Controversial controversy


Brain things / Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019

Dear Friends,

We’ve hit a number of inadvertently controversial hotspots in the last two weeks, and while I loved hearing from you, I am coming out on the other side with a few observations, questions, and worries. This post is me talking honestly about them, so there are no elephants in the room.

My dilemma

I’ve noticed our tendency to escalation. When a conversation starts to get heated, it tends to increase that way: the mercury inching up, and up. Then it bleeds over into other conversations, other forums, other posts.

We’ve fielded comments in a wide range: from passionate to dogmatic to catty to aggressive to modest to shy.

I don’t want poking at each other to become our new tone of voice in this place.

I feel responsible for the discussion that happens here. I am the moderator, and this is my space. However, I am caught in something of a dilemma. If I remove the comments I object to (and believe me, I’ve been tempted), I create a false impression of community life. In the real world we don’t all agree, and we don’t say things perfectly even when our hearts are good or our positions correct, and if you stick your neck out somewhere you might get it bit into chunks and spit back out. I don’t want you thinking you can share strong soup (even in small batches) without repercussion, or wishing that real life would imitate social media. (Like! Like! Like!) I don’t want to create an illusory reality.

Nor do I want to shut down conversation. While as a Christian I want to avoid foolish questions and contentions, a good rip-roaring discussion is one of my favorite things.

But if I leave all comments standing as they are – and in the last few weeks, I have – I run the risk of hosting a place where sharing from the heart is no longer safe. You may be argued with and sat on. You may be validated when you should be rebuked, or judged when you should be cared for. You may be corrected by Alice’s interpretation of history and Joan’s choice of Scripture and Emily’s community wisdom and Sophie’s grandmother. Or praised for foolishness. Who knows? Then I feel like I’m not protecting you, or other readers who may be misled.

Third, and very importantly, I don’t want to talk about this so much that I scare you away from commenting at all. Hehee.

My own sins

But I have a few questions.

I am asking them of myself, in a life stage when I get easily fired up about everything, from my dog regurgitating on my porch to where the gals should meet up for coffee. My husband and the Lord are gently encouraging me to hold my tongue and receive.

Here is one example, at the risk of making you nervous that I’m talking about you. Which is statistically unlikely.

A couple of times in the last two weeks of blogging drama, I drafted a specific pushback that I thought was necessary and eloquent, oh yes very wise, and then (only then) I came before the Lord and said to him – Well? What do you think?

His response was clear, a sudden eye opening beyond my own wisdom. (Which was super exciting, even though it kind of stung, because it marked the first time I’ve heard from him outside of church for many months during this season of grief.) He was very gentle.

First, I saw that I had a desire to hurt and undermine a sister, as she had hurt and undermined. To make her look bad and me look good. (I just love when I realize sweet little stuff like this about my own heart.)

Second, I saw that I have struggled with my own nearly identical issues in the past. Underneath my pushback was the dark fear that I myself might be Like That. I was so determined to be Not Like That that I had to make it very clear I was not, even though as Christ shone his light around my heart I could see that I was: that I could relate very well to the exact mentality she was speaking from. Her thinking scared and offended me because it had been in me. And so I wanted to fight it, and her.

Third, when I went back to read the words I’d drafted, I could see now (only now) that they were not wise, but pointed and aimed, ready to fire.

So that response went into the dust bin where it belonged.

My questions

What does nonresistance mean in conversation?

What does wisdom look like?

If you’re like me, you usually skim Scripture references on blog posts. But would you read this one carefully? Maybe even out loud?

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18)

If I may paraphrase, we’re known first by our conduct and behavior, not by our position or our eloquence. The wisdom that comes from Jesus is not arrogant, but humble and ready to learn. It is not driven by self-interest at all, or by who is right and how that will make me look, but by the gentle, moldable desire for purity and peace.

Of course I am instantly pretty sure that I am on the white team, and a peacemaker.

Or am I?

How do you know if your own words are necessary? How do you tell if sharing a corrective (publicly or privately) is worth the pain you will cause? Does truth come first, or peace?

Shouldn’t our goal be the marriage of the two?

Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (Psalm 85:10)

My hope is for this space to be a safe one, where we share kindness even in disagreement, and where space for nuance and difference is actually a thing. For real. I’m not just getting postmodern on you. There are some issues I will never back down on – they are firm and certain in Scripture. But in other areas, truth and the Bible can be quoted on any side we please. We don’t all feel the same. Given this, we run a grave risk if we make all areas of life unequivocal.

But how do we talk about them well?

I really want to hear from you on this, even though I know the ones with the best wisdom may not feel a need to weigh in. (Yes, I am daring you. And also affirming.) But I want to learn, and I am inviting your thoughts.

Please make them kind.

