If you follow me on social media, I’m probably going to disappoint you at some point, if I haven’t done so already.
I’m not going to do it on purpose, mind you. I try to keep things pretty light and avoid unnecessary squabbles. I may retweet more “controversial” things, but only if they’re things I truly believe, and even then I’ll admit that I weigh the importance of the issue to the potential negative feedback I might receive. I’d never go out of my way to act like a proverbial internet troll. There have been a few times where I’ve gotten pretty heated about a subject and that comes out in a quick thread that may or may not stay up for more than a few minutes, but usually when I tweet from the spleen, I’ll refrain from hitting “send” or will delete the posts pretty quickly once the moment of anger passes.
All in all, as much as I can, I keep it pretty low-key. It’s more fun for me that way. But even with that approach, I will still disappoint you. (Depending on how up-to-date you are with “cancel culture,” I may have even disappointed you with my post title.)
About 6 months ago, I discovered that over the course of just a few days, I had deeply disappointed folks in two opposite ideological directions. What can I say, I’m just that talented.
“You say you want a revolution…“
If you’re an American citizen and/or a news junkie, the date “January 6th” holds a new level of meaning after this year. No matter where you land on the political spectrum, the date might inspire some sort of visceral response, even now. In the heat of the moment, it certainly did so for me.
I was in the middle of a particularly plodding Zoom meeting and decided to check the news; it was the day that the presidential election results were scheduled to be certified, and the buzz was that there may be some rhetorical fireworks in the People’s Chamber. (Little did they know.)
As I started to see the raw footage being shared over social media and network news feeds, I was shocked. The Capitol, surrounded by a crowd pressing in at the doors, smashing windows, crossing barriers and security gates, celebrating like they just captured the enemy’s castle. From my virtual vantage point, the mood was a swirl of elation, outrage, and undefined hunger looking for an outlet.
When I saw footage of mobs smashing buildings and burning businesses and cars last summer, I viewed it with a mix of resignation and bewilderment; the logic of looting is something I’ll never fully comprehend. But when I saw this raucous crowd push their way into the Capitol, I felt something else: indignation. It felt like a civic transgression had taken place. I was incensed.
So, like so many watching news they can’t do anything about from a distance they can’t cross, I did the only thing I could think of: I tweeted about it. (Spoiler: This was a mistake.)
My comments were basically that anyone who had been trafficking in weeks of reckless rhetoric about election fraud and Deep State coup owned a little piece of the chaos unfolding, because my position in that moment (and to be honest, even now to some degree) is that there seems to be a pretty clear line from one to the other. If you tell people enough times and in enough ways that their country was being stolen by corporate and political powers who were defrauding them of their ability to vote and that they need to show up at a certain place and time to “fight for their country,” I don’t think you can then see a mob busting into the building chanting “Stop the Steal!” and throw your hands up like Captain Renault, shocked that there’s gambling going on in Casablanca. My tweets were essentially, “Here are your winnings, sir.”
In my head, I had in mind certain political talking heads and commentators–the tastemakers of the right. But hoo boy, did that not communicate well, and members of our church family reached out to my fellow elder and our lead pastor to let him know about it. (Fewer of them reached out to me directly, but that’s neither here nor there.) Thankfully, one of them did follow the Matthew 18 directive, confronted me about the tweets (which he felt were reckless and directed against some members of our church family), and exhorted me to take them down, saying they did not reflect well on the Gospel or our church. I realized I’d really stepped in it this time, so I screenshotted the offending posts, sent everything to my fellow elders for review, and took them all down. It took a while, and multiple conversations, to try to heal the offense I’d made against certain members of my church family. I’ve been able to have coffee with the offended brother and work out some of the misunderstanding, but it would have been better for me to take a minute and breathe and try to communicate things in a wiser manner.
Guilt by Association…
A few days later, I mentioned on Twitter (why am I still on there?) that I had an account on the social media platform Parler, in case people wanted to follow me there. As you may recall, this was one of the several times in the last year that conservatives on Jack Dorsey’s platform were threatening to pull up stakes and move elsewhere (which is about as convincing as when progressives threaten to move to Canada if Republicans win elections).
Now, in the interest of clarity: I originally set up that account because I was thinking it might be a nice, encouraging, apolitical alternative to Jack’s platform. (Silly me.) I used it a little bit, didn’t really like the interface, and saw that the folks I followed from Twitter onto Parler (mostly pastors and writers and podcasters) were actually MORE abrasively political there than they were elsewhere, so I just stopped using it. I kept the account as a placeholder with a link back to this blog, but otherwise haven’t really touched it since late 2020 (as far as I can recall).
I mentioned to my Twitter followers that I had an account over there they could follow, on the off-chance Jack became too inhospitable toward overtly Christian content or content that was too far to the right. (Which, I recognize, seems silly given my stated philosophy of “keeping it chill,” but as it turns out, some of my mutuals are starting to take heat from the tech overlords, so hey, better safe than sorry. Besides, I have a “brand” to maintain.)
I soon got a rather disapproving comment from a mutual follower on the left side of the political aisle who was shocked that I would even have an account on that platform. I’m not “real-life” friends with this person, but we’ve interacted positively several times online, so I was a bit surprised by her comment. She indicated that Parler was a place for those who wanted “people like her” dead. She posted a few screenshots from random Parler users saying particularly crazy things and said she would never want to be associated with a site that engaged in that sort of hate speech. I tried to respond that a) I’m sorry there are posts like that; b) that’s not why I’m using it or who I interact with; and c) I’m really not using it that much anyway (for the reasons outlined above). By that point, the conversation had pretty much ended, and I’ve gotten radio silence ever since.
It’s funny how much a little bit of push-back like that can catch you off-guard when you’re not used to getting it.
“You’re not as brave as you were at the start…”
Thinking back over these interactions, I realize that I could have acted differently in two opposite ways, but somehow with the same end result.
Rather than taking the path of conciliation and explanation, I could have just said “No.” I could have argued my case, cited examples to back it up, poked holes in the accusations. I could have even turned the arguments against these people–arguing that if you’re so offended, perhaps it’s you who are the problem. Doing that would have perhaps gotten me the argument “win,” but at the cost of potential continued friendship or loss of having a voice in that person’s life. That’s a bad bargain for such a fleeting prize.
I instead could have avoided the issue altogether. Said nothing. Kept my head down. Stayed off social media. (There’s always a good case to be made for that.) But I don’t think that would have been any better. Sure, I could have avoided the drama that week, but sometimes living an honest and open life means you are going to rub up against people who just don’t like what you have to say. I’ve spent too much of my life trying to avoid that kind of conflict by being pleasant and agreeable. That’s part of my
peacemaking people-pleasing nature. And in the end, am I really maintaining the relationship with someone to whom I’m unwilling to tell the truth? (The irony of this is, we’re slowly reaching the point in which “keeping it chill” stops working and you’re no longer allowed by your peers to avoid taking a position on certain issues.)
I think I need to be braver about saying what’s true and good and right on social media, even if it’s unpopular. I should be willing to get pushback if it can open up dialogue and provoke thought from others. I also need to be wiser and more prudent with my words. I think I’m growing in that, but I know I’ve got far to go.
I probably should get off Twitter eventually, because the balance of usefulness and connection to distraction and frustration is shifting too far to the latter. Until that day comes, if you choose to follow me on Twitter, just know that I’m probably going to let you down. I’ll say something you don’t agree with or are even offended by. And if you decide to push back, to argue, to call me out, I hope that I answer you well. I’m going to try to do so with grace and wisdom, for your good and for God’s glory rather than for a rhetorical win.
But I am going to answer you.