Truth and Social Media

Photo by Danielle Scott, via Flickr

I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. Like everyone else, I love getting “likes,” and I love sharing and staying in touch with friends and professional contacts. It eases an introvert’s anxiety going into social situations if I already know something I can talk about with the people I’ll be seeing.

But the very thing that makes Facebook so great—how easy it is to share with others—also encourages us to share indiscriminately, without taking time to think through whether it’s inflammatory, whether it’s manipulating our emotions, and in fact, whether it’s reliable information at all.

Having been caught myself too many times by reacting instead of pausing to think–embarrassing for someone who strives to be fair-minded–I’ve become a huge skeptic of all inflammatory social media posts. I’ve spent the last several years fact-checking things on Facebook and trying desperately to get others to do the same–mostly without success.

There are plenty of non-religious reasons why we ought to be making sure what we share is actually true and not skewed:

-the ease with which outside powers manipulate us and endanger the trustworthiness of our elections;

-the way half-truths and distortions inflame anger, which leads us to abandon the middle ground–where compromise and fair progress are birthed–in pursuit of the extremes;

-the way families and friendships have been damaged by commitment to views formed by bad information;

-the shattering of lives in the wake of private mistakes becoming public humiliations.

But if we set aside all those reasons and focus solely on our faith, there’s another one:

We should fact check because honesty is in the Ten Commandments. It’s fundamental to right relationship with God.

Throughout Scripture, the righteous one is praised: the one who does not swear, the one whom everyone knows can be trusted to be truthful. One who speaks with integrity. Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no (a shot at the hyperbole that characterizes modern “communication”). The upright one is like a tree planted by a running stream. And so on.

Telling the truth is one of those basic rules of humanity we teach our kids. Dishonesty from our kids is one of the most relationship-damaging offenses, because it destroys trust.

And yet when it comes to social media, we forget all of this. We take every meme at its word, without even pausing to think, “Maybe I should double-check whether this is legit before I hit ‘share’.”

Or: “Does this even make sense?”

The misinformation, distortions, and misleading inflammatory things we share online may not be our own words, but they become our words when we speak them, and therefore it is our responsibility as Christians to make sure we do our due diligence before sharing. If a headline makes you angry, you’d better be on your guard, because it’s probably a sign that someone’s taking liberties with the truth in order to manipulate you.

Everybody wants lots of likes, you know, and too many don’t care if they bend the truth to the breaking point to get them.

It takes all of 30 seconds to type a search string into Google and see if something’s been flagged on one of the fact-checking sites. Also, we need to pay attention to the sites where we get information. We tend to trust any “news” site that agrees with us in their editorial slant, and we turn off the brain God gave us to think critically about what we take in. Some sites routinely shared by Christians ought to be boycotted altogether, because they’re among the worst offenders.

Honesty. It’s one of the foundations of our faith, let alone any successful society. If we want to stand before God with a clear conscience, we have got to check the accuracy of the things we choose to share.

Clinging to security

Background image by KasunChamara, on Pixabay

People are starving, not just for food, but for being treated with dignity and for acknowledgment of their wounds. Earlier in #49, Pope Francis talks about preferring a Church bruised and hurting from being out there with people to one that is “unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” That description seems uncomfortably apt.

He also names a fear that I think drives a lot of religious people: the fear of “going astray,” which I interpret as the fear that if we go out into a sinful world, we’ll be corrupted by it. (We put our kids in bubbles for this reason, too.)

It occurs to me that if our faith is so weak it can’t survive the challenge of being around temptation, then the solution isn’t to hide from temptation, but to do some good work strengthening our faith.

I freely admit that I am no model for going out into the world and getting my feet dirty. In my case, it’s a result of an introvert’s paralyzing dread of interacting with strangers. But it’s something I’m thinking about a lot these days, and feeling called to address in that intersection of my own faith and the real world I inhabit.

A place for everyone

Background image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Right now, the Church is doing a lot of soul searching about how to evangelize the “nones.” In my opinion, we’re driving the “nones” away by, among other things, insisting that in order to be welcome in our midst, they have to come all the way to meet us where we are, instead of us going out to meet them where they are.

Of course, we have a vision we want others to share. But we also have to recognize that conversion is a lifelong process, and we’re not done with it, either. Nobody’s saying we can’t belong, so why should we say that to others?

We need to accept the imperfections in others, because we’re all walking the same path, even if we’re in different places along it. Jesus didn’t get tax collectors to stop being dishonest by standing apart and wagging his finger at them. He went into their houses and made friends with them, and they realized he had something they wanted, which made them want to change. He didn’t go to them with a pre-existing condition: “I’ll come eat with you if, first, you promise to change.” No, he went to them with no guarantee that they’d step up to the plate. He made the effort, and that was what made the difference.

