“If you’re offended when you look on your Facebook page, and you see someone call Hillary Clinton or Maxine Waters the b-word or the c-word, you should be equally offended when you see someone call Ivanka Trump or Ann Coulter those words” – Dr. Brene Brown speaking at the Washington National Cathedral, January, 2018.
These are convicting words, which might provoke a thought or two about who we’ve unfriended and why. Past research by Christopher Sibona of the University of Colorado, Denver, found that the four most common reasons for unfriending on Facebook were: “frequent/unimportant posts, polarizing posts (politics and religion), inappropriate posts (sexist, racist remarks), and everyday life posts (child, spouse, eating habits, etc.) and in that order of frequency.” The same study showed that the most frequently unfriended people were those we knew in high school. Quite often the people we grew up with are not the same people we remember back in the day when we hung out building homecoming floats. Researchers call this, “context collapse”: When we no longer share a common context that allows the things we say to each other to make an ounce of sense. North American honey bees know something about this.
Since 2003 the decline in the bee population became connected to the phenomenon of “colony collapse disorder.” This happens when the majority of bees flee the hive despite the presence of the queen and adequate food. The direct cause of this collapse is thought to be a combination of factors with the forerunner being toxic pesticides. Hence, healthy, productive communities can collapse when the environment gets toxic. This is the state of the dialectic in America today. Some pundits coin it the “crisis of connection” or “collective existential dread.” Our harsh language, our individual rants on social media, 24/7 exposure to negative communities a.k.a. Weird Twitter, our inability to deal civilly with people who disagree with us is creating a culture of excommunication; i.e. I don’t agree with you so we can no longer be friends.
Centuries ago, the rite of excommunication belonged exclusively to the church, not to just anyone with a Facebook account. American theologian Jonathan Edwards addressed the notion of excommunication as “removal from the fellowship of the Lord’s Table” in his treatise entitled “The Nature and End of Excommunication.” If a person committed a grievous sin, the authorities of the church would excommunicate the sinner—literally remove them from communion and then at the agreed upon time the repentant sinner could come back into fellowship through a service of confession and absolution.
But what about today? Once we’ve done the damaging work of kicking people out our lives, are we giving them the opportunity to come back in? If we as Christians can’t live out the Matthew 18 directive of conflict resolution, how will anyone else in our polarized culture know how to live differently? This year let us resolve to “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” Romans 14:19.
In order to effectively build one another up, we need to build up ourselves. Physically, increasing our intake of antioxidants (you know the list; Goji berries, blueberries, dark chocolate, pecans), protects cells against inflammation which is a root level contributor to of a variety of devastating diseases. But it will take more than good food to keep us from buckling under today’s intoxicating amounts of incivility. Consciously strengthening our whole being—body, mind, and spirit—by taking in more of the good and less of the harmful will help nourish our communal hive.
Here are some strategies:
1 Improve your immune system; stay in the Bible. As the Book of Common Prayer says, “read, mark and inwardly digest” God’s word which is more powerful than your morning avocado toast.
2 Think on these things: “You’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” Philippians 4:8
3 Fast from negative influences like social media’s corrosive chatter, 24/7 news, and unholy images. When we kick out the negative vibe and replace it with an infusion of life-giving Holy-Spirit-filled wisdom we are better equipped to extend grace and have empathy for those we find challenging.
4 Reach out and love people you’ve been avoiding because hanging out with like-minded friends is easier. Host the group in your hive that you’ve been meaning to have over but keep putting off. When we surround ourselves constantly with people who are easy to love, we fail to exercise our latent love muscles and atrophy sets in.
5 Pray for your enemies. This is hard to do, but it’s a transforming empathy cultivator.
6 Set healthy boundaries. Some people repeatedly hurt us and refuse to stop. Try setting a boundary with these people instead of excommunicating them. “I do want to be friends with you, but we just need to stop talking about…”
7 Sacrifice. During cold winters the bees surrounding the queen shiver to create enough energy to keep the queen basking in a comfortable tropical temperature. Some of them live out their short lives shivering for the sake of the queen and don’t live to see spring flowers. How might you sacrifice your own agenda and time for another, especially a person who’s hurt you in the past?
When our Liberian foster daughter lived with us, we’d travel to Boston at the end of each summer to meet with her family, eat a huge meal of cassava leaf “soup,” and discuss what might be best for her next year of schooling. Her large, extended family assembled and all spoke their minds. During this meeting some of her relatives scolded us for our lack of communication. (Americans and Africans have very different ideas about how to communicate.) It became apparent that the only way to resolve the offense was to blatantly apologize and ensure that going forward we would communicate on a level more consistent with their culture rather than our own. It was difficult. Because of the cultural inconsistencies we didn’t think we’d done anything wrong, but putting our own feelings aside for their sake made all the difference. Sometimes putting our feelings and emotions aside strengthens our cross-cultural hive. As Christians in this American moment, let’s build up an empathic community of love and resist the temptation to excommunicate our “friends.” Be kind, believe, be like the bees.