Love,

Shari


No apologies will be accepted for past comments. 😊 It is not my goal to undercut you.

28 Replies to “Controversial controversy”

  1. Shari, this is wisdom, to bring this to the forefront. And because this is your space, it is your privilege to delete comments that do not pertain to peace and love and do not agree with your standards. I love reading here. Thank you for sharing your heart on deep matters. And on humour. And everything in between.

  2. Very Good! I appreciated the importance of allowing comments that don’t agree with your view, while still desiring a safe place to share.
    I wonder if the animosity that can so quickly be displayed in a comment section often results form our own discontentment? A person may feel trapped in their own drama and not feel anyway to speak out; when they read a blog that address a similar situation they feel they can speak to fix the wrong because they can’t face the discontent in their own lives.
    In many ways when we jump on on others we become the pharisees that brought the adulterous woman to Jesus. He said, “He that is without sin…” As I was reading this post and thinking on the recent conflicts I was reminded of a verse from 1 Corinthians 4:15 “For though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers.” Comment sections bring life to online reading; they can create community, but if you feel that strongly about something I hope you are being a “father” to someone in real life and not just an instructor to faceless online contacts.

    1. I really like how you emphasized that strong comments online may be a reaction to a bigger “Real” world thing. That may even lead me to read others comments with more grace. . . if I remember.

  3. My mom just shared something that her preacher said in church Sunday “We have one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; and one hundred different opinions”… I wish I could have heard his following comments on that 🙂

  4. Yes! Thank you!

    Recently I’m learning that in relationship, listening always comes first. I can hear the truth of how you feel, and acknowledge the truth of how you feel, without agreeing that it is actually the whole truth. I will not try to correct your perspective, but I hope you will also listen to mine, and that the blending of both perspectives might get somewhere pretty near actual truth. Or at least closer than either perspective alone. (I hope it is clear that this is my goal, not something I have mastered yet!)

    It really is more important to listen with compassion and grace than to “be right” in the debate. “Quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” Now if I could only practice this in real life… 😊

  5. Shari, you are wise and brave to take ownership of what is going on here. Your words are kind and oh, so true! Community was not intended to demolish, but to build.
    (go ahead and delete my comments! That’s what I usually want to do after they’re posted.)😕😂

  6. “Non-resistance in conversation” – yes, that is such a good way to put it.
    I know that blogs are a bit different than social media such as Facebook but, this very thing was something I had to learn the hard way.
    I used to be very determined to “speak the truth.” Somewhere along the way I may have forgotten about the “in love” part of the verse. Eventually, I could see that no one was listening anyway and I was only pushing people away. And I stopped talking.
    I often wondered then, if I was just being silent out of fear of man. Because I really did believe that what I was saying was biblical truth…..it seems to be a narrow path to walk.

    I think being non resistant in conversation and thinking of it that way may help me to balance my words better.
    That and knowing when to speak and when to be silent.

    Our technological world makes it easy to say things we may not say in person. Type out our thoughts and send them out into the unretrievable….😊

  7. I admire how courageously you have navigated this minefield, Shari. I wanted to cry for hours after reading the comments on motherhood…mostly because I heard so many hearts crying to be understood. And so often we (I!) have listened in order to reply and correct instead of to understand.
    I have said already that I am not a “natural mom”- for me, everything about motherhood requires a supernatural work of God! But now with my children being mostly teens and older, I realize that the greatest gift I have given them is to let them see how much I need Jesus! Nothing blesses me more than to see them learning to depend on the Holy Spirit in every area of their lives. It’s worth it all, dear mamas!

  8. This is good. I was glad you allowed both sides to weigh in without shutting one down. The world today has a hard time disagreeing without being easily offended or triggered by an opposite view. As Christians living in community we should be able to hear from each other even when we don’t agree. As we share with each other I think of a saying that is not original with me but one I now tell my kids – you will never regret being kind.

  9. Making meaning of our own experiences can be challenging, and making meaning from another person’s words about their experience is doubly so. I’ll offer some reflective questions that help me when I can feel conversation tangling up. Even if I just get to #2 I can at least remember that the other person may be intending a different meaning from the one I am making, and this eases my gut-level responses, giving time to consider other possibilities for their meaning and my response.
    1. What am I seeing and hearing? 2. What meaning am I making from what I see and hear? 3. What feelings do I have about the meaning I make? 4. And finally, do I have any rules about my response?

    1. Goodness, I already feel the need to clarify my own comment. 🙂 Making meaning from other people’s words is actually not difficult after all (according to some, 70% of human interaction is the meaning we make from the words we just heard). So we are good at making our own meanings – the more difficult part is hearing what the other person meant.