Notice also, he didn’t go into the house saying, “I’ll come eat with you and give you a witness talk to convert you.” How off-putting would that be? No, he just went, trusting the relationship to do the work of conversion. And it did.

So I think evangelization begins with evangelizing ourselves. We need to work at excising judgment and conditional love from our attitudes, and replacing them with a genuine, unconditional desire for the best for others. Not a desire to tell everyone else what they’re doing wrong, and how they should change for their own good. Not a great academic argument based on dozens of source documents.

Don’t get me wrong: I love that kind of stuff, and it’s good for our own growth in understanding. But if that’s how we start conversations with those outside the faith, we might as well not bother. No one listens to that kind of message. It’s a waste of time.

No, we need simply to wish the best for others, and model a life of joy and peace that will make others go, “Hey…I want that! How do I get some?”

Right Words, Wrong Message

I had to go back to the source myself on this one. There’s a lot to think about here, and Pope Francis doesn’t dig in and tell us exactly what he’s referring to. He just says sometimes we set up “false gods or a human ideal which is not really Christian.” He goes on to say that sometimes things we treasure, or which have been very helpful in the past, no longer are helpful because the culture, and thus the people we’re speaking to, have changed around them. I’d encourage you to read all of #41-43 (and beyond).

I see this dynamic play out when praiseworthy commitment to the teachings laid out by the Church leads us to judge and exclude people because they don’t measure up–even though none of us, in fact, measure up. I point back to the posts on imperfect practice of the faith and whether we view sin as a stumbling block on the way to something better, or a pit of mud we can’t escape.

As hard as we are on ourselves, most of us recognize that we can be loved by God despite our sins. But someone else’s sin, which takes a different form than ours, we often can’t or won’t overlook. We’re inconsistent about our approach to sexual sins, for one thing. And other sins–greed and dishonesty come to mind–we accept with a shrug…if we acknowledge them at all.

To me, this is an example of how we take a true message–what we are called to as Christians–and as we bring it down through the filter of our worldly biases, we corrupt it into something different. Something that achieves the opposite of what Jesus intended; namely, division and exclusion.

That’s my take. What’s yours?

Imperfect, but Okay? Really?

†

Background image by vargazs from Pixabay

This quote first struck me because it doesn’t make sense. I have a garden. And a lawn I’ve recently reseeded. If I see a weed, I grumble a LOT. In fact, I’ve been going outside lately and pulling crabgrass out of my lawn, in a nod to complete futility. I do not see the swath of green, I see the weed. I see the imperfection.

In this one area, at least, we’re consistent in how we handle the physical and the spiritual world. We are not willing to tolerate imperfections in expressions of faith, either. It’s got to be all or nothing, and the problem is that the more we cling to that, the more people choose “nothing.”

A few years ago, someone asked me for advice on convincing a reluctant spouse to embrace Natural Family Planning. I, in turn, asked advice from a friend, who said, “Tell them to practice NFP. It’s about practicing. You do the best you can. You’re going to screw up. Just keep practicing.

This was a real brain-stretching thought for me. To me, NFP was an all or nothing prospect. You do it or you don’t. It had never before occurred to me that maybe something so challenging and outside the cultural norm is, by definition, going to be done badly (and here I don’t mean mistakes in applying the method, I mean spiritual choices) and with lots of spiritual mistakes on the way to doing it well. Like practicing the piano, or the violin. You’re bad before you’re good, but that doesn’t make the effort any less laudable or worth undertaking.

Why have we never thought about the spiritual life this way?

My brain is exploding with thoughts on this, but I’ll leave it there for today and take up the question again after the weekend.

To Love Is…

Since the Church considers this quote important enough to be underscored in the Catechism, I thought it deserved a graphic of its own, even if I did already write a whole post on the topic. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

Love Is A Concrete Thing

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Tell me if this sounds familiar: you tell a kid to put away a piece of clothing, and ten minutes later you look and discover it hasn’t been done. You tell them to do it again, and this time it makes it up the stairs and gets dumped on the floor. By the third time, you’ve pretty well lost your temper, and it’s all downhill from there.

This is my life right now: dishonesty, serial disobedience, and difficulty discerning how much is developmental and how much is spacey personality versus testing behavior. My husband reminds me we’ve been through it before and we’ll get through it this time, but it’s wearying.

Why does this warrant a blog post on a site about living the faith?

Because I’m starting to recognize that this parenting issue has a lot to teach us about love—real, self-giving, sacrificial love. How can we teach such a big concept to our children without starting with small, intimate relationships and small—maybe even petty—examples?

Little kids experience the world in concrete ways, after all. I need my child to learn that love doesn’t just mean cuddles and kisses and being tucked into bed at night and giving me a hug on the way out the door. That’s a tiny child’s version of love, but as they grow, they need to learn that a bare minimum, love means you don’t do things that harm the other.

And since Jesus Christ was never in the business of bare minimum, I’d go a step further and say, as the Catechism says: love means willing the good of the other.

