“If you don’t like what I have to say then just feel free to unfriend me.”
So was the post I read recently from a Facebook friend, who yes, just happens to be a Christian. I’m seeing posts like this more and more, in both the secular and sacred realms, where hot button topics are not just debated but are argued about, screamed over, and yelled. It seems like on any given day, all I have to do is open my social media feed to see a spew of rage, protests, opinions, degradation, and just flat out nastiness.
Pick the day or the week and while the topics shift the attitudes, harsh tones, and fear rhetoric do not. The topics being argued recently have ranged from Beauty and the Beast, travel bans by executive order, and the flabbiness of Lady Gaga’s stomach during the Superbowl halftime show. Before that, it was issues over the environment. Before even that, the topic trending was a border wall. And so on, and so on.
The topics shift with lightning speed but the constant is our responses. Lines are drawn. Digital rocks are thrown. “Us” vs. “Them” becomes the social environment. People with different opinions are viewed with suspicion. “My side of the story” takes prescient over all others. Moderates are mocked.
The more I think about what I am seeing, the more I am convinced that what is taking place is a new form of trench warfare. If you aren’t familiar with this term, trench warfare, it came into prominence during World War 1 when the armies of the opposing sides of the war would dig deep, long trenches to put their troops in. The trenches provided a holding area for soldiers to dig in and wait till their enemy popped out of their own trench. Once that happened, shots could easily be fired and fortifications could be defended. World War 1 wasn’t fought from country to country, it was fought from trench to trench.
The only problem with this method? It wasn’t very effective. While the trench provided a place of perceived safety and strategic advantage, no one army really ever gained an advantage because they spent their time getting bogged down in the very trenches they thought were helping them, leading to countless deaths and no real solution gained.
And while I fully admit that I am not making a perfect apples to apples comparison, the same thing is happening socially in our society today.
We are, as a nation and society, digging our trenches and engaging in a digital form of trench warfare.
We have traded physical bullets for verbal ones.
We see a topic, pick our side, and then dig in for the fight. We wait for someone on the “other side” to pop their head up digitally just for one second and then *BAM!*, we fire our verbal shot! We hide behind the trenches of our computer and lob verbal grenades at the people who surely are against us because they believe different than we do.
Someone doesn’t share my political beliefs? They can unfriend me for all I care!
Someone posts about a topic I disagree with? Let me publically and verbally blow them up to show them the error of their ways.
Someone dares to think differently than me? They better get their act together before I post about them. Even though I may never mention their name everyone knows who I am talking about. Subtle stabs always seem to work best
Over, and over, and over again we dig our trenches and fire our bullets.
And nothing seems to ever really change.
So why am I writing this blog?
Is it to say that opinions don’t matter? Not at all.
Is it to suggest that we shouldn’t stand up for our beliefs? No again.
Is it to try and prod everyone into some sort of universal, homogeneous way of thinking? No!
Is it to say that we should just be quiet and ignore perceived injustice in our communities, country, and world. No. (Hopefully by now you see a theme)
I’m writing this blog because I’m seeing what is going on and wonder if there is a better, more effective way going forward. I’ve truly been doing some reflecting and have challenged myself to consider alternatives to the digital trench warfare that is taking place.
More importantly, as a Christ follower and pastor (in that order), how should I respond? What should be my path going forward? How would Jesus respond? What would he do? Do my actions line up?
As I contemplate these questions in light of the Jesus I see in the bible, the answer becomes clear pretty quickly. What I am supposed to do and how I am supposed to act rises to the surface immediately. The Jesus I see had a way of going about life that I am supposed to imitate.
And it’s the exact opposite of trench warfare.
As I study the life and message of Jesus, I find something refreshingly true:
Jesus didn’t have a trench
Jesus never allowed him self to hole up, strictly stand on truth, and do nothing but lob verbal bullets at the people who doubted him, misunderstood him, and even eventually killed him. Time and time again I see a Jesus who broke down barriers, initiated grace to those who least deserved it, and served those who dishonored him the most.
