Go Play By Yourself: Friendships, Shutdowns and Quark

26903935_441118922969808_3940601116744742916_nType “mean-spirited memes” into your search line and nearly a million “results” will appear. I reached a point yesterday when I had just had enough of all of the gotchas, gibes and jabs being thrown across the political spectrum. So I added my comment to a string under a friend’s post of Trump’s misstatement that “…in a number of states the laws allow for a baby to be born from his or her mother’s womb in the ninth month.” The remarks were made during an address for the March for Life’s 45th rally. The President clearly meant to say “torn,” not “born,” intending for his statement to decry late-term abortions, as he did elsewhere in his address when he voiced support for the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

Now granted, I could have chosen a more mean-spirited meme to address, but I’d just had my fill and wanted to engage in a meaningful conversation. I could easily have chosen a “safer space” than the Facebook page of a hard-left leaning friend, but then I would have missed the robust back and forth that followed.

I was a professor for much of my career and I am a believer that we learn best when we come up against that which challenges us; we learn when we have to wrestle with an issue. I have friends across the entire political spectrum and my feed is filled to the brim most days with nasty memes. My friend’s “calling someone out on a misstatement” may have been one of the least offensive of the bunch, but it provided a starting point for asking a series of questions starting with this: what value is there in mean-spirited memes? Now I appreciate satire and satire has certainly been employed, throughout history, to bring change. But when does satire (the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues) cross a line? Do mean-spirited memes move give and take conversations forward or are they shutdowners? Are they just easy grenade-like toss-ats or can they be effective in bringing change? And…can folks–on opposite ends of the spectrum–engage in debate without resorting to name calling (which is how, as you’ll see, the following conversation devolved and then evolved)?

I launched in to the conversation on my friend’s Facebook page by noting that mean-spirited memes do nothing but make those who create them and those who share them look petty and mean. And I asked in relation to the meme at hand, “would you want such memes to be created recounting every misstatement of yours?”

Here’s where the conversation went from there. I’ve done some condensing, but have remained true to the gist.

“Petty and Mean are Donald’s middle names,”one woman opined. “If he would actually think before he speaks, there would be far fewer opportunities for such memes.”

My response: “So incivility should be the response to perceived incivility? I’m reminded of a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’”

“No,”she answered. “Reminding people of what he truly is like is not incivility. He should not be allowed to just gloss over his disorganized and at times nonsensical sentences. His lack of presidential qualities is embarrassing.”

A man chimed in with this: “He flubbed up some words and was made fun of, but the words he meant to speak are even more asinine than his mistaken quote…#1 it is a huge lie, there are NO states that allow abortions that late in a pregnancy unless there is a severe threat of death for the mother giving birth and that is an extremely rare and understandable condition. #2. The problem isn’t that he flubbed some words, the problem is that this idiot just spews out whatever he wants to say whether it is true or not….. So he got teased for making a silly mistake, but the truth is he should be vilified and reviled for trying to spread false and dangerous propaganda about a subject he knows absolutely nothing about…. Please Donna, stop defending this turd, it only makes you look bad.”

My response: “Memes like this and your response do nothing but shut down conversations with those who hold opposing opinions. You’re using the same tactics you say you revile in Trump. I wasn’t defending Trump; I was commenting on the faulty approach of the meme. Could you see MLK posting this? I think I commented on this meme and others today because I’m tired of these mean-spirited slams being posted across the political spectrum. These Molotov cocktails do nothing but inflame. I appreciate satire. I just wish folks would talk to each other instead of ranting at each other.”

My friend then popped in: “Well I’m certainly not MLK, and never pretended to be. Lol I’m with [the previous male responder] on this. Personally, I am a Roe vs Wade supporter and believe it’s no ones [sic] business but a woman and her physician as to how her medical decisions are made.”

The woman, who had initially responded wrote, “Pro-life means supporting health care, early childhood interventions, education, etc. Pro-birth or pro-fetus is something else entirely.”

To which I responded, “You know nothing about me. I’m pro-life in every way that can be understood, and my entire history would bear that out.” My friend, who was a student of mine many years ago, said she knew that to be true.

