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Facebook Conversations Are the Best

It’s December 28, 2017—another early winter morning, although not nearly as early as the day I started writing. Truth be told, I have my wife to blame for this one. Last night, we had friends visiting from out of town, and just before midnight, as the conversation was winding down, Melissa let them in on what we were about to walk through in our church. And so it was a late night conversation that shook my pastoral responsibility awake from it’s post-Christmas slumber and that now has me up early on a morning when I would have otherwise stayed in bed.

(Note: This post is part of an ongoing series called The View From Here. Please follow this link and start reading at the oldest post, Fear and Trembling.)

Ben and Sarah are long-time friends of ours and people we’ve walked deeply with in life and ministry over the years, so midnight was really the only barrier to engaging in this conversation with them. But there’s something about raising this conversation that feels different for me now. This is no longer an issue we’re talking about, but the real-time story of the church Melissa and I helped build together and that I am somehow responsible for guiding through this season with all of its unknowns. A flurry of Christmas shopping and family dinners may have wedged itself between us and the next steps that our church will be taking, but only temporarily. I know it’s been important for me to take a break over the holidays—to be present with my family and to give myself some much needed rest—but I also feel like I have more head-space than usual thanks to these lazy holidays, so I’ll take advantage of the early hours before everyone else rolls out of bed to explore some of the thoughts rattling around in my head.

Melissa raised the topic last night because, once you start down this path, it forces itself into the conversations that matter most. Thanks to the world of Facebook, we knew that these friends of ours had shifted in their thinking on the place of gay Christians in the church. At one point last night, Sarah quipped, “Facebook conversations are the best.” I suggested that would make a great slogan for the front of a t-shirt, as many of us can identify with the relational danger of getting into online spats about things that matter deeply to us.

Ben has been one of those online instigators—you know the type—who posts bold, controversial statements that are guaranteed to get people riled up. Knowing how vocal he’s been online, when Melissa raised the topic a few minutes before midnight, I thought we’d either still be talking over breakfast the next morning, or would be parting on less friendly terms. As it turned out, an hour was plenty of time for the four of us to share a sampling of our experiences, ideas, and emotions with respect to this theme.

We talked about how important this next season will be for our church and about some of the complexities that make this such a difficult conversation to have. Ben acknowledged that his online approach to this dialogue had strained a number of relationships, but he also said it had opened up other conversations: some with people who wouldn’t feel comfortable posting their opinions in a public forum, and some with people in the LGBTQ+ community who felt supported by his willingness to provide a voice for them.

Since I’m not active on Facebook, I’m hesitant to say too much about the way online conversations take shape, but I think it’s important for anyone who wants to enter that arena to keep a couple of things in mind:

First, digital communication removes a meaningful interpersonal element. Regardless of how clever and creative your emojis are, you’ll never be able to relay your intentions perfectly with text alone. On the receiving end, there’s just so much room to misinterpret what a person is saying through a late-night post or truncated tweet. So it’s important to exercise caution, whether we’re the ones posting or the ones reading posts, because an essential element of human communication is missing: the other person!

It’s also important to acknowledge that social media outlets like Facebook aren’t always the neutral space they’re made out to be. Depending on the space, certain opinions are more acceptable than others. For example, in some circles, posting a gay-affirming comment would invite vitriolic spew, while in other circles, defending a traditional view of marriage would invite mockery or outright dismissal. Because of this, many people feel they have to settle for being observers when it comes to more controversial topics, instead of being active participants. We may have the feeling of participation as we scroll through the comments, but we’re a lot more voyeuristic than we think.

It’s not that I think people shouldn’t be having these conversations, it’s just that we need to do a better job setting ourselves up for success so that we can actually listen to and learn from one another along the way.

Our conversation with Ben and Sarah eventually wrapped up, and I think it’s fair to say that we parted that night with even more respect for one another than when the night began, which gives me some hope that other conversations like this might end the same way.

A week or so ago, I went to see The Last Jedi, the latest release in the Star Wars saga, with my twelve-year-old son and two longtime friends of mine. There’s a scene in the movie that has been replaying in my mind a lot lately, and it’s actually helping me process how I’m feeling in light of the path I’m about to walk down.

The movie’s protagonist, Rey, was introduced in the previous episode as a young woman in search of purpose after being abandoned by her parents. In The Last Jedi, she finds herself training on a remote island with none other than Luke Skywalker, when she has a vision of a portal leading to a deep darkness beneath the surface of the island—a darkness that was pulling her closer.

Later in the movie, Rey actively seeks out the portal from her vision and it leads her to a cave beneath the island. Standing in front of a never-ending cascade of mirrors, she asks to see her parents, and when a blurred figure starts walking toward her, she braces herself to finally discover the truth about who they were. Instead, when the unknown figure reaches the glass barrier, it reaches out a hand and the glass clears to reveal Rey’s own reflection. It was a terrible disappointment for fans, to say nothing of Rey herself, who didn’t find what she went looking for after all.

Director Rian Johnson responded to waves of disappointed fans who were waiting for a big reveal: “I can understand why that answer doesn’t feel good. It’s not supposed to feel good.”

Like Rey, I feel like there is something pulling me in a direction I would rather not go, drawing me to a place that “doesn’t feel good” and that probably won’t provide the neat-and-tidy answers I’m hoping for.

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