Does that mean that Jesus had no truth? That his beliefs were fickle? That his opinion could be swayed? Absolutely not! I find a Jesus in the bible who knew exactly what his beliefs were, what his mission was, and a very clear vision of right and wrong. I find a Jesus who never waivered in outlook, faith, and determination. What he believed, he acted on with complete conviction.
What I can’t find, however, is Jesus in a “trench.”
In fact, according to the book of Philippians, Jesus did the exact opposite of trench warfare. He actually left his heavenly home to show grace to me; his enemy!
Philippians 2:5-8 – Jesus Christ, who being in the very nature of God did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. Rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant (left his home), being made in human likeness. And being found as a man, humbled himself even further by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Wow! Jesus, full of truth, didn’t engage in trench warfare but actually left his home (heaven) to come serve me in my trench! And he did this even though there was no guarantee that I would stop being his enemy! Even though I was on the opposite side of him he left Heaven’s best to come and serve and love me!
And while he was here on earth in human form, he spent his time serving people and tearing down trenches instead of digging in with his own beliefs. In fact, the only people he truly struggled to engage were the religious people because they couldn’t understand why he wasn’t in their trench with them. Their arrogance wouldn’t let them understand how Jesus could be full of truth but didn’t dig trenches.
We are called to do the same.
I am called to do the same.
I’m not suggesting that we throw away our opinions and beliefs. That’s not what I’m saying at all.
But when was the last time you or I served and loved someone, unconditionally, who looked and believed different than us?
When was the last time we engaged someone in a trench opposite of ours and loved them, whether they ever changed their opinion or not?
When was the last time we took a verbal bullet from someone and didn’t retaliate back? We actually kept serving them despite their insults?
When was the last time we engaged someone who held different beliefs than we do and started off the conversation by listening, truly listening and trying to understand their side? And to be clear, I’m not saying to “listen” so that our opinions can be changed. I’m saying to “listen” to show value and respect to the human being opposite from you, even if in the end you disagree.
When was the last time you or I truly treated people like that?
That kind of love is unheard of.
But it’s the love I find in Jesus.I know some of you may be questioning right now my sanity. I’m sure there may be one or two who may be thinking to yourself “What about the courage it takes to stand up for what’s right?” “What about the need to show truth to a generation that doesn’t seem to value it?”
I would argue that the most courageous thing for you and I to do is to put our love into action and serve those on the opposite side of our views.
I would argue that courage takes place when our actions run counter cultural to what are the current norms.
I would argue that the most courageous you and I can be is to actually love and serve people who initially don’t offer the same love to us.
I would argue that the form true courage takes is when we lay down our lives to serve others.
I would argue that courage does not equal standing still, but actually equals action and movement.
So let me ask you this.
How would your life change if you began to put this into action?
How would my life change?
How would our lives change if we got out of our trench?
I’m pretty sure that doing this, tearing down trenches instead of building them, would result in quite the different life than we are used to. I’m not saying it would be easy, just different. I think at first the people who we serve in the trench opposite of us would be quite confused.
I’m sure even maybe that the unbelief of the people we are serving would cause them, at first, to act in unflattering ways to us.
But what if we keep doing it? What if we become consistent in our love? What if we made the tearing down of trenches a theme of our lives?
The world only saw this in one man……and this Jesus changed everything.
And we have no excuse not to try and imitate him.
So, who is it that we need to reach out to? What trench do we need to get out of and tear down? How can we be the initiators of grace to people who’s actions deserve it the least?
How can our real and digital selves line up with the compassion and grace filled action of our savior?
In short, what does grace look like now that the battlefields have changed?
How quickly can we drop the offense when God has so clearly showed such a grace to us?
I’m so thankful that the Gospel doesn’t change even though the methods in which we can use it with do.
Digital or actual, it’s time to show grace.