I then wrote: “I was not defending Trump in posting my comment. Yes, Trump made a horrendous blunder. He often says ridiculous things. Again, I’m just tired of people today talking at each other rather than talking to each other. People–again, from across the political spectrum–throw up memes like this and refuse to listen to one another. The responses that have followed my initial post [ha-ha emojis among them] prove my point. Many of them are hate-filled and derisive and those responding have no idea who I am or what I think. They’ve leapt to conclusions because I didn’t fall in lock step to celebrate this meme. I don’t celebrate ANY mean-spirited memes no matter who posts them.”

A newcomer, who I’d estimate to be a twenty-something, put ha-ha emojis on all my comments and then wrote [I’m sharing her comments unedited]: “we don’t care what you celebrate or don’t ‘My initial posts prove my point…’ No one really cares about your points either This is Facebook and you’re wasting your time I sorta half read through what you said, but after the grammatical errors I stopped You’re the world Police of Facebook, right ? Here to condemn us all for being mean when really you’re probably the biggest bully here Know what I do to a bully? I tell them to fuck off I barely know [my friend who’d shared the meme] and she has nothing to do with how I think Go play by yourself”

Quite coincidentally, my friend noted that “our FB pages are our private playgrounds, where we can vent, share, educate or just laugh at what tickles us.” Private playgrounds, it seems, where people recreate and re-create publicly, and new arrivals are often bullied and kicked to the curb as just so much refuse needing disposal.

Well, I then said: “Thank you to those who engaged respectfully with me on here. I wish we could have had a conversation around my initial comment on whether mean-spirited memes have any value. I wasn’t looking to discuss Trump’s words or pro-life/pro-choice issues and, if you look back at my comments, I hope you’ll see I did my best to respond to each person with respect, honesty and caring concern.”

My friend concluded this portion of the conversation with these words [shared unedited]: “this is a very emotionally charged issue, I do get what you’re saying about memes, but I disagree that this meme falls into that spectrum and if it does so what, this really is FB and that’s all. I have no problem with how you feel about this, that is your right. But it is also Elizabeth’s right to feel the way she does, she has her experiences as you have yours. She is one of the loveliest woman I’ve eveh had the pleasure to know. Donna you knew exactly how my friends would respond, we’ve been thru this before. I lean pretty far left and I’m not a Christian so our friends are and will be very different. I must say you win this one as it appears Lizzie has left my page. Thanks. SMH”

And I said, “As I’m not welcome here, I will bow out as well.” Matthew 10:14 had come to mind, wherein we’re told that, if anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, you can leave and shake the dust off your feet. So, I unfriended my friend and shook the dust. But, as my friend’s page is set to “public,” the twenty-something replied, “I haven’t left your page  I barely respond to people like Donna but I felt like putting someone in their place today People are so afraid to look within and search for meaning and the in between I saw a great shirt on a hiker yesterday and it said, ‘Make America Deep Again.’ Think about it”

Yes, indeed, let’s think about it.

After I posted this entry, a friend wrote to tell me that he’d attended a lecture last week by a visiting scholar, Armin Shimerman, from USC, noting that “he [Shimerman] teaches on Shakespeare and that was what his lecture was centered on. But more specifically, he spoke on why we don’t understand Shakespeare today. He posits that we, as a culture, have trouble understanding any literature predating the 1800s. The reason for that: we no longer teach Rhetoric., the basis of all the writings before that time. If we understood the rhetoric behind all the things Shakespeare wrote, we could understand the story better. He pointed to Aristotle’s three pillars of rhetoric: Logos, Pathos, and Ethos. The logic behind statements, the believability of the person making the statements, and the passion, or emotion being played on. I walked away from the lecture with my eyes a little glazed over, but I gained much insight. To understand the use of rhetoric, you can become much more persuasive in your life, and to not understand what is being done, you can become much more vulnerable. This comes to my mind as I view many rants and tirades on FB. There is little logos in any meme, but the image used can evoke some sense of pathos. The heavy emphasis is generally on the pathos, the trigger points and the words used. I too wish for more thoughtful discussions and always appreciate your essays. BTW don’t let the fact that Armin was also the actor that played Quark on DS9 detract from his pathos.”