  10. I really wanted to reply to one comment on the first post and try to explain my first comment. I decided it wasn’t worth it because the person that misunderstood my comment doesn’t know me and even if I explain it will be misunderstood again. I am also learning like you said, with God and my husband to be quiet and leave things unsaid. May we all learn to be more gracious with our words and especially things that we feel passionate about.

  11. This reminds me of a quote that my Dad often used.
    “The wise old owl lived in an oak
    the more he saw the less he spoke
    The less he spoke the more he heard.
    Why cant we all be like that bird?”
    At the same time scripture does tell us there is a time to speak, but we need to stop and listen, really listen to another’s heart and listen for the direction of the holy spirit before correcting them.
    Thanks Shari for so gracefully navigating this space!

  12. Very well stated Shari! Often when I feel like I’m sharing the truth, I forget the hurt it may cause an already discouraged soul. Hence my truth was ineffective… Blessings as you continue to sort through your blog ‘soup’ of comments: )

  13. Thank you Shari for this post and sharing your thoughts. I have to admit when I see comments start to get heated I get anxious because I don’t know where the whole argument is going to go. I had to purpose myself not to read comments on two other blogs I read because some of the comments were so mean I would be sick after reading them.
    Perhaps that’s why my own blog is moderated because I’m afraid of controversy.

    I try to always be gracious when I reply to a comment that is interesting. I also have this desperate need to defend ladies who comment when someone seems to be jumping all over them. Maybe that’s the ” mama bear” in me.

  14. As I was reading this Shari, I had to think about your Dad’s example as a teacher. One of the subtle things he did was ask a lot of thoughtful questions. When he did state his opinion, we were ready to listen because we felt very heard. You have a real hero. . . maybe some day I will be a teeny bit like him.

  15. You did an amazing job at navigating thru this. You make a wise pastor’s wife simply because you’re not afraid to hit on controversial subjects and neither are you afraid of the reactions.
    Jumping on someone else is really what our flesh does so quickly…when one reacts, we react back. Thank you for your amazing example of thoughtful wisdom and honesty.
    I love the verses in scripture about the mercy and truth combination. I WANT that in my own life.
    These days prophets are not popular as so many preach mercy, love and grace. Those who choose to speak up about issues are labeled unloving. The prophet is losing his voice. Some of us are prophets and some of us are mercy and I think God wants to marry the two in our hearts till we can reach out to people with his compassionate love and mercy, and yet full of the truth of his word and obedience.

    1. Thank you Sheryl (and others) for your kind words. I don’t deserve them though – lol. I am often afraid of controversy and reaction, and find myself in a knotted up place where I don’t know how to respond. I truly appreciate you guys’ grace to me and each other. Thanks!

  16. I want to get better at that marriage of mercy and truth. My flesh loves truth and administers mercy when the it deems necessary. I LOVE a rip-roaring discussion as well, it totally energizes me. But God grant us the discernment to identify if someone (on a media platform, or in real life) needs more mercy or truth. In my experience, when truth raises it head too far, its often when I want to be heard, a selfish response, really. My prayer is that my conversations can be life-giving. For me, that often looks like mercy with a side of stewed and tenderized truth.

  17. Others have said it well. Thanks for what you said here, Shari and others. One or more of you touched on the idea that perhaps some of us may quickly type out on a keyboard what we might think harder about before saying in person, face to face. Even if we sign our name, it feels less personal when we are behind a screen. We don’t see the other person’s shocked, hurt face, and neither do we have to listen to them explain what they really meant. I appreciate those of you who are really attempting to speak Truth into the situation. Some of us dearly need that. Bless those of you who hear that hearts are crying out to be heard. If struggling moms or or other people are in a minority, then yes, finding a blog like this suddenly feels like a space where someone understands. But that can quickly get unbalanced! Anyway, keep writing, Shari, and keep commenting, other ladies. There is something good happening here. And maybe we should all pray before we type a response?

  18. So true…often in these discussions I am so tempted to speak or write, especially in defense of the hurting…I was there not so long ago and felt shut down for sharing my honest heart, since then it has been incredibly hard to stick my head back out again when it comes to really writing what’s on my heart. You do so well at navigating this world! Blessings to you dear sister. Your writing makes me feel not alone.

  19. We are all more alike than we are different. We all have fightings within and fears without…oh to be more like Jesus! Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight oh God! I certainly have work to do.
    Bless you Shari for exemplifying the love of Christ!

  20. Recently I saw a facebook conversation that was deescalated. I had never seen that before, but I guess it is possible. The deescalater simply refused to take offense and used clarifying and humor and when that failed, compliments and positivity. I think slowing down and asking, “What do I really want for this person and relationship?” can be helpful any time. God give you wisdom, Shari! You are a brave woman!

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