The Sermon on the Medium
Looking back on 2013, you could say it was the year of the viral explosion - the statement, interview, etc. that sends bloggers and web journalists into a frenzy of writing and expounding that dominates Facebook news feeds for days at a time.
Commentaries. Then commentaries on the commentaries. Then, well you know…
I have opinions, as most people do, on each of this past year’s big stories. I take special notice of the ones that have an impact on the discussion of faith & culture. However, I don’t blog about them. If I do refer to them, I don’t provide links. Why?
Because I don’t trust myself to do so. I know that I can get combative, cagey, arrogant, and sarcastic and none of these traits are helpful to discussion.
Driving through the arctic Illinois air this morning, I was reminded by Dallas Willard (not literally) of how accurate and insightful Jesus’ teachings are even for today.
As I think on how these internet “blow-ups” happen, I realize that for many of them to survive people have to run counter to two key case studies from the Sermon on the Mount (esp. Matthew 5). I thought it would be helpful to look at them now to get perspective on how we might handle “virtual discussions” in the coming year.
“But I say, if you are even angry with someone…”(5:21-26)
Jesus takes the original commandment, “Do not murder” and gets at the heart of it. That is the point of the Sermon on the Mount, by the way. Jesus isn’t giving new stricter guidelines for us to be legalistic about. He’s talking about a change of heart.
The problem with human beings today is that we don’t believe we can “take a stand” without being angry. Anger is a natural human emotion - having anger is something that happens to us all, but being angry is a state of life and being.
It’s the belief that without anger it is impossible to bring about change or stand up for a cause.
Much of the internet mudslinging and even face-to-face or behind-the-back negativity comes out of lives that see anger as a means of doing life. Willard reminds us, “Whatever you do with anger you can do much better without it.” This doesn’t mean we don’t address injustices, wrongs, or slanderously incorrect information but we do it by addressing the information and not the messenger.
So much of internet warfare is about the messenger, not the message.
Jesus’ intelligence shines here - how many hours of lost sleep, lost friendships, angry exchanges and grizzled stomach lining could we save by simply living life free from being angry? Maybe before we ever decide to “reply” or “comment” or “post” we should wait until we can say, “I’m not doing this out of anger.”
What I have found is that if I wait that long, I have very little that I feel I need to say.
“…do not make any vows!” (5:33ff)
Jesus words on “swearing” are often taken to mean not using foul language, but I have also heard it as a rule against saying “I swear to God” or making pledges or statements of pledge.
Again, Jesus isn’t creating a new law. He’s speaking to an issue of heart and one that we too often miss. This passage is primarily about how we try to manipulate people by making promises in order to push things in a desired direction.
This teaching is about trying to “sell something.”
We have a whole quiver of arrows to be used for manipulation - promises, oaths, and even guilt are put to use to make people or situations move in our favor. Jesus is trying to root this out of our hearts so that we become the kind of people who don’t need to “sell” something, instead we do what we say and we say what we do.
In a virtual world, this sickness is difficult to find and even harder to root out. We can hide behind avatars, sound bites and quotable quotes, on and on so that we present our case and persuade others to come along to our side of the argument or discussion. We are free from ever having to live out what we say, because regardless of what presence we have in online forums we still live biologically not digitally.
What if we made a promise to only say things online that we’re willing to live out offline?
In the coming year, who knows what viral explosions there may be. However, if we intend to follow Jesus through the digital world as His disciples we must spend honest and significant time meditating on what His teaching means for our world of side-taking and sound-biting.
Lord, have mercy on our 2014. You are good and you are all we need.