Training in Righteousness
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Becoming distracted from our own lives

It's easy to become distracted by social media when life is really good. Or maybe you're the type of person who finds the distractions of the internet a helpful way to cope with difficulties. Either way, real life is always there, no matter how easily we get distracted.

My friend and I are both encouraging one another to spend less time online over the month of December. She is doing better than I am. I am trying to limit my time to the morning hours and late evening. So far, it's very helpful. I do get a lot more done, and spending less time on things like Twitter, especially, means I'm not distracted by things that either irritate me (like those Twitter people who re-tweet over and over again the same article. Don't they know that repetition can be over done?) or are none of my concern.

I shared with my friend via email this week that I found that the biggest temptation with social media was its ability to distract us from our own lives. Whether we find ourselves constantly comparing ourselves with others or seeking ways to draw attention to ourselves, we can so easily get wrapped up in things that we neglect important things like our kids, our homes, or our friends.

I was reminded of this last night when my father called me to say that my mother has been hospitalized. She has some health concerns, and while this particular incident is not really serious at the moment, the woman is over 70 and has some chronic health problems, and any hospitalization is something to take note of. 

As I listened to my father's words, anything and everything that drew my attention during my late evening foray into social media immediately flew from my mind, and all I could think about was how I wish I could be there with my parents. Now. Today. They need me. I need to be there with them. 

It occurred to me that thousands upon thousands of people live with illness and things that are so much more important than the fleeting distractions we get so easily entangled with. It is a reality that men and women everywhere, at Christmas time, deal with sick parents, sick spouses, sick children. Or dying parents, dying spouses, and dying children. 

I've heard people say, "Of course on-line life is real. It's filled with real people." And that's true. But more often than not, when I get to consumed with online drama, it's not my life I'm living; sometimes, it's someone else's, someone I will likely never meet.

When I got of the phone, a thought went through my mind: thud. Reality.

I'm not saying that I hate social media or that I plan to stop using it. It's a useful and enjoyable tool for the most part. But I was reminded that life continues on all around us, and sometimes, if we don't look around, we might miss something.

After last night, I don't care about Christian ghost writers, hard-line Christian feminists, or what the best books of the year are as attested to by total strangers. I care about my mother, and what's happening, and about the seriousness of an ill mother who is outside of Christ. That's a distraction to my social media viewing, and I think it's probably the good kind of distraction.


Lessons from the Ringmaster

When I was about nine years old, the Shrine Circus was in Winnipeg where I was living. My father took us for an afternoon performance. It was, of course, thrilling. There was the typical offering of women standing on horses as they galloped around the arena, fire-eaters, lion tamers, and highwire acts.

The ringmaster I remember as being a very exciting fellow. Dressed in his tails and top hat, it was unlike anything I had ever seen. He had a booming voice, with just the right intonation to get one's attention and keep it. I left my seat that afternoon suitably impressed.

As we left the building, my father took us through a rear exit which was very close to the door where the circus members had exited the main ring. As we filed out, through an open curtain, I saw the ringmaster talking to another gentleman. I was horrified.

First, he had removed his top hat to reveal his complete baldness. Clearly, the black hair I thought was on his head was actually part of his hat. He had also removed a lot of the make-up he'd been wearing and it was smeared on his face. But that wasn't the worst part. As we shuffled through with the rest of the crowd, I heard him in a very clear, distinct voice say curse words. You know what I mean; the kind your mother doesn't let you say. It was an offense to my nine year old sensibilities.

My fascination with the ringmaster fell, because in my childishness, I held the fact against him that he was first, human, and second, an actor. He wasn't really that exciting ringmaster. It was put on for the show. Since that moment, I think I have gone a little to the other extreme and been suspicious of celebrities. I'm sure I had my obligatory fascinations with the Famous Pretty Boy of the day when I was a teenager, but I think the ringmaster ruined it for me.

The lesson from the ringmaster is a good one even when it comes to the famous Christian people we enjoy reading about, and because they are so accessible with social media, occasionally interact with. We need to remember that they are just regular people, too. We should not expect that since they have done something well enough to gain attention that they are more virtuous than the next person. When I was first converted, in my ignorance, I watched Jimmy Swaggart. He got attention did he not? And look at what he did. No, fame and virtue are not synonymous.

We are not obliged to give famous Christians blind loyalty. We can read their books and enjoy their preaching, and maybe we'll get weak-kneed if one of them tweets at us. But we don't owe them anything other than the exhortation Christ gave us to love our neighbours as ourselves. We owe them kindness and consideration, and treatment fitting a brother or sister in the Lord. But we don't have to follow them, constantly applaud them, or in contrast, constantly castigate them when they do the unthinkable and act like humans. And yes, we should expect them to act with integrity in their dealings, and no, we should not make excuses for them when they do not.

My husband and I had a pastor many years ago who was the most godly man we have ever met. He confided to my husband that he found pride such a terrible temptation when people told him week by week how great his sermons were, or how he blessed them. He was on constant guard that he not evidence pride in his life. This is one thing we can help a "celebrity" pastor with: we don't have to lay on the accolades for every word they say. Believe it or not, every word they utter is not a nugget. Even famous Christians can be a little dull.

I've been amazed over the past couple of weeks, in this season of Advent, how reflections on the coming of Christ have been eclipsed by stories about famous Christians. These men and women are just regular people, just like the ringmaster was. Let us do them and ourselves a favour and not treat them as if they are perfect, or above reproach. And let's remember that this is the Christmas season, and only Christ is worthy to be praised.


