Toning it Down (Part II about tone)

This is the second part in a series about tone.  You can read the first part of this series here.

I learned that the right thing said in the wrong way is the wrong thing.  –Brad Lomenick, The Catalyst Leader

A while ago, in a private Facebook group to which I belong, I had a conversation with two women I know pretty much only through that group.  The topic was safe places on blogs, blog comments, anger, abuse, etc.  It was a fairly fluid conversation.  One of the women I was a little familiar with before this group, and the other not at all.  Prior to this group and conversation, my impression of one was semi-negative, due to the tone that I had sensed from reading at her website. 
During part of the conversation, there was some disagreement between people, but I noticed that it was always done in a respectful and caring way.  Nobody’s anger got the better of them.  There were no temper-tantrums or fights.  It was peaceful, loving disagreement, and there was more to it, too.  In part of the conversation, I commented to one person that “When I periodically read [your website], I didn’t really care for it. BUT, I have really, really appreciated getting to know you in this group and knowing more the *person* you are rather than the you as [your website].”  I was really scared to say that, because I didn’t want to come across as criticizing her or the tone of her website, and I didn’t want to come across as having some kind of arrogant or superior tone in saying it.  
What I learned from participating in this group and conversation was that I had probably pre-judged her without really realizing what I was doing.  I didn’t know her past.  I didn’t know her present either, really.  I just formed an opinion from what I read online, much of it due to tone, and assumed I had her figured out.  But I didn’t.  
Throughout the conversation, we engaged with each other and learned about each other and listened to each other. 
And at the end, I was sitting at my computer with a smile on my face, and I felt like we should have a big group hug.  
The conversation stood out to me because there is so much negativity online and it’s very easy to dismiss people when we dislike them, think we dislike them, or make assumptions about them or their writing.  And that is exactly what didn’t happen in this conversation.  
I’m not sure why in some places–yes, even Christian ones–the conversations turn towards anger and disdain and in some places, like this example of mine, they don’t.  Perhaps it was just that in that particular moment in time, we all were willing to set aside our own potential agendas or pronouncements or egos and just listen to what each other had to say.  We didn’t use angry or rude or sarcastic tones with each other.  
I believe that part of the reason this conversation worked so well was because we were not using angry or dismissive tones with each other.   I know that if we had, I would not have been as willing to listen.  Maybe that is a fault on my part.  Maybe I should be willing to dismiss tone.  But when I think about it and how I want to present myself, I know that tone is important to me.  I hope that I don’t ever default to writing in an angry tone, because for me, as a reader and writer, I find that the message is not as well-received.  I still believe tone shouldn’t be dismissed as unimportant, because it does have an effect.  But we can all try a little harder to think of the whole person behind the writing–as I have to often remind myself to do.  
In that conversation, some of the fruits of the spirit that I wrote about in the first part of this series, were present in all of us.  We were loving toward each other.  We were patient with each other.  We were kind and gentle with each other.  We utilized self-control.  
I can’t explain it, but the way our conversation went made me believe it was one of healing, redemption, and understanding.  It made me realize that although we were in different physical locations around the country, we were still in one place together, and it reminded me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”  Whatever our backgrounds, whatever our present lives are like, whatever our theological or political thoughts are, whatever our futures hold, in that moment in time, Jesus was present with us.  And that, I think, is what all of us in this Christian blogosphere should keep at the forefront of our minds and hearts.  Is Jesus present when we are gathered together this way, or not?  

I’m Not Tone Deaf (Part I about tone)

