[Image: Writing I found on the bathroom wall at the Peaceful World Cafe at the Red Victorian, SF.]
Earlier this summer, I got onto a bit of a blogging roll: pissing off hard core photographers, musing on same-sex marriage and taking on the issue of gun violence. There was spirited interaction on all of the posts, but the comments and tone that surrounded the gun violence post were the most disheartening. Most of the comments that argued strongly against what I was saying, were often laced with profanity and did nothing to give anyone much hope that open discernment about difficult issues would win the day. Occasionally a supporter would chime in, but I suspect opening oneself up to the school-yard bullying tactics was not all that inviting. Personally, I received threatening emails, was called a tyrant and too lazy to read, commanded to do things to myself that I am sure are anatomically impossible and, wait for it ... told to go back to my country!
So, I guess I'm moving back to Stockton. ;-)
I am usually pretty good about seeing the big picture when it comes to blog comments. I know that many commentors use the comment section to share their own ideas and and may or may not be interested in genuine interaction or even addressing anything actually written in the original post. I generally don't mind and of this, but for some reason, this batch of comments started to get to me. It might have been that, after losing a family member to gun violence, any phrases or words that were construed as a threat became very real or it might have simply been the level of disrespect and nastiness that seemed to drive many of the comments. Whatever the reason, on more than one occasion, as I scrolled through the comment threads, I found myself whispering to my computer, "People suck."
Then I had this email interaction, instigated by M. It is edited to mask M's identity and to correct minor typos.
Dear Pastor Reyes-Chow, I must totally disagree with your post. I agree there is too much gun violence in our country but the worst way to combat it is to disarm law-abiding citizens. We, under our Constitution, have the God-given right to protect ourselves and our families. When faced with physical violence and guns, we MUST be able to respond in kind. That means anyone who is not convicted of crime should be freely allowed to own means of self-protection. Yes, I agree they should be trained in the use of deadly force but how they get it is up to them. Many of us grew up hunting or in the military and already know gun safety. There are lots of classes for others. But the right to be self-protected is guaranteed by our country. GOD BLESS AMERICA !!! -- Sincerely, M.
M., Thanks for taking the time to write. It is interesting that I never said that people should not have guns, but only that we should be better about who gets them. I can certainly be challenged on many things, but can't really combat being challenged on something that I did not say. --Bruce
Pastor, You may be correct. I might have mis-interpreted your comments and if so, I am sorry. I am a very strong believer in the US Constitution and the beliefs of our founding fathers. --M.
M., All good! Have a great 4th! --Bruce
In the meantime, I posted "Puppies, Butterflies and Kum Bah Ya," a post meant allow myself a time to step back from the passion of the comment threads and take a breath or two or three. My conversation with M. continued.
Hi Pastor, Sorry if my e-mail was one of the ones that bothered you. Guns, and the right to own them are a big issue with me!! Puppies and Butterflies are a real easy issue, who could not love them? Actually for me these days it is kittens. Thanks for explaining "Kum Bah Yah," always knew the song from way back in the 60s but never knew what it meant. Glad to know, after forty some years, that it is a call to heavenly Father to be with us!! -- Thank You, M.
M., No ... I am always up for respectful conversations, you were indeed not. Unfortunately, one had a very threatening tone with iffy language and I am thinking about reporting it to the authorities. --Bruce
Pastor, As well you should. Differences of opinion are fine, good dialogue is fine but threats must be taken seriously. We all have different views, and our God-given right to them, but we cannot allow violence or the threat of it to cloud our lives. --Thanks, M.
M., On another note ... would you mind of I shared conversation (totally anonymously) as a way to illustrate how two people can engage in healthy conversations. WE didn't solve anything, but feel like we might both be in a better place because of our interaction. Again ... I will not share your name, but am hoping to post something about our society's need to be different in our common yearnings for the common good. If not I totally understand, but I have been moved by your responses. --Thanks, Bruce
Pastor, Yes, I would be happy to engage in this dialogue so long as you keep my name out of it. Don't want to invite any problems. I like your writing and although we don't share all the same ideas, I feel we are both good Christians that want to do good. Just to give you a bit of background. I was born in Xxxxxx and raised Episcopalian, baptized and confirmed, but admit I am not much of a church attendant. I have a long time relationship with a Mormon lady and go to her church more often because they are more friendly and family oriented. --Keep in touch, M.
This conversation speaks for itself, but here's why it was particularly meaningful to me. This kind of open interaction is what I believe needs to occur more often if we are going to build community amidst great disagreement in theology, ideology and politics. Rather than take the default position that anyone who disagrees with me must be fueled by stupidity, fear or malice, why not begin with the assumption that there is a common yearning to seek truth for the individual and community. Yes, we may be proven wrong more than right, but we must give ourselves the chance to find common ground and build up the common good.
M. and I came to no profound agreement about gun violence, we are not now best friends and I am sure that there are even more things that we disagree about. But what we did do was to approach the conversation with a sense that the other was discerning God's calling just as faithfully as the other. At a time when I was girding up the ol' loins for battle, M. reminded me that it is important to be open to meeting "the other" somewhere in that very gray, but lovely middle -- a place that, for a brief time, I was beginning to believe was no longer worth seeking.
Thank you, M., for showing and reminding me that the hard work of being community is worth it.
This post originally appeared on reyes-chow.com.