Yesterday I began musing about the internet community and its often hostile nature. Today I want to see what it looks like for the Church to enter into that space.
The commenter in question not only posted his questions on her video, but found her personal blog as well and left his questions there.
I was angry. I wanted to protect my friend from his comments, I wanted to address his ignorance, I wanted him to know that this sort of internet trolling was not going to be ok in the forums that he had decided to post. I addressed his comments, told him the purpose of the videos was for our community, and that they were not meant as fully realized stories but of glimpses of God’s grace in the life of those sharing. I encouraged (although that might be a light word for the tone I had) to find a community in which to ask his questions and to leave the people in ours to our leadership and our people.
I wasn’t a complete jerk, but I was forceful. I wanted him to get the message. I wanted my friend to know she was in a community that wasn’t going to let her hang herself out there and then be questioned without defense. I wanted this commenter to leave her alone.
Its come to my attention lately that I can be a bit of a graceless person in situations like this. When someone does something to hurt someone I care about, or me to some extent, I crave justice. That is a natural, God-given desire. But there is another component that I often overlook/forget about. Everyone needs grace.
I am constantly (hopefully less so today than yesterday or the day before) oscillating between worship of Jesus and complete rebellion. The only thing keeping me from the true justice of God’s wrath is His grace. That same grace that I have been given, that I receive daily, I need/should/want to extend to others. Even internet trolls. And my snap judgement is no better than the commenters. He was posting in disregard for my friends feelings, and I responded in disregard for his.
This is a tendency of mine in real life (IRL as the interwebs likes to shorten it….don’t worry, I am hip with the lingo), and I need to work through it, in all aspects, even on the web. But I have an inkling that this is a common theme amongst many of us. Grace for us, justice for everyone else. And hence we have a world wide web full of cries for justice, be it for our political point of view or our idea of how to grow a fiddle fig tree, and very little grace.
That is my hope for me, and the Church as a whole. I don’t think we should sit back and laugh at the crazies, or get angry if someone dear to us has been offended online. I don’t think we should join in the voices trying to conform the world via the web to see things from our point of view. I think we need to see this space as an opportunity to be gracious, to speak to the heart of people who are so willingly laying it out there.
I think of Paul in the Areopagus. He used the forum to explain the Gospel in a new way to a group of people who were hostile to it. Some believed it there, some rejected it, and others curiosity was peaked and they wanted to hear more. The internet is like an online Areopagus, where we don’t mock those sharing their passions (however trivial we may find them to be) and we don’t respond in anger when those passions offend our own. We need to gracefully communicate Jesus’ supremacy even in online fandom or political affiliation, in sports and music and film, and yes plants.
Too often I see (and I myself participate in) the Church engage this graceless community in a graceless way. Our point of view is not supreme, Jesus is, and He is gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and true. He rejoices in the truth. Do we rejoice in the truth online, or our opinions? Do we abound with love? Do we care more about our online reputations or the reputation of Jesus? Do we consider the people on the other side of the screen greater than ourselves?
I am not suggesting we lay down, and don’t defend those who may need defense, and don’t call out those who may need to be called out. We need to do those things online as in life, but our first response should be to love. Consider what is love. Consider how to communicate that across the vast array of cyber-space. Just because someone is a tiny picture and 140 characters of text does not mean that Jesus didn’t die for them, or doesn’t want them to know Him, or that they are beyond His grasp. They need the grace and love of Jesus every bit as much as you do.
I wish I had a better picture of what this looks like practically but I am still processing through that myself. But this verse comes to mind, and I will leave you with it. I hope for it to be true of the Church, of which I am a part, IRL and on the web.
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Coincidentally, after I wrote this I stumbled upon an interview Sammy Rhodes had done for Salon.com, where I feel like he does a great job of responding in grace to the internet.