Speaking, listening in feverish days

Dec 21, 2015 by

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These last weeks have seemed feverish both in personal and online spaces as people have sought to respond to incidents in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif. These days I get a lot of my news via social media. I see the news from different perspectives throughout my Facebook feed, thanks to an array of contacts politically and geographically.



I’m grateful for the glimpses into the heart and head of my friends. But I’m careful to avoid partisan responses and tread carefully into heated political and theological conversations. I choose my social media postings carefully, aware of my diverse friendships and relationships.

I’ve been tempted to wade into the turbulent waters numerous times, though, in the past weeks. And by the time this is published, it’s possible that I won’t have been able to restrain myself, or that wisdom will have somehow descended and I’ll have the right words. But my desire to respond has also been tempered by personal pastoral encounters.

I was embarrassed when I smirked at someone who told me his political leanings. I assumed he was joking. As a pastor in that moment, I recognized that, as Christians, our politics are defining our religious orientation. I apologized. In the weeks that have passed since, I’ve continued to be challenged on how to pastor people whose political leanings seem to contradict my own.

I find myself relying on Scripture more and more in navigating these tough spaces. The text can speak authoritatively when I cannot. The text’s nature of being both in and out of time helps me find words — ancient words that clarify and complexify at times, too.

It can be hard work to listen. It can be even harder to figure out how to allow the way of Christ to permeate my being in a way that lets me point toward anything with moral authority without arrogance but with what I know of the truth.

In these days, there’s been a rise in criticism of hashtag activism — the idea that sharing something via social media isn’t nearly enough. In the marketplace of ideas and media, hashtag activism certainly has a place. It is not “doing something,” but it is also acknowledging or speaking.

My friend Tyler Tully reminded me that sometimes saying something is important among Mennonites, for whom actions are considered to speak louder than words. A recent Christian Peacemaker Teams Facebook post went viral by inviting people to speak words of kindness to Muslims but also endured reports of hate speech that meant a temporary disruption from time online.

Communication philosopher Michael Hyde talks about the “gift of acknowledgement.” In the story of Adam and Eve, Adam hides when God calls out, “Where are you?” He hides out of fear and out of recognition that the relationship had been betrayed.

The challenge for me is to discern how to respond, assertively but humbly, “I am here.” This response is one of relationship and also of context.

I respond not because of who I am but because the other has called to me. Sometimes that other is faceless or nameless and unpronounceable. Sometimes I know that person as a fellow believer, citizen or so-called infidel. Regardless, I am convinced they are neighbors in the way that Jesus framed it.

Our hashtag activism is a recognition of feeling and connection that’s sometimes too easy but often felt in the heart. That part is easy when I resonate or when I feel similarly.

I wonder, in these feverish days, what it might mean to see even those who might want to be my enemy — even those whose political leanings make me wince — as friends.

Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor, student and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.

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