I spend a lot of time online. It is poach-an-egg-on-the-windshield hot outside. Combine the two, and it is entirely possible that my perceptions of today’s overheated rhetoric about the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling upholding the individual mandate in the national healthcare bill may be warped. Today’s polarized rantfest of despair or gleeful celebration (pick one) over this morning’s announcement reminds me once again that our opinions are never just words. Mark Twain said, “Our opinions do not really blossom into fruition until we have expressed them to someone else.” Our constitution grants us the right to free speech, and the internet’s disembodied, often-anonymous nature means that we can tappity-tap into a keyboard what we might never dream of voicing in person.
But just what are we “blossoming into fruition” when we share our opinions online?
I am not exempt from the temptation to replace real fruit with plastic grapes with my words. I blog, I twitter, I repost the clever words of others onto my facebook page. I write, I speak. I have plenty to say, and my Golden Rule filter is not always properly positioned over my lips to staunch the flow of every word-bomb that drops from my soul. I have offended some and amused others in the process. (Wouldn’t it be great if the two groups were one and the same?)
The interchange of ideas is at the heart of learning. We need safe places in which to share an idea, ask a question or speak out a “What if?” In fact, my earlier post this week became a part of a larger exchange taking place at the Christianity Today website. Read the comments sections on any of the posts, and you’ll no doubt see some places where interchange becomes rantish soliloquy. Most comments were productive, and I think the conversation helped to advance the questions asked of the original posters. I’ve been a writer for a long time, and developing thick skin is an important qualification for the job. There are some people to whom I’d like to ask, “Have you thought through the real-life consequences of your ideas? What does your theology about this topic look like in real life?”
But of course, when someone is on a tear, those questions are like kittens sleeping on the tracks of a fast-moving freight train. I usually choose silence in the face of a rant – no response, then prayer, collecting my thoughts (sometimes by dumping them all over my husband), and then later, when my own reactive heat has dissipated, I try to figure out if a response somewhere is called for.
As I read the overblown hyperbole on both sides of the Supreme Court ruling today, I realize how easy it is to get mean in the name of First Amendment Venting. I wish that every believing person I follow on twitter, every facebook friend, and the motley crew of bloggers I read would take a breath, then another one. Then walk away from the computer for a while and ask themselves if they’d say their angry words to the face of someone they cared about if this someone happened to hold a differing opinion of the issue. We’re called to love, not sass, our neighbors.
There is a need for real engagement on every issue, but we’d better make sure that our engagement reflects the One who has called us to speak the truth in love.
The last time I looked, a clicked facebook “like” for a bad picture of Barack Obama emblazoned with a snotty caption wasn’t in God’s definition of love. Nor is gloating over the narrow-mindedness of those who do.
Lord, help us each to be a city on a hill. Help our words to be measured and wise, and bring forth some real fruit of the Spirit in the form of self-control in these overheated days.