My response: “I recognized the name, Armin Shimerman; I’m a Trekkie after all, though perhaps not on your exalted level! Thank you for sharing his and your wise words. I appreciate your wisdom and your caring concern. I have been reflecting on this whole experience, taking it as a case study in how I might better engage with those who are so quick to take offense and so unwilling to listen. I think my initial post must have been seen as an attack, but that was certainly not my intention. It seems often that, if you don’t fall lockstep into agreeing with whatever camp is onto whatever meme, folks will move to shut you down, refusing to enter into any kind of constructive debate. Not one person engaged with me on the topic of my initial post, the whole point for my posting. They went all over the map, down all kinds of rabbit holes and insulted me. Then they united to force me to shut down. Sound familiar? Perhaps I should have given more thought to how I would be heard and whether it was worth entering into this particular fray.

The shutting down of others, clearly seen in this exchange, provides a picture–in microcosm–of what’s happening across our society.

My friend, in a conversation that reopened a bit later on Facebook, told me she didn’t mean to make me feel unwelcome. But, I reminded her that she had sided with the one who had treated me reprehensibly. I was not made to feel welcome. I was castigated for speaking, and that–I said–should frighten her because the shutting down of free speech, the inability to engage in civil discourse in the public square (or on a friend’s Facebook page) should be opposed with everything we’ve got.

But, then…

The entire tone of the conversation on my friend’s Facebook page shifted when another individual stepped in to tell me that she respected my thoughts and considered them valid. She went on to say: “I respect your statement and your question. I think sometimes what appears to be mean-spirited is an expression of legitimate frustration. I have to say that I don’t like name-calling and have had problems hearing this on both sides. I really can’t appreciate the terms “Libtard” and ” Rethuglicans” and so on…I don’t like the Trump referred to as “Cheeto” nor Hillary as “Killary” and when I reflect on this… – I think it just seems so juvenile. Like kids in the playground spewing names at each other. As an educator, I find myself encouraging little children to be more constructive and they are quite receptive when the ideas are presented in ways that make sense to them. Name-calling gets us nowhere I believe. But, legit expressions of frustration are in a different category and come closer to what you’ve suggested about parody. We can learn from each other when engaging in discussions about recent events such as this blunder. I AM frustrated that a leader could be so inept as to not catch such a gross error – it is curious if nothing else. I stick to my former observations regarding why he did not catch himself. I think the discussion is good and the original post is not without merit.”

My friend then added, “I do agree with what you are saying Donna; there are so many memes I do not share for this very reason. In saying that, there are some I share because of the creativity of the creator, some because they are actually funny, some because they trigger my pathos, and some because I’m simply in a mood. Like I said, my fb is my playground, and much of what I post is not there for any serious debate. Fb, for me, is a tool to keep up with people who are far away or a toy to find unusual things and share with my like-minded peeps. It is open for the public so anyone can comment and speak their mind. If I find something truly offensive I delete it. And no I do not believe people who have completely opposing beliefs can debate without becoming emotionally involved, which is why I do not debate the things I post.”

I said, “I would never suggest we not become emotionally involved…it’s how those emotions are shared. It can be an enormous challenge to debate, to address the other with respect, and to come away as friends, even when we continue to have opposing beliefs.”

My friend added, “I do agree with that. For me it’s just about letting people be who they are. Sometimes that frustrates me, or angers me, but in the end, I get over it as I realize I probably trigger stuff in others. But for me at this age, I’ve experienced enough to know my beliefs will not be swayed by debate. As I know others are shaped by their experiences and I will not try to change their minds. There will always be, and must be opposing forces in all things, the yin yang of it all. So, as we swing on the pendulum from one side to another, I choose to enjoy myself where ever it’s swinging at the moment.”

