’t ask me to have a Muslim as the head of my (Christian) denomination.  His religion would really interfere with his ability to do his job then.  Still, at least I’d understand you, which is a better thing than not.

3) I’m really sick of clever.  Don’t go for clever. If it happens, cool.  I love wordplay, but style isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Just because you can use alliteration or some funky spin on a word, or a double-entendre which basically says, “Hey, look over there!” while you’re trying to sneak in a point over here, doesn’t mean you should.  Witty repartee’  is all well and good if you’re a half-hour episode of Seinfeld, but that was a show about “nothing”. This is a conversation about something.    As an aside, sarcasm actually should have it’s own font (not an original idea, but a good one. I just can’t remember where I saw it).  I propose “<sarcasm>” before and after something you’ve said. For example: <sarcasm> oh, yeah, he’s a great minister <sarcasm>.  In real life, if you’re being sarcastic and the other person looks mortified by what you said, explain that you were being sarcastic. Makes life a lot easier.

4) You can feel, think, speak, or post anything you want. There are times when I want to YELL, and times when cussing is the only reasonable reaction to something. You don’t have to actually spell out the word, but you can if you want. I knew a woman once who described a rape in an institution by another patient by saying, “oh, yeah, it was her first experience with pseudo-lesbianism”. (I’m sorry to once again mention lesbianism and negativity in the same place. It’s just the rudest example I could think of.) Rape — heterosexual or homosexual — is BULLSHIT!, Bullshit, or Bull—-, if you prefer.  It’s not “pseudo-lesbianism”.  And, frankly, if you’re talking nicely about it, you’re missing the point (at best) and you’re disregarding the person’s agony at worst. Poverty, racism, rape, incest and so many other things are not pretty. You don’t have to pretend they are.

At the same time, it’s OK (really OK!) to be joyous, innocent, hopeful, faithful, strong, respectful, decent, caring, if that’s how you feel. Too much misery, too much anger and such isn’t a way to be either. Humor is a good thing, too!  The whole range of human emotions is appropriate at some time or another.  It should be here, as well.

It’s also OK to not say anything.  It’s OK to wait until you have the right words, or the patience, or some idea about a subject. There are millions of things I don’t talk about, either because I don’t care or don’t have a clue about them.  Lots of people on-line (and in real life) don’t let that stop them. I suppose on occasion, I don’t either, but it doesn’t help much. In the interest of community, let’s try to avoid it.

5) Needless to say, don’t make it personal.  Name calling, threats, personal attacks — no good. Civility is shot in our society, but it doesn’t need to be. In addition to that, I suck at rejection. It may be a weakness, but personal attacks just kill me. There are those who think “if you’re not one of the big dogs. stay on the porch”. Maybe that’s true. But I don’t want to “stay on the porch”. Is it really that much to ask not to be beaten up? I don’t personally attack others (at least I don’t think I do) and if I can keep it civil, I assume others can.  Respectful speech isn’t really all that much to ask. Plus, it would be nice to get the practice. Maybe it’ll catch on.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but I hope that whether it’s religion, politics, sex, money, the Bible, pastoring (is that enough taboos to make you interested?) or how beautiful the sunset is and how cool little kids are, or how amazing Jesus was, I hope we can talk.

Peace,

John

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