So your actions show your love—or the lack of it.

To wit: if you cause your favorite parent to LOSE HER EVER LOVING MIND because you just don’t feel like doing what she asked you to do, then you’re causing harm and you’re definitely not willing the good of said parent.

In other words: NOT. LOVE.

Okay, it’s petty, I know. But really, if you start spinning out the implications, this is a big deal, and not just for the kiddos, but for us as adult Catholics.

Because if:

a) everyone is our neighbor (Luke 10:29-37), and

b) loving God means loving our neighbor (Luke 10:27-28; Galatians 5:14), and

c) love means willing the good of others (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1766)…

…then we’d darned well better be thinking about willing the good of asylum seekers at the southern border.

And about how to alleviate the strain on of living on women who see abortion as their only option.

And how to erase discrimination (which might mean, for a start, acknowledging that it still exists).

And what it means to steward the earth God gave us for future generations.

And how to create policies that put the good of workers and society before personal or corporate profit.

And how to protect victims of abuse and assault, rather than shame them and blame them and assume they’re lying for underhanded political reasons.

Because with every word we speak about those issues and every policy solution we advocate (or fight against), we show our love for Jesus Christ.

Or the lack of it.

Get Involved

“But I’m too busy…” It’s always about busy-ness, isn’t it? Which means, actually, it’s about my priorities. Am I so caught up in “things of the world” that I haven’t carved out time to serve God? God gave me these hands, these feet, this voice. How am I using them for him?

It’s a balancing act I know I’ll never get 100% right…but I have to keep working at it.

On Sarcasm, Mercy, and having your conscience walking around in the body of a six-year-old

In 2016, I wrote a series of posts called “Mercy on a Monday” for my personal blog. Many of them are just as applicable today as they were then, so I’m mining my archives to share here.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It didn’t take long for this list of ways to live out the year of mercy to nail me between the eyes:

1) Resist sarcasm; it is the antithesis of mercy: “”Set, O Lord, a guard over my mouth; keep watch, O Lord, at the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3).

Um…ouch.

Sarcasm is the cloak I wear at certain times of the month. It is my instant response to being asked a) stupid questions, b) questions I’ve already answered, and c) stupid questions I’ve already answered.

It’s also my instant response when a political candidate gets on my nerves (daily, at a minimum), when a driver does something I don’t like, or a piece of technology causes me inconvenience. And it’s always aimed at the people behind those irritants, who should have been smarter and more polite than to bother Almighty Me.

I’m a word pictures kind of girl, and in the past month, mercy has come to be associated with something soft and cool, pliable, able to bridge the gap between square pegs and round holes. Sarcasm, on the other hand, is a hard, hot slap in the face. It raises hackles and solidifies them into brick walls. It makes both parties hard and unforgiving (in every sense).

Sarcasm is demeaning to others. It excoriates the soul and causes sensitive people to retreat into themselves. It shuts down communication. It might be funny, but the laughter only makes the belittling and the soul scouring feel even more belittling and soul scouring. It feeds bad feelings on both sides: self-hatred on the part of the victim and self-righteousness on the part of the one who doles it out.

It can be death on a marriage, in particular, and cause real pain to children, who only want to be loved, even when they’re completely clueless how to express that need appropriately.

Resist sarcasm; it is the antithesis of mercy.

I read those words and instantly vowed to change. And just in case there was any doubt that this was what I was called to do, the Holy Spirit gave me a big wakeup call the next day. It was in the van on the way home from school, and my mini-me responded to his little brother with blistering sarcasm, his tone dripping with contempt. It cut me to the soul, instantly and so profoundly that I even remember where we were on the route.

Because this is my fault. I’ve taught them this.

I don’t remember what I said. I do know it was not a scolding; it was heartfelt and involved confessing my own fault in the matter. I told them part of what I was doing for the year of mercy was to quit being sarcastic.

The car was quiet for a few moments, which, if you’ve ever had three, four, five, or six kids in the car (as I do on a regular basis–am I not lucky?), you’ll know is no small thing.

You know that old saying about how parenthood means having your heart walking around outside your body?

Well, I think God gives you children in order to make sure you have a conscience walking around in someone else’s body, commenting out loud on your foibles. In this case, the body of my six-year-old.

“Mom, are you being sarcastic?” my child will ask me.

“Um…yes, I was. I’m so sorry, honey. You’re right.”

“Mom, I think that was sarcastic!”

“We-ell, that was sort on the edge. It was more like a joke.”

It’s been good for me. It’s making me stop and think before I share the effervescence of my own wit.

I don’t like it. But I can feel the difference. I’m not so angry, so volatile, like a pump primed and ready to react to the slightest provocation. The inside of my chest feels a little cooler and settled, more relaxed, more open. It feels like growth. And that is, after all, what I’m going for, in this year of mercy.