Bruce Reyes-Chow: The Difficult Call to Be Community

Last night, my wife, our eldest daughter and I watched an episode of Glee where resident bully, Sue Sylvester, was visiting with her autistic sister, Jean. As Sue sat at her sisters' side playfully and lovingly bantering, Eldest screamed at the TV, "Stop that, we don't want to see you as a person!"

I asked her if I could quote her, because at that moment, she spoke something profound to the church and the world in our current climate of political, ideological and theological discourse. She basically captures a cultural reality today, it is easier to tear down, attack and dismiss if we do not acknowledge that the other is a person, a wonderfully made child of God.

A few years ago I wrote a post, Liberal or Conservative, Ugly is Still Ugly, where I tried to make a case for the church to model a healthy discourse across and among the divides of theology, politics and ideology. Well . . . 2.5 years later and I think it has gotten worse. While a vast majority of my interactions have been positive, It feels like the church - and the crew I run with, the Presbyterians - has become more visibly and boldly vitriolic, antagonizing and mean-spirited in our interactions, especially online.

Now I do realize that critiquing one another and the ways in which we interact is complex. We certainly don't want to allow people to be abusive or violent, we want to be truth-tellers and, honestly, I think we all want to see the church living as community in a way that is life-giving to the world. But I tell you, the past few months I have been deeply saddened by how I have seen us interact with one other. We have moved beyond healthy and passionate disagreement to toxic name-calling, antagonizing snark and outright hateful rhetoric that has shown the world that the church, once again, is not transforming the world, but being transformed by it.

It seems as though we have lost our ability see the possibility that God's reality and our discovery of God's truths can be discerned through the difficult work of being in community. If we confess a belief in a God who has created us in God's image, complex and wonderfully made, then we must step back and allow for the possibility that God is acting even in the midst of diverse opinions. And as God's beloved community it is our job not to arrogantly tear one another down, but to navigate the hard waters of discovering where God intends for a community to move.

Now I will be the first to admit that trying to see the Spirit moving in commentary that I would label misinformed at best and downright evil at worst is not easy. I often want to respond to evil with evil, lob snarky shots right back at folks and worse yet, pretend to be gracious only to pepper my response with thinly veiled passive aggressive zingers. But the beloved community deserves more than that, the beloved community deserved to be seen and treated as the wonderfully made people that we are and not the one-dimensional zealots that we would like the other to be.

So I am going to remind myself of this difficult task by asking these questions of myself. Feel free to liberate or add some more to the list . . .

  • Am I aware that my response MAY justifiably make someone angry or am I responding IN ORDER to make someone angry?
  • Am I responding with words and content in a way that I am comfortable with this person's children and family reading it?
  • Am I demanding a kind of consistency and posture that I myself cannot live up to?
  • Am I responding to something that really is not about me and just need to let it be? 
  • Am I thinking about what may have created the toxicity or am I to focused on my own need to be right?
  • Am I being compassionate, empathetic and gracious?
  • Am I being challenged to rethink where I stand?
  • Am I responding, including stepping away, in a way that builds up or tears down?
  • ???

Now, please know that I'm not so naive to think that we are all going to get along and agree on everything, nor do I believe in unity at all costs. But . . . I do think that the God that so many of us claim to believe in, the God who moves in ways beyond our own imagination and the God that who loves us through it all deserves better.

[Taken with permission from Bruce Reyes-Chow's blog, May 6, 2010. Follow Bruce on Twitter @breyeschow ]