When I first started blogging, a friend told me that the internet is the wild west, and because it’s relatively new and ungoverned, there are no rules. Each person has to make up their own rules, and then stick to them.
I have a few rules, and chief among them is the one:
I’m a lover not a fighter.
I’m surprised how often people ask me to weigh in on this or that small scandal in faith-related happenings or the church world or Christian publishing, when this pastor says that thing about that other pastor, when so and so slams so and so on his blog, when this author writes negatively about that church or other author.
I’m not surprised that these questions are getting asked. In my most negative moments, I think that the internet is a lot like cable news: yelling and drawing lines in the sand, drumming up controversy for the sake of ratings. There are a lot of bloggers who jump on every single slightly controversial aspect of Christian culture and church life.
The fact that people are asking these questions doesn’t surprise me—but the fact that they’re asking me does surprise me, because I never bite, and unless something unforeseeable and dramatic changes in the future, I never will.
This is my rule: I’m a lover, not a fighter.
Some people use their online voices and platforms to highlight the differences between us. Some people use their voices to police the highways and byways of world wide web—that’s wrong! That’s bad! That’s not what I think! There are open letters and link ups, shout outs and name drops.
I don’t have anything against those bloggers. But I’m not going to be one. I’d imagine they believe that’s how lasting change in our communities will get made, or that opening those conversations brings into the light some ways that our community needs to grow. Maybe it does. I don’t know.
What I do know is that as far as the interwebs are concerned, I’m on the lookout for good—things that are beautiful and wise and helpful, things that connect us, books I think you should read, meals I think you could serve to the people you love.
You won’t find me taking shots at this or that public person ever, not because I don’t have strong opinions—I do, and anyone who knows me well knows that there’s no shortage of those strong opinions…but that’s the point: I share those strong opinions in the context of relationship, because I think that’s the healthiest place for them to be. And because I always think to myself, what if that person has a daughter?
In the last few years, I’ve been hurt by careless and unkind words about me & my books online. But way before all that, I was a pastor’s kid, and I heard people say terrible things about my parents and their friends, people who had given everything they had to do what they believed God was calling them to do. Sometimes reporters were unkind. Sometimes authors and professors were unkind. But the pastors were the worst.
I burned through my willingness to argue the rights and wrongs about how to do church when I was about eleven. I got sick of pastors taking shots at one another publicly when I was about thirteen. These days I will physically get up from a table of pastors or bloggers or anyone at all when the conversation turns to other pastors or people in public life. I had more than enough of that conversation before I could even drive.
And then the internet came along, and anyone with a laptop can insert themselves into a conversation that isn’t about them, where relationships aren’t present, and pretty soon we’re just all flinging uninformed opinions around the internet, name-calling and drawing lines in sand, hurtling arrows through cyberspace, telling ourselves that this is an important conversation.
But is it a conversation? Or is it a really easy way to air opinions you never have to back up or explain about real people with real lives and feelings and families?
Again, I have no shortage of strong opinions on the topics of the day. But I don’t think that it helps anyone for me to scream them through the bullhorn that is the internet.
Around our table we have all sorts of conversations and disagreements and differences of opinion. But we can hear each other’s voices, and we know one another’s stories. We can create a loving, kind framework to hold all the differing voices.
It’s near impossible to do that online. And so I’ve made it a policy that I don’t.
I read a book that enraged me last month. I hated it, and I would love to blab all about it. But that author is a person. And a daughter. And a friend. So I’ll use my voice to talk about the books that I do love, because there are so many of them.
There are pastors that make me bonkers. Plenty. Also politicians and musicians and writers. But again, I remind myself how it feels as a daughter or a wife or a friend when I’ve seen name of someone I love attached to someone else’s opinion about them on the internet. I think about how my stomach has dropped when I’ve seen my own name on someone else’s blog, someone telling a story that isn’t theirs to boost their traffic.
When I’ve regretting saying something on the internet, it’s never been about love. I’ve never regretting loving or encouraging or celebrating something. I have often regretted slamming or dismissing or criticizing something, because when I do that online, it’s outside of relationship, outside of shared understanding, outside of context.
I know what generates loads of blog hits. I know that controversy is currency. But I think it’s worth asking about who you’re taking down, in the hopes that your snark and wit will go viral. I think it’s worth asking about what happens over time to your insides when you decide to be a hater, when you decide to be the police of the internet, crusading for something or other.
There are enough haters. There always will be.
And right at the same time, there will always be enough beauty, enough hope, enough good, if we decide to be people who are always on the lookout for it. I want to use my voice to bring light and hope and beauty. I want to search for what’s good, and shout about that.
When I get all wound up–when someone trashes someone I love and I want to get into the fight, when I disagree so vehemently that I want to use all caps to illustrate my point, when someone’s political views make me insane, I remember my rule, that I’ve committed to love, to being a voice for love and goodness.
It’s especially hard work during election season, but if we’re going to make it through the fall with relationships intact, maybe we should all think about being lovers instead of fighters.
I’m not telling you what to do, but this is what I’ve decided: when it comes to the internet, I’m a lover, not a fighter.