My older son is about to turn six.  He and I are a lot alike and it leads to the butting of heads at times.  On more than one occasion I have uttered one of the all-time cliches of parents everywhere: “Don’t use that tone with me.”  When he has an attitude, I am much less willing to listen to his argument or ideas.  
I have heard a lot about the use of tone online.  Often when someone calls another person out he or she is then accused of being mean.  I have, on multiple occasions, seen the explanation that one should interact with the content of a post and not the tone of a post because to consider the tone is “tone policing”.  I have to admit that I don’t quite see the problem in addressing tone.   In my first intro to literature class in college one section of the anthology adressed tone in writing.  It was an important concept for us to learn then, and due to the nature of reading so much on the Internet, I think it’s probably an important concept still.  The anthology says “But to try and describe the tone of such a story may be a useful way to penetrate to its center and to grasp the whole of it.”  Tone helps us to understand what is happening in the written word.  Reading and writing is not just a mental exercise in which we only use our brains as a tool for looking at facts or logic.  Writing can and does evoke emotions in us.  That is probably what attracts us to some writers and not others.   
I often consider the tone of what I am writing and if I am especially angry or passionate about something I will often wait on posting it.  For me, it is important to consider my tone, whether in a blog post or comment, Facebook comment, or tweet.  I don’t always succeed.  I can be cynical.  I am sure at times my tone is sarcastic or arrogant or dismissive of others with whom I disagree.  I remember posting a comment a few months ago on a piece about women in leadership in which I knew my tone was argumentative, and not just because I disagreed with the post but because I disagreed and felt that my position was superior and I wanted to change that person’s mind.
It often seems as if it is an either/or situation:  Either ignore the tone and read the content only, or ignore the content based on the tone.  I often will default to the latter (but I do want to get to a point where I can read the content without being solely influenced by tone).  If I don’t connect with the tone of an article or tweet or FB status, I simply won’t interact with it.  I remember one time listening to a talk radio show and and commenting that I might actually be willing to listen to the host’s point of view if he had a different tone  But to me, the tone of the host was arrogant, disdainful, and dismissive, and I wasn’t interested in hearing the content of what he said because of how he came across.  
I don’t think I’ve ever called anyone out because of tone, and I do try to remember that there’s a lot more to the person that I don’t know.  But I do know that certain tones discourage me from reading or paying attention to or taking seriously some of the posts I read.  If it happens here and there, I feel like I can overlook it.  But if someone consistently writes in an angry, rude, sarcastic, dismissive tone, I tend to tune out.  And I know that if *I* did the same, I don’t think I’d really expect people to take me seriously either, because for me, using that type of tone consistently is at odds with how I believe the fruits of the spirit should play out in my life.  

19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness,  20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,  21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.  24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.  26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.  –Galatians 5:19-26 

In my writing–whether it is a post, a tweet, or a Facebook status, I try to keep in mind that I want to treat others how I would like to be treated.  I want the way I express myself to be honoring and loving to God and to others.  I sometimes see dismissal of others, of people basically being told “screw you”, and I struggle to understand how that is helpful, loving, Jesus-like, Spirit-filled.  But I want to give them some grace, too, because all of us are on a journey and none of us have arrived.

When I am more interested in getting my way and demanding that people listen to me and dismissing others, then the Holy Spirit is not working in me.  Sometimes, we want so much to be heard that we do the same things that we accuse others of doing that we don’t like.  We want so much to be able to express our voices that we then shut others out.  I think everyone deserves to have his or her voice heard.  I may not like what someone has to say.  I may hate what someone has to say.  But even so, I don’t want to silence anyone else even though I may have been silenced as well.  In many ways I am privileged.  In some ways I am not.  I don’t want to demand someone listen to me, get angry when they don’t, and get angry when they do, and then refuse to listen back. 

And maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe those who, to me, seem to be angry or bitter are really loving, happy, joy-filled people.  I only see one small side of them, and as I have learned, what we see online is not the whole person (read this or this).  And often, it’s not my place to accuse someone of being angry or bitter or hateful, because I have not developed the right personal relationship with the person.  And, when we start getting to know people as people, it is then that we can start to see beyond the tone.  This happened to me a couple of months ago in a Facebook group, and I’ll tell you about it in Part II later this week.
For Further Reading:

On Disagreements and Unity

Last night, I attended a Christian Seder at my church.  Because many people were expected, our pastor cautioned people that they might not get to sit with their entire family, depending on how the tables filled up, and that we needed to remember that we were all a family together, not just individual family units.  Before it began, however, there was someone with whom I needed to speak.

Earlier this week, I wrote two posts (here and here) about an issue happening in my town.  On Wednesday, I attended an informational meeting about the project and learned two things:  one, an acquaintance from church is a city employee, and was sitting up at the front with the council, and two, the council decided to not pursue the project at this time.

I don’t know what my friend’s involvement in the decision was and do not know where he stands on the issue, but it is likely we are on opposite sides.  When I saw him before we began, I spoke to him and expressed my gratitude that the project had been tabled, and that I was hopeful decisions could be made more slowly and discussed among many people.  He was friendly and caring, and we had no animosity toward each other.

Later, when the meal turned into communion, after getting my matzah, I deliberately went to the cup that he was holding in which to dip my bread.

It is the body and blood of Christ for both of us, regardless of where we stand on an issue.  It was family unity.

At the last supper, Jesus said “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12).  And, I think, last night, that happened.

Someone’s Spreading A Rumor About You

A couple of weeks ago, I got a DM on Twitter that said “someone’s spreading a rumor about you”.  My eyes got wide.  My heart dropped.  Me?  Someone’s spreading a rumor about me?  Why?  What did I do to hurt someone?  Did I write something too controversial?  Is it because I loved Rachel Held Evans’ new book and was on her Launch Team?

And then I realized that the person who sent it was a new connection I’d made, and the link that was included was to a fake Twitter login site (and her account had been hacked and it wasn’t even really from her).

I was relieved, but that moment of concern that I had got me thinking about all the times that I might hear something negative about someone and believe it without checking it out.  And really, that’s so easy to do online because information gets passed along so quickly.

In “Do You Tear Down or Build Up?” I had been thinking about all of the real people behind the names on a book and I alluded to people that I had met and was going to have the opportunity to meet, which happened this past weekend.  All of these people that I’ve met are controversial for various reasons, and some of what they say I won’t agree with, and some of what they say I won’t even understand.

But they are real people.  They are real people that I had conversations with, shared food with, hung out with.  When you start interacting with someone in these ways, when you share time with them, when you converse with them, when you start getting to know them, no matter how much you disagree, it makes it a lot harder to demonize them.  It makes it a lot harder to say negative things about that person to other people.

It makes me think about when Jesus chose his disciples.  He didn’t chose a homogeneous group of people but a group of people who were different from each other and some of whom probably hated each other.  I mean, really,a zealot and a tax collector?  And these people hung out together, traveled together, ate together.  There were developing community with each other.

But what do we do?  We tend to gravitate towards people who are just like us and make claims that those who are different are not “true” Christians, or that they don’t understand Christianity the right way because we disagree about ideas or practices.

But this weekend, when I spent time with people I’d never met before, and conversed with them, a little bit of community and friendship was built.  I doubt we’d agree on everything, but who has time to talk about everything anyway?  And even if we disagreed, we could still have conversations about it.  In fact, one of my new friends even expressly said in his presentation that he wants people to disagree with him, and that sometimes he even disagrees with himself!  What I took away from that was if we are only agreeing, then how can we learn and grow?  If we are not forced to think more deeply and reflect, won’t we stay stagnant in our thinking and in our faith?

All of this is to say that now, if I read something negative about any of these people, I will be able to just dismiss it as I wonder if the person gossiping has even spent one minute in their presence.  Because building community and friendships through conversations changes how we look at others.  It’s hard to demonize someone that you actually know.

Now, there are people out there who make me angry, and in my head I act all arrogant and dismissive of them.  I hope that this lesson I learned this weekend will help me to realize when I am “demonizing” someone that I have never met in person.

What about you?  Have you ever changed your opinion of someone once you met him or her?  Are you quick to believe rumors or do you disregard them?  Do you find it easy or difficult to have friends who are different from you in your thinking and theology?

For further reading: 
Have You Heard?

The Fruits of the Politicians

It is less than one month until Election Day.  On that day, we citizens of the United States will cast our votes (if we haven’t already) for who we want to be President of the United States.  We will stay up late into the night to find out the results, after which some people will celebrate and others will be sad, angry, or even enraged.

We will be a country divided, focused on the way that this country and this world is run, forgetting that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world.  We will have people gloating about the winner, forgetting that Jesus won not by popularity, but by death.  We will feel happy and smug to be a part of the “in crowd” of winners, and point at those losers who are in the “out crowd”, forgetting that Jesus came to unite the nations of the world into one people as his disciples.

And Christians will be participating in this right along with everyone else.

And I wonder…is what we will be participating in (not the voting itself, but the aftermath) a good representation of the new command that Jesus gave?  Is what we are doing now, leading up to the election, representative of this command that we are supposed to follow?

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. –John 13:34-35

When election day comes, and perhaps even more importantly, in these last days leading up to it, examine yourself.  Are your political views used in a loving way towards others?  What is being bred from discussions?  When you have a political opponent (be it a politician, a friend, a relative, a coworker, a fellow church member, etc.), do you love that person?

