I read many tweets in the 48-hour aftermath of the Orlando shooting that claimed fifty lives. One jumped out at me most. It said:
Christians: your silence is a deafening roar.
I read the tweet, felt sobered by the tweet, grew annoyed by the tweet, and then pondered my own “role” or “responsibility” with regard to Orlando and that tweet.
Do I need to tweet about whether we need better gun control?
Do I need to tweet my prayers for the victims and/or their families?
Do I need to tweet about how this whole thing happened at a gay nightclub since, like, you know…?
We now live in a social media age where everyone gets to be a reporter and commentator. It’s not just for CNN or Daily Show correspondents anymore. Indeed, I’ve scrolled through Twitter and Facebook for the last couple weeks and seen tweets and status updates and hashtags and images all “put out” by us, the people, in response to Orlando.
Maybe it’s my independent spirit flaring, but in these times of national tragedy when everyone else is freely opining, I rarely feel led to contribute to the conversation. I don’t feel compelled to “offer my prayers” or, put even further, offer my political and theological perspectives.
Does that make me a horrible human being for not having anything to say about Orlando?
When I don’t change my profile picture to my smirking face with a hand marked by a big red X, am I horrible for not “supporting” the end of worldwide slavery?
When I don’t change my profile picture to the French flag after terrorists attack Paris, am I horrible for not “supporting” freedom and democracy?
And when I don’t change my profile picture to the gay flag and a #PrayForOrlando hashtag, am I horrible for not “supporting” LGBT people?
In the last week, I’ve read several Orlando posts from fellow “SSA” / “Side B” / “gay Christian” (choose your favorite label!) bloggers. I’ve read about how they can’t stop crying, about how they’re afraid or upset or angry, about how they’ve never felt as fired up or connected with the LGBT cause.
That’s not to say I don’t feel sadness for slavery, prostitution, murder, racism, and the ongoing list of atrocities we humans are capable of.
I am an emotional person. (Shocker.) I feel. I hurt. I do.
But there’s something about adding one’s thoughts and feelings to the noise that often doesn’t jive with me.
If you’re not giving money or time to “end” slavery, what’s the point of changing your profile picture?
If you’re not calling up or messaging your LGBT friend who is hurting, what’s the point of tweeting your prayers?
If you’re not reaching out to someone personally impacted by whatever next tragic event has just befallen us,
That’s not to say that our “prayers” and “thoughts” and “condolences” aren’t appreciated or needed. They are.
But that’s not all that is needed. We need more than our passive Internet actions.
My faith was a safe faith for the first twenty-plus years of my life. I could pray and pray and pray about something horrible and shoot out a tweet of support, and it was so easy to wipe my hands and move on and act like I’d done something momentous or checked off a box or done all I could ever do.
It wasn’t until I was 23 working at a summer missions camp in Milwaukee, stepping into homeless refuges and soup kitchens and nursing homes and homes for the disabled, talking to people in far greater need and distress than me that I finally grasped what James so bluntly says:
Faith. Without works. Is dead.
Not to be crude — but who cares if you’re #prayingforOrlando? Who cares if you changed your profile picture? Who cares that I haven’t?
What else are we actually doing? Are we even doing anything at all?
Do we always need to “check in” with a Twitter or Facebook or Instagram post when bad stuff happens? Do I need to alter my profile picture for the next – what, a week? a month? three fortnights? – in order to achieve validation that I am, indeed, a human with feelings and, indeed, not a bigot?
By writing this post, I suppose I’m paradoxically doing what I say we don’t need to do. Broadcasting myself like some other desperately needed journalist-wannabe voice in the wilderness.
I just don’t want my apparent “silence” to be misconstrued as an inhuman lack of empathy or supportive feelings of any sort for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or gun lobbyists or terrorists or gay people or what have you.
Call me a pessimistic realist, but soon another tragedy will befall us, and the whole cycle will begin again, social media flaming like a grease fire fed anew. And we all have to contribute.
On the one hand, social media encourages me; we’re all in this together. No matter who or where we are.
But on the other hand, take a look around: we’re all together online. Separated by thousands of miles of invisible waves and ocean waves alike.
What about the man or woman hurting beside you? In your church or town? Or in your contact list?
As much as I have grown to appreciate this online togetherness (my other blog, where I now spend more of my time these days, is all about that concept), it just doesn’t compare to the face-to-face. A hand on another’s shoulder in prayer. A hug or a hold for as long as you or someone else needs it. Food and water. Shelter and love.
I’m not saying our constant commenting on tragedy in itself is bad.
But if that’s all we’re doing.
It all feels so empty.
And I’m speaking to myself here. May I learn less to offer my condolences as some expected online duty and learn more to close my screen and get up and reach out to my hurting brother and sister and fellow struggler.
I may not quite associate with the LGBT community as one of their own, but we certainly share much in common.
We are human. We are hurting.
And we need each other far beyond a passing tweet.
Do you often feel led to comment in the aftermath of Orlando some global tragedy? Do you also wrestle with this “faith without works” dilemma?