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?  

When We Fight With Our Christian Family

This morning, I read a post at Frank Viola’s new Patheos Blog that I happen to think is very timely.  Not only because we are nearing the end of a hateful political season and we’ve all failed in loving our fellow Christians who believe differently politically, but also because of something new I’ve gotten involved in:  a book launch team for a book that is getting a lot of publicity:  Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

There are a great many supporters and a great many dissenters of Evans’ book.  It is easy for me to interact with others who loved the book as I did, but a great deal more difficult to interact with fellow Christians who are tearing it down (with or without having read it).

There are times when my husband has come home from work and asked me about prominent Christians that coworkers mentioned, and I immediately roll my eyes, get all indignant, and tell him exactly what is wrong with their ideas.  Of course, none of you readers know that because I don’t do it publicly, but does that make it any better?  Or does it make it worse?

In the post I linked to above, Frank Viola writes:

Civil disagreement and even debate, when done in the spirit of Christ, are healthy and helpful.  But when disagreements descend into second-guessing motives, distortions of one another’s words, mischaracterizations of one another’s views, and personal attacks, then we’ve moved into the flesh.

And so I wonder how to interact with and respond to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ when we disagree about a book.  What is the loving way to respond?  I don’t want to get into petty arguments, but I do want to have helpful and fruitful discussions.  Is it possible?

I can understand that people will not see this particular book in the same way that I will, but it saddens me to see it attacked and described as mocking the Bible.  I know that as I read it, I felt the Bible come alive; I saw an honest and searching approach to understanding how different women view and are viewed in the words of that beautiful book that points us to Jesus.

Will Evans get everything 100% correct?  No.  But who among us will?  I certainly won’t.  Even the greatest theologians in history failed in certain ways (I’m looking at you, Martin Luther, for your “On the Jews and Their Lies” essay), but the good news is that we are called to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves…not to love our favorite theological method with our of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

I have two hopes.  The first is that those who are attacking this book will actually read it with an open mind, and be able to see the good in it.  The second is that when I read articles or posts or books with which I disagree, that I will read them with an open mind and be able to see the good in them, and not be so quick to roll my eyes and get disgusted, and try to see where the writer is coming from.

Standing Up Alone

Peer pressure.  It’s something that is usually spoken about regarding teenagers and sex, alcohol, and drugs.  Teens are taught to be strong and not give in to peer pressure.  The thing is, though, peer pressure doesn’t go away once one passes into adulthood.  It is alive and well, and most people generally want to follow the crowd and not step out alone.  Whether it is because they don’t want to make a scene or because they are scared, it still happens.

A couple of weeks ago, the biggest topic for days was Chik-Fil-A and whether or not one would join on the side of the boycotters or join on the side of those eating there on a particular day.  The country was fairly divided over the issue: bloggers weighed in; Facebook statuses were shared, tweets were retweeted.  The message was fairly clear:  pick a side (the correct one).

But what if the group that you would usually side with wasn’t who you wanted to side with in this instance?  Did you “cross party lines”?  My guess is that most people would not; most people would stay silent if the majority of their group stood firmly on one side.  Most people who felt differently from their friends probably would not dissent.  And why not?  Dissenting, being the odd one out, is hard.  It brings uncertainty and fear:  of whether or not one is actually right, of whether or not one will be vilified, of whether or not one will lose friends, respect, opportunities, you name it.  

Frank Viola recently wrote a piece about being a dissenter.  He distinguishes between two types of dissenters:  disgruntled dissenters (angry, bitter, and misguided people with their own agendas) and sober-minded dissenters (people with good judgement, prophetic insight, and wisdom).  It seems to me that the disgruntled dissenter has it easier than the sober-minded dissenter.  The sober-minded dissenter, I think, is taking a bigger risk, precisely because she or he cannot be written off as angry or bitter.

This stirred in me thoughts of my own fears and hesitations about voicing my thoughts and opinions when they may be different than most of the people around me, or I just think they may be different.

I remember the day I decided to “like” Rob Bell on Facebook, knowing that I had friends who were very much against his ideas.  I wondered “who will see that I did this?  Will they think less of me?  Will they question my faith?”  I was afraid.

Pam Hogweide, author of Unladylike:  Resisting the Injustice of Inequality in the Church recently wrote a blog post called “Why I am Not a Christian Writer“, in which she told the story of how she was all set to write a book when the publisher pulled out due to some of her views they discovered on her blog.  Because of differing points of view regarding gay marriage, the Publisher felt they could not have her as an author. Though this initially crushed her, but eventually she realized she had to stay true to herself and her writing.  She acknowledges that “our beliefs, when spo­ken out loud, can get us into trouble”.  And really, who wants to get into trouble?

In the aftermath of the Chik-Fil-A uproar, I listened to Jonathan Martin’s sermon “Don’t Stand Up For Jesus“, and it was as if I heard many of my own broken thoughts and questions put into clear and concise words that I either could not do or have been too afraid to do.  One of the Martin’s statements was that “It’s easy to buy a chicken sandwich on the right chicken day. Loving people is hard work.”  And he’s right.

  • It’s easy to join in a crowd on any side of an issue.  It’s a lot harder to break from the crowd that expects you to be on board with them.
  • It’s easy to retweet something that someone else says but a lot harder to make your own statement.
  • It’s easy to jump into an issue but a lot harder to think deeply from different points of view about the issue.

There are so many bloggers and writers out there that are not (or don’t seem to be!) afraid of voicing their thoughts; I’m not sure I am one of them.  No, that’s not quite true.  I know I am not one of them, yet.  Whenever I read something that is a dissenting opinion, yet with which I agree, I wonder “why didn’t I say that?”  The answer?  Fear.  It’s scary to put my thoughts and ideas out there for the world to see; I am much more comfortable doing it with family and friends that I know well, but strangers?  On the Internet, anything that is written is up for debate and dissection, and I don’t have a thick enough skin for it at this point.  But at the same time, I think, if I read thoughts that I wish I’d said, maybe there are things that I have to say that other people would feel the same way about as well.

I hope that this is part of the process of becoming a better writer; to “write naked“, to be true to who I am, to who God is always shaping me to be.

In what way–if any–do you feel afraid to be a dissenter?  How does this affect how you live your life?  Do you feel as if you are not being all that you really are when you keep quiet?