Shutdown, Violence at the Capitol, Online Communion, and Twitter Quips…what a week!

This week has been one for the record books!

For the first time in 17 years, the U.S. Congress was unable to pass a budget in time to prevent a shutdown of the government.  In the present political climate, it seems highly unlikely that Democrats and Republicans will be able to reach a compromise, since both parties seem to be dead set on maintaining their rigid positions, even if it results in chaos, and the eventual loss of support from the American public.  I’ve heard a lot of “throw them all out!” this week, and I have to say, at times I have agreed with that call. 

In the midst of the shutdown, it was reported yesterday that shots were fired on Capitol Hill.  At first, my reaction was, “Now what?”  I thought that we would have to go through another round of hand-wringing by both sides of the gun debate about what we should (or shouldn’t) do to curb gun violence/gun ownership.  Instead, we later learned that the shots were not fired by a citizen, but by the Capitol police, in order to stop a woman who had led the police on a chase through Washington, D.C., from the Treasury all the way to the Hill.  As the woman got out of the car (unarmed), police opened fire.  Now, what seemed at first to be a cut-and-dry case of gun violence has turned into a conversation about police powers, necessary force, and on a wider scale, how we as a society handle people with severe mental illness.  At it’s base level, that’s really what all these conversations about violence have been about–how do we handle mental illness in a society where we are so often quick to make judgments about motives for violence?

In The United Methodist Church, a group of bishops, agency leaders, pastors, and theologians gathered this week to discuss what response the church should have to the possibility of offering communion in an online format.  The conversation ranged from those who absolutely would forbid the practice, to those who are already practicing e-communion.  Ironically enough, the much more interesting debate (in my mind) was argued on Twitter and Facebook.  It seems that a sub-culture of UM’s has developed over the past few years among those who observe and comment about the goings-on of the church in real time–even (and especially) those of us who are not at the actual event being discussed.  The result is usually snarky, an a little funny (in my mind, the two are often the same thing–I’m working on it!), and can lead to frustration among those who are actually on the floor of the debate or conversation.  “Why don’t you people on Twitter just leave us to have our conversation without making side comments that are tangential to the topic, or are unhelpful because you’re not here in the room?” is something I sometimes here from these types of events.  My response?  Why do you create and publicize a hashtag and encourage people to tweet and comment, then?  As we continue to see an increase in the use of social media in the church (which, by the way, is as usual several years behind the curve of the wider culture), we need to find ways to enable authentic conversation that utilizes technology as a tool for building, rather than destroying, community.  I guess people like me will have to leave the snark in our back pockets from time to time in order for that to happen, but I also think it would do the hierarchy of the church well to realize that technology is neither something to be feared at all costs, nor something that should come to replace the value of face-to-face interaction. 

Finally, on a similar note, I was humbly put in my place this week when I commented on someone’s tweet on Twitter.  After the fact, it was pointed out to me that the original tweet, and my comment, were slightly sexist.  I admit that I hadn’t seen it that way at the time, but I was grateful for my friend who pointed it out to me.  It was a good example of the love of Christ working through social media, correcting error and building a more beloved community.  Instead of tweeting back, “Don’t be so sensitive, it was just a #joke” (which was my knee-jerk reaction–emphasis on the “jerk”), I was able to open myself to another person’s perspective.  This was mostly due to the fact that my friend had pointed out my error in a loving and non-judgmental way. 

So, the common  thread in all these stories?  Life is rarely ever what it seems on the surface.  Motives are usually not as simple as they seem to be from an outsider’s perspective.  No one is easy to understand.  Relationships take time to build up, and trust can too easily be destroyed by an off-hand comment.

My advice?  We all need to take a step back sometimes, take a deep breath, and chill out.  And I need to listen to my own advice on that one.

Peace and Blessings,

David

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