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  –1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Are you patient with those people with whom you disagree?  Are you kind to them?   Do you boast about the successes of your party and its candidates?  Are you arrogant when you think you are correct about a position or candidate?  Are you rude to those who think differently than you?  
Are the politicians that you support loving?  In a country where a great many people are Christians, and where a great many politicians also claim to be Christians, do we see some of the signs of what a Christian is in those politicians, and in ourselves when we get so consumed by politics?

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. –Matthew 7:3-5

We are fantastic about pointing out what the other party has done and currently does wrong, but can we see it in our own party and candidates?

In our political discussions in person, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on blogs, is the Spirit present?  Do we see these fruits in our own actions and in the actions of those we support?

the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.   –Galatians 5:22-23

If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. –Galatians 5:25

Don’t be too quick to answer, but think deeply about it.  If the answer to all–or any–of these is no, then perhaps we need to be introspective and ask ourselves why.  Perhaps we need to start living out the faith that is so easy to talk about.  Perhaps we need to repent.  
On Election Day, there are churches around the country that will be participating in Election Day Communion.  One of the goals of this is:

We’ll remember that real power in this world — the power to save, to transform, to change — ultimately rests not in political parties or presidents or protests but in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus.

So maybe, on Election Day, instead of anxiously awaiting results, find an Election Day Communion church and join them for this sacred meal.  If there isn’t one near you, gather together with friends of both parties in your home and have a simple meal with bread and wine or grape juice and pray together.  And as the results roll in, no matter what they are, remember this:

“…let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body…”
–Colossians 3:15

A Chance for Unity Not Taken…in the Name of Freedom

 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.  19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.  20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,  21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,(1 )so that the world may believe that you have sent me. –John 17:18-21 

These are just a few of the verses we heard in church yesterday for World Communion Sunday, and the sermon was about oneness among Christians.  While I found it inspiring and hopeful, at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad as I thought of the Christians out there in churches that were not hearing about unity or taking communion in solidarity with Christian brothers and sisters around the world, but instead were being told very pointedly their pastors’ opinions on politics and for whom they should vote in the coming election.

How does preaching specific political opinions add to Christian unity?  In many churches, due to the makeup of the congregation, the location, the denomination, it’s often going to be fairly obvious which way people lean politically.

And what of the minority parties within that congregation?  Will they feel welcomed as part of the body of Christ if they are being told their political views are wrong?  Doesn’t this just become one more divisive way that inhibits our witness as loving to the world?

It seems to me that World Communion Sunday is a much better option.  It is a way to be united despite differences, not a way to be divisive.  Is it so important to feel right about one’s political position that we have to make other Christian brothers and sisters feel less than for not agreeing?

What did your church do yesterday?  World Communion Sunday?  Pulpit Freedom Sunday?  Both?  Neither?  What would you liked your church to have done, had you had a chance to choose?

We *Can* Be United…When We Pray

I go to a MOPS meeting on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of the month, and am in charge of devotions for this year, so on those Thursdays I’ll be posting here what I say there.
When Kelli sent me the list of topics that she already had
for this year, I had to laugh that prayer was one of them. 
I stink at prayer—so I’m hoping to learn something from the
speaker this morning.
When I attempt to pray, I get distracted.  I don’t set aside a regular time for it.  And I hate
praying out loud in front of people.  It
makes me feel like someone is eavesdropping on a private conversation and I end up being more focused on the people who are listening to me rather than the God to whom I am praying.
Or I hear about books like The Power of a Praying Wife (which I own) or The Power of a Praying Parent and all I feel like is that I’m a
failure at prayer because I don’t follow everything they say. Or even finish reading them.
And as I was preparing this and trying to figure out what to
say about prayer, I found out that my dad was admitted to the hospital.  And then I posted about it in the Facebook
group for a Bible Study I go to.  And
then I remembered last spring when I used my blog to solicit prayer for a guy
named Matt in Kansas City.  
And I
remembered praying so hard when my friend’s newborn baby was not healthy, and
she died.
And I sometimes wonder what the point of prayer even is.
But then I remember my own words from a sermon I gave a couple
of years ago about prayer.   I said that I don’t know how prayer works or
why it is sometimes answered and sometimes not. 
I only know that when we pray,
all of our differences no longer matter

What a person believes theologically or politically is of no
importance.  Instead, prayer brings us all on equal
footing before God.  In prayer, we are
truly united.  In prayer, we are praying
together to our Father in Heaven. 
So let’s do that now.
Our Father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy Kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those that trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For thine is the kingdom,the power, and the glory, forever