Special Editor's Note:
We appreciate Michael DeCamp sharing this chapter out of his great, very practical book on Christian love: Loving Out Loud: Learning to Love in a Hate Filled World.
The Biblical Principles:
Love... does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5).
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless (James 1:26).
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12).
Recently, my wife and I took a trip to Las Vegas. It was one of those in-and-out kinds of quick trips. It had one primary purpose: see Donny Osmond live at the show he and his sister do at the Flamingo Hotel before they finally close it out and end their run. Mission accomplished!
My wife has been a fan of Donny Osmond since she was a very young girl. Personally, I've always been more of a Marie fan. In my opinion, she's just cuter. (Sorry, Donny, but you know it's true.) When Nancy mentioned to me a few months ago that the Donny and Marie show in Vegas would soon be coming to a close after over a decade of performances, I told her we should go. She said, "Really?" I said, "Sure." So, we did.
Nancy ordered VIP tickets. As a result, not only did we get to attend the show, but we also sat on the front row. We could reach out and touch the stage. Nancy was excited! I was, too. We were so close that a few splatters of Marie's sweat landed on Nancy. I was kind of jealous.
Not only did we sit on the front row, but the VIP tickets also allowed us the opportunity to attend an after-show meet and greet. We had the opportunity to meet both Donny and Marie. We shook their hands and had pictures taken; I have the pictures to prove it. We exchanged real words with both of them. It was amazing. Would you believe that they are both real living, breathing human beings?
The Lesson Learned:
Do you know what you learn when you get to do something like that? You learn that those people that you've been watching on that little TV screen or up on the big movie screen or following on that digital device (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.), well, they are actual, real people. They have skin. They have actual hands and feet. They get out of breath. They sweat — and sometimes it splatters on you.
And, they have feelings.
I know it's hard to believe, but they have real, honest-to-goodness feelings.
The show was about an hour and a half long, but the meet and greet lasted for more than two hours, maybe three. Those two lifelong entertainers spent the entire time shaking hands, taking pictures, and talking, really talking. They answered questions and listened to people's stories.
At one point, while Nancy and I stood in line with two hundred of our closest friends that we'd never before met, one woman was pulled from far back in the line so that she could sit down and wait for the line to catch up to her. She was just too weak to stand up that long.
Donny saw her! As soon as he finished with the person he had been greeting, he went to her, sat down, and just connected. As her story went, she had recently lost her daughter, who was supposed to join her on the trip. Instead, she was there with her sister, and she was still in mourning. Donny spent a long time just talking with her and trying to console her.
Later, this lady moved farther down the line, and Marie did a similar thing. Their attention and kindness were impressive to watch, yet they didn't do it to impress. I believe they did it because they are real people and were connecting with another real person who was in pain. They allowed themselves to experience compassion in a moment they shared with many others.
There is an odd thing in our modern media-driven society. Famous people are so much in front of us that we seem to stop believing they are real. They are like characters in a book that have come to life but still aren't real. We think they are just a creation of fiction. We quickly begin to feel like it doesn't matter what we say to them or how we treat them. For us, they are little more than celluloid, plastic, synthetic beings without feelings or a right to privacy. Their pain means nothing to us.
I have been as prone to this malady as anyone. My hometown NBA team, the Pacers were playing LeBron James' team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, a while back. I got all caught up in the emotion of the moment. I've never been a LeBron fan, and that's okay. I don't have to be a fan of opposing players. I suppose if he ended up playing in Indiana, my heart would soften toward him. It's only natural. As it stands, though, I just don't cheer for him, even though I recