A couple of weeks ago, I got a DM on Twitter that said "someone's spreading a rumor about you". My eyes got wide. My heart dropped. Me? Someone's spreading a rumor about me? Why? What did I do to hurt someone? Did I write something too controversial? Is it because I loved Rachel Held Evans' new book and was on her Launch Team?
And then I realized that the person who sent it was a new connection I'd made, and the link that was included was to a fake Twitter login site (and her account had been hacked and it wasn't even really from her).
I was relieved, but that moment of concern that I had got me thinking about all the times that I might hear something negative about someone and believe it without checking it out. And really, that's so easy to do online because information gets passed along so quickly.
In "Do You Tear Down or Build Up?" I had been thinking about all of the real people behind the names on a book and I alluded to people that I had met and was going to have the opportunity to meet, which happened this past weekend. All of these people that I've met are controversial for various reasons, and some of what they say I won't agree with, and some of what they say I won't even understand.
But they are real people. They are real people that I had conversations with, shared food with, hung out with. When you start interacting with someone in these ways, when you share time with them, when you converse with them, when you start getting to know them, no matter how much you disagree, it makes it a lot harder to demonize them. It makes it a lot harder to say negative things about that person to other people.
It makes me think about when Jesus chose his disciples. He didn't chose a homogeneous group of people but a group of people who were different from each other and some of whom probably hated each other. I mean, really,a zealot and a tax collector? And these people hung out together, traveled together, ate together. There were developing community with each other.
But what do we do? We tend to gravitate towards people who are just like us and make claims that those who are different are not "true" Christians, or that they don't understand Christianity the right way because we disagree about ideas or practices.
But this weekend, when I spent time with people I'd never met before, and conversed with them, a little bit of community and friendship was built. I doubt we'd agree on everything, but who has time to talk about everything anyway? And even if we disagreed, we could still have conversations about it. In fact, one of my new friends even expressly said in his presentation that he wants people to disagree with him, and that sometimes he even disagrees with himself! What I took away from that was if we are only agreeing, then how can we learn and grow? If we are not forced to think more deeply and reflect, won't we stay stagnant in our thinking and in our faith?
All of this is to say that now, if I read something negative about any of these people, I will be able to just dismiss it as I wonder if the person gossiping has even spent one minute in their presence. Because building community and friendships through conversations changes how we look at others. It's hard to demonize someone that you actually know.
Now, there are people out there who make me angry, and in my head I act all arrogant and dismissive of them. I hope that this lesson I learned this weekend will help me to realize when I am "demonizing" someone that I have never met in person.
What about you? Have you ever changed your opinion of someone once you met him or her? Are you quick to believe rumors or do you disregard them? Do you find it easy or difficult to have friends who are different from you in your thinking and theology?
For further reading:
Have You Heard?