I should note that, as my friend’s page is set to “public,” she didn’t mind my sharing, on this site, the exchange that had been playing out there. And, odd as it may seem, I’m grateful that I entered into the conversation with words that might have been taken as offensive because I learned I shouldn’t do that in any future go-rounds. And, you know? I must admit that the creator of the born-torn meme was actually quite clever. A clear opening had been provided; it was easy to take direct aim and it would have been hard to miss the target. Mistaking born for torn? At the March for Life?! That was a beaut of a blunder; the President left himself wide open.

In the end, my re-friended friend and I came to a greater understanding and greater appreciation of each other, and I actually gained a new Facebook friend: the woman who entered in at the tail end, the one who acknowledged I had some good points, the one who shared her own views respectfully and thoughtfully.

Now, I have one last bit to share…

Coincidental to my entering into this exchange on Facebook, was my viewing of a CBS Sunday Morning segment that centered on the shutting down of free speech on college campuses. The professor in me perked up and zeroed in. I hope you’ll take the time to visit the link here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/a-war-of-words-on-college-campuses/

In the program, an altercation at Middlebury College in March, 2016 was recalled that was sparked by the appearance of Charles Murray, a libertarian political scientist with the American Enterprise Institute. He’d been invited to the Vermont college to discuss his Coming Apart, a book that explores the growing divide between rich and poor white Americans. When he got up to speak, however, chanting and yelling students shouted him down.

The individual who had invited the author expected Murray would be controversial because of another book he had written, The Bell Curve. In that volume, Murray had suggested that race may play a part in determining intelligence, asserting that blacks do less well than whites on IQ tests. CBS reporter Rita Braver interviewed one student who was looking forward to pressing him on these ideas, and Allison Stanger, a respected political science professor who had been selected to moderate the event because of her liberal credentials, was also eager to debate. When she and Murray were drowned out and shut down by the protests, Stanger lamented the missed educational opportunity.

Braver noted that Murray’s presence at Middlebury eventually resulted in violence. “When Professor Stanger was escorting Murray out, they were attacked by a mob that included outside activists, and she was left with a concussion and whiplash.”

Stanger was clearly saddened by all of this. She had reviewed The Bell Curve and had prepared tough questions that she never got to ask in front of an audience that was listening. She told Braver: “It was this real group-think mob mentality where people weren’t reading and thinking for themselves, but rather relying on other people to tell them what to think.”

Murray and Stanger were essentially told–or, rather, forced–to “go play by themselves,” and this brought me back to the suggestion that Facebook pages can be seen by some as private playgrounds where new arrivals can be bullied and kicked to the curb when they don’t fall into lockstep line. Shutting down. Shutting down. But…it doesn’t have to be this way. We can shake the dust, put our shoes back on, and start in again with respect for one another and a renewed determination to listen and learn.

 

The Rest is Part of the Making of the Music

Rests-WholeHe withdrew… to a solitary place (Matthew 14:13).

There is no music during a musical rest, but the rest is part of the making of the music. In the melody of our life, the music is separated here and there by rests. During those rests, we foolishly believe we have come to the end of the song. God sends us time of forced leisure by allowing sickness, disappointed plans, and frustrated efforts. He brings a sudden pause in the choral hymns of our lives, and we lament that our voices must be silent. We grieve that our part is missing in the music that continually rises to the ear of our Creator. Yet how does a musician read the rest? He counts the break with unwavering precision and plays his next note with confidence, as if no pause were ever there.

God does not write the music of our lives without a plan. Our part is to learn the tune and not be discouraged during the rests. They are not to be slurred over or omitted, nor used to destroy the melody or to change the key. If we will only look up, God Himself will count the time for us. With our eyes on Him, our next note will be full and clear. If we sorrowfully say to ourselves, “There is no music in a rest,” let us not forget that the rest is part of the making of the music. The process is often slow and painful in this life, yet how patiently God works to teach us! And how long He waits for us to learn the lesson!
–John Ruskin

John_Ruskin_in_his_thirties
John Ruskin, 1850.

An Apparent Defeat May Result in Victory

Golden-Lampstand-Church-pre-demolition-1100
The Golden Lampstand Church, pre-demolition.

In today’s entry in Streams in the Desert, I was reminded of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who were thrown into an enormous fiery furnace when they refused to abandon their allegiance to the living God. Here was an apparent victory for the enemy. It looked as if God’s people were going to suffer a terrible vanquishment, but God saved them in and through the fire. We can imagine what a complete defeat the destruction of the Golden Lampstand Church in Linfen, China must appear to be to many, but as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego emerged from the fire unsinged, so let us pray this apparent defeat will result in a marvelous victory for Christians.
chinese-megachurch-portrait

Defeat may serve as well as victory to shake the soul and let the glory out.

When the great oak is straining in the wind, the boughs drink in new beauty, and the trunk sends down a deeper root on the windward side.

Only the soul that knows the mighty grief can know the mighty rapture. Sorrows come to stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.

 

 

Praying the Church in China will grow ever stronger as Christians are coming under increasing persecution.

Daniel 3

https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/stories/chinese-government-blows-christian-megachurch-warning-local-churches/

Waging the War of Art

41ET8OFVFCLMy husband just picked up a new book and insisted he needed to read the introduction to me. Therein, the author thanks a specific individual for helping to keep her “focused and sane (more or less) through the war that is writing a book.”

I was reminded through this of the words of Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative BattlesThe War is filled with precise advice from an artist who understands the daily battle and wages the daily battle that is writing “professionally.” I found much with which to resonate in the book and, as the mother-in-law of a career Marine, I especially appreciated Pressfield’s passage on what he learned as a member of the Corps.

Contrary to the popular myth, he writes, “Marine training does not turn baby-faced recruits into bloodthirsty killers. It teaches something far more useful: how to be miserable.” And, this, Pressfield opines, is “invaluable for an artist. Marines love to be miserable. Marines derive a perverse satisfaction from having colder chow, crappier equipment, and higher casualty rates than any outfit of dogfaces, swab jockeys or flyboys, all of whom they despise. Why? Because these candy-asses don’t know how to be miserable.”

Pressfield concludes: “the artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt and humiliation. The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.”

Telamon of Arcadia, a fifth century B.C. mercenary, observed that “It is one thing to study war and another to live the warrior’s life.” Pressfield finds that: “Aspiring artists defeated by Resistance share one trait. They all think like amateurs. They have not yet turned pro . . . The amateur plays for fun. The pro plays for keeps. To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation. The amateur plays part-time. The pro plays full-time. The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.”

Aspiring artists are encouraged to take heart from a deep truth reckoned by Somerset Maugham: “by performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting to work, he [came to understand that he] set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration.”

When all is said and done, Pressfield (author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and Gates of Fire) exposes the enemy Resistance, exposes the evidence of its presence (fear, procrastination, self-dramatization and the like) and offers helps toward living the “unlived life within.”

I am grateful for this reminder of Pressfield’s description of and advice for the professional writer. I’m onto my fifth book. On two, I served as editor. One was a collaborative effort with three other writers, and the last I authored (in collaboration with a photographer) and edited. The book on which I am now at work is mine entirely, and the poor thing has been languishing in Oblivion, awaiting a long-delayed rescue. I know that half the battle is fought, as Somerset Maugham so rightly judged, in “simply” sitting down and starting to work. Well, I’m sitting…

Store Up Comfort

The_Good_Samaritan_MET_EP151Comfort, comfort, my people, says your God (Isaiah 40:1).

God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters.
–John Henry Jowett

Store up comfort. This was the prophet’s mission. The world is full of comfortless hearts, and to make you sufficient for this lofty ministry, you must be trained. And your training is costly in the extreme; for, to render it perfect, you too must pass through the same afflictions as are wringing countless hearts of tears and blood. Thus, your own life becomes the hospital ward where you art taught the Divine art of comfort. You are wounded, that in the binding up of your wounds by the Great Physician, you may learn how to render first aid to the wounded everywhere. Do you wonder why you are passing through some special sorrow? Wait till ten years have passed, and you will find many others afflicted as you are. You will tell them how you have suffered and have been comforted; then as the tale is unfolded, and the anodynes applied which once your God wrapped around you, in the eager look and the gleam of hope that shall chase the shadow of despair across the soul, you will know why you were afflicted, and bless God for the discipline that stored your life with such a fund of experience and helpfulness.

Adapted from today’s Streams in the Desert

Accompanying photo: The Good Samaritan, David Teniers the Younger (Flemish, Antwerp 1610–1690 Brussels).

Chastising Myself

IMG_2251 (1)I have been chastising myself since last night.

I had been in conversation on Facebook with a Jehovah’s Witness who had set up the straw man of John Shelby Spong as an “authority” on the subject of hell. He was using a video-taped interview with the heretical, now retired, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark as support for his argument against the concept of eternal punishment. In earlier postings, he had made other pointed attacks against non-JWs. In turn, I had been sharing the manifold errors that I believe are clearly evident in the history and theology of the Witnesses. I had been praying that the man might be released from the deluding influence of the organization. In each encounter, he had responded using copious copied-from-JW sources. When in this most recent exchange, he came back with–what I took as–a compounding personal affront, I impetuously, without consulting the Lord, withdrew from the conversation and unfriended him, shaking the dust off my feet as a testimony against him.

Now I have spent most of my professional life studying world religions and new religious movements; I have engaged with many, many individuals walking innumerable paths. I can’t recall ever being the one to withdraw from a conversation, and I’ve been trying to comprehend why I did this time. I think I’m upset with myself because I fear it may have been the wounding to my person that served as the final straw and not the many affronts to Christ.

I woke this morning to find the following as the day’s devotional entry in Streams in the Desert. The line that leapt out from this was this: “Beloved, whenever you are doubtful as to your course, submit your judgment absolutely to the Spirit of God, and ask Him to shut against you every door but the right one.” It is possible that the Lord might have called me to withdraw from the conversation because other work needed to be done in the man’s life before he would be open to hearing what I had to say. The problem is I didn’t wait to hear from the Lord.

The devotional that follows gives a nod to one of my favorite verses (Isaiah 30:21): “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.'” I used to keep a copy of this verse on my desk at the seminary and churches I was serving. As I now sit at a crossroads in my life, I am especially grateful for the call to return to these words today. Sometimes doors are closed. Sometimes God directs our steps to the right. Sometimes we are led to go left. Sometimes, we’re told to stay put. And sometimes…

Here’s the devotional, with its admonition to look to the Lord for clear direction:

Having been kept by the Holy Spirit [at that time] from preaching the Word in Asia (Acts 16:6).

It is interesting to study the methods of His guidance as it was extended towards these early heralds of the Cross. It consisted largely in prohibitions, when they attempted to take another course than the right. When they would turn to the left, to Asia, He stayed them. When they sought to turn to the right, to Bithynia, again He stayed them. In after years Paul would do some of the greatest work of his life in that very region; but just now the door was closed against him by the Holy Spirit. The time was not yet ripe for the attack on these apparently impregnable bastions of the kingdom of Satan. Apollos must come there for pioneer work. Paul and Barnabas are needed yet more urgently elsewhere, and must receive further training before undertaking this responsible task.

Beloved, whenever you are doubtful as to your course, submit your judgment absolutely to the Spirit of God, and ask Him to shut against you every door but the right one. Say, “Blessed Spirit, I cast on Thee the entire responsibility of closing against my steps any and every course which is not of God. Let me hear Thy voice behind me whenever I turn to the right hand or the left.”

In the meanwhile, continue along the path which you have been already treading. Abide in the calling in which you are called, unless you are clearly told to do something else. The Spirit of Jesus waits to be to you, O pilgrim, what He was to Paul. Only be careful to obey His least prohibition; and where, after believing prayer, there are no apparent hindrances, go forward with enlarged heart. Do not be surprised if the answer comes in closed doors. But when doors are shut right and left, an open road is sure to lead to Troas. There Luke awaits, and visions will point the way, where vast opportunities stand open, and faithful friends are waiting.–Paul, by Meyer