“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14 CEB)
I have to tell you: I am worried. I am worried that we as God’s people have found ourselves increasingly incapable or – worse! – unwilling to submit our thoughts and our actions to the standard the Psalmist offers us as we have moved through this election season. I am worried that come the day after the election on November 9 we may find that we don’t know how to return to words and actions that we want to be pleasing to God and instead all we will know how to do is offer and applaud the worst of personal attacks and slurs. I am worried that the bonds of affection, love, care and grace that have united us as the people of God may be so strained that they will no longer hold us together as one body in Christ.
Some of this I lay at the feet of Facebook and Twitter and the like. It’s just impossible to have a sustained, thoughtful, nuanced discussion of ideas when the whole point is to make things as short and as barbed as possible. The Twitter phenomenon, I believe, has touched us all, whether or not you know a tweet from a twerp, and has inevitably if subtly pushed all of us into more pointed, less nuanced, and often more attack-oriented language. And I cannot imagine that God finds that pleasing.
The Facebook phenomenon is even more pronounced and has more affected our lives. Worldwide, there are almost two billion Facebook users. Over half of those folks log on daily, and worldwide every day almost five billion Facebook posts are made. In the United States, 20% of all daily website visits are to Facebook. But it’s not just Facebook’s enormous reach that has led to a terrible trend in our culture, it’s something else: First, Facebook has redefined the notion of what a “friend” is in a way that is simply shallow and at odds with the Christian life. What happens is this: More and more, your “friends” become only those people who approve of what you post. Which means that more and more your views go unchallenged; more and more you are inhabiting an echo chamber where only variations of your own voice are ever heard. More and more, walls are built up between people, more and more people compete to have the most inflammatory post that their circle of “friends” can “like” and the cycle spirals and continues and worsens. And I cannot imagine that God finds that pleasing.
Secondly, more and more we define who are our “friends” by whether we “like” their politics. And with all of that comes less and less nuance, less and less of an ability to see that most people and most issues are painted in complex shades of gray and that no candidate is a saint or a devil. But I want to challenge you: I know that in my life – and I hope it is true in yours – the best friends are those who don’t simply serve as your personal echo chamber, who love you enough to say when they believe you are wrong, who care enough about you to try hard to understand you and do you the honor of taking you seriously – which means never just accepting what you have to say as gospel just because you said it. Do you have a friend like that? The Facebook phenomenon is making it harder and harder for that to happen. And I cannot imagine that God finds that pleasing.
There’s a third troubling thing about the “Face-book-ization” of our shared life together: “binary thinking.” When someone posts something on Facebook you are invited to react to it – to either “like” or (by your silence)“dislike” it. But where is the button that you can push that says “I find part of what your saying to be true and helpful, but part of it seems misleading to me”? Or the button that says “You make a good point but I think that you have misstated a certain position.” But being either a responsible citizen or Christian demands of us that we be able to think about complex things in complex ways. The more that binary thinking has dominated the airwaves, the internet, and the media, the more you and I, again, get subtly but insidiously captured by it – and the more our real-life relations and our ability to think hard and complexly about difficult and complex things will suffer. And I cannot imagine that God finds that pleasing.
Fourth and finally, the echo chamber where we only listen to our own views and the effect of over-simple binary thinking that doesn’t do justice to complexity also subtly but inevitably has led to something that would make Jesus weep: we too often no longer listen to one another in order to understand each other, but simply in order to attack each other. As Justice Clarence Thomas puts it (not someone I often find myself quoting!!), “We have decided that rather than confront the disagreements and the differences of opinion, we’ll simply annihilate the person who disagrees with us.” Or as Gary Peluso-Verdend, President of Phillips Theological Seminary, puts it, “We have fallen into the trap of turning opponents into enemies and failed to look for [God’s] image in the faces [even] of persons whose moral stances we deplore.” And I cannot imagine that God finds that pleasing.
There WILL be times when mature, sincere, thoughtful Christians will disagree. But our claim to follow a Lord who was born of an unwed mother, whose family had to flee for their lives as political refugees from terror, whose understanding of God led Him to a death as the victim of unjustly-used governmental power means that our faith absolutely ought to affect what we think about family planning and immigration and refugee issues and what the limits of governmental reach and the role of governmental power should be – and which candidate we should vote for. If your faith or mine doesn’t prod us to think about these things – and not just echo the nasty, mean, shrill, over-simple sound-bites all around us then it is a faith that too cheap and it is too easy.
But: We WILL sometimes disagree on the specifics. We will even disagree on whom to vote for who will best carry out our beliefs and convictions about all these things and so much more. But the question that we have today and will have come on November 9 is this: Will this season in our nation’s life so have damaged us that we cannot come together around the Table of our Lord to celebrate his mercy to us together? When all is said and done in this season of our electoral lives, I hope that the answer will continue to be that it is the image of God through Jesus Christ – the One who demanded that we always, always care for the “least of these” – who is stamped on your soul and mine. I don’t want to bear the image of hateful anger to certain folks. I don’t want the image that is on me to be forever tarnished by a campaign that has too often invited glee and gloating – from all sides – at the heights of nastiness and meanness that are abounding around us. I don’t want us to think only in over-simple ways about some of the most distressing and complex of issues. I don’t want us to see those with whom we disagree – sometimes profoundly – become “enemies” to be annihilated.
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” On November 9 – and every day! – will you join me in praying this prayer in all the tough moments of our lives? Will you join me in trying to live up to what God hopes of us as a people instead of living down to the standards of a too-often hate-filled world? Will you join me, in Peluso-Verdend’s words, in vowing to drink less “deeply from the well of anger, fear, and resentment” and more often “from the well of kindness, compassion, and love”?
I am grateful to the Rev. Barbara Blaisdell for conversation and her insights which helped spark and contributed to this post and sermon.
From a sermon (text or audio) preached at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Colorado Springs, Colorado, November 6, 2016.