We may not be the change

This week at Karis, there was a good article about social media and confrontation. The author gives some solid, biblical advice about how to respond to things on social media. 

I would add one more strategy to her list, and that is to simply ignore things. 

You know what I mean. You see someone link a post that you find irritating. Someone you know posts something you find objectionable. You comment. Someone else comments. It escalates. And before you know it, you've re-created an adult form of the childish "my dad is better than your dad" scenario. Sometimes, social media makes us forget our manners. 

I think our first line of thinking should be: do I really need to address this? If it's something very agitating, that should be our first clue to ask ourselves if this is better left ignored. My husband tells me regularly: there is great freedom in ignoring.

We tend to think we are responsible for correcting others, but we may be mistaken. It is ego and pride for me to think that it is my job to change someone's mind, convict someone, or set them straight. It may not be. We may grieve for serious issues, and we may offer encouragement or a word of exhortation, but ultimately, our words may fall on deaf ears. To continue to debate only puts us at risk for saying something equally foolish.

The ease with which social media allows us to comment makes us think we have a right to respond, or a need to respond, or that everyone and his dog is waiting for us to respond. In all likelihood, they don't care what we think.

Some things are worth addressing, but I would say that given the limitations of social media, ignoring it ought to be our first reaction to irritating content. Someone who is willing to rant online is most likely not someone who is going to be quick to listen, anyway. I have found frequently that most most vehement people are the least approachable.

Sometimes, adults have to be left to make foolish choices. Sometimes, they'll listen to a word of encouragement, and sometimes they won't. Sometimes, the mature thing is to just move on. These are lessons I continue to learn.


Debate or dialogue?

When I was in the eighth grade, my social studies class learned about debating. My teacher was Mr. Buckingham, and I really liked him. He was funny, smart, and interesting. He taught us the rules for formal debate, and set us to work, pairing us off with people to debate various issues. We practiced writing the debate briefs, and then we did two debates with a classmate. My first debte dealt with the question of whether all United Nations countries should have Esperanto as one of their offiicial languages, and the second was on the merits of capital punishment. I said no to Esperanto and yes to capital punishment. I won both debates.

I didn't like the debate process.  I didn't like the nasty comments from classmates that came my way in the capital punishment debate. I was already the class pariah, and this only fueled the fire. I liked the preparation for debate, lining up the research and evaluting it to draw conclusions, and I found it a helpful exercise. I did a lot of research for the capital punishment debate, and this was in the old days when students used libraries and real, live books.

When I consider what online debate is like, I don't see a lot of resemblance to what I learned in junior high. The two things I think are noticeably lacking is the research aspect, which takes time, and the organization of the brief, which lays out our argument. Online debate generally takes place on blogs, Facebook, and in its least productive venue, Twitter. 

My daughter has been home for a visit this week and we were talking about this, and we came to the conclusion that most of what passes for "debate" online is really just dialogue. There are no real formal guidelines for dialogue. There ought to be an understanding between two people to treat each other with respect and treat the other person better than ourselves, but there's something about the lack of a face that discourages that. I wonder what people would do if all online debate was done through Skype where there was a visual component.

Someone said to me a few months ago that she thought debate online was better than face to face debate because it caused people to rely less on other clues and just got down to the words themselves. That comment sounded almost a little postmodern, as if the words exist outside of the speaker. This person found tone of voice distracting and not focusing on the real matter, the words. I, for one, like those cues, because they often reveal presuppositions and other things that are very helpful for overcoming communication difficulties. 

When we dialogue online, we have to ask ourselves why. Are we looking to understand something, or are we looking to give everyone a lesson or two? I think the latter is more common. Many of us who enter an argument on Facebook or a blog have one thing in mind: to force our views. We may not be interested in learning anything, but rather we want to do the teaching. In some cases, well meaning Christian brothers and sisters want to "speak into your life." That's not debate. That's standing on a soap box. The internet soapbox is safe, because no one can throw tomatoes at you. I have been guilty of this, and I wish now I could take back every contrary discussion I have had with people I will never meet this side of heaven. There's a nasty aftertaste following one those exchanges. Some people may feel energized by such interaction, I just feel a little sick.

I've sworn off debate on social media. I'm not only avoiding participation, I'm learning the joy of ignoring those who are debating. One gets more blogs read when she ignores the comments. I'm also cutting down on using that "share" button on Facebook, just because one never knows when that will stir up something. Perhaps I'm just a coward, or soft in the head. It does leave me much more time for other things, like books, and my family. My husband always says there is freedom in ignoring, and he's right.


Birds of a feather ...

Birds of a feather flock together.

You will be known by the company you keep.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

My mother often talked about those first two maxims. I think she would agree with the Proverbs passage.

I have thought about those truths lately; about the company I keep both online and off, and about whether or not I'm the kind of company others should avoid. Perhaps some believe that. I don't know.

What I do know is that truly believe that third point. I long to be someone who walks with the wise.  I want to flock with the birds of wisdom; I want to be known for being among a company of wise women. I want it to be true of my offline life and my online life.

I'm fortunate to know some women who are the kind I want to follow.

They tend to say less rather than more.

They know when to speak and when to be silent.

They are willing to forego having the last word.

They know what discretion is.

They know how to be truthful with mercy because they know the extent of the mercy Christ has shown to them.

They use caution in their online lives.

They understand that righteous living proceeds from biblical doctrine.

I'm sure I could go on. Sometimes, I'm quite certain that I don't fit in with these women whom I am blessed to call friends, but I'm glad they let me walk beside them, because I'm counting on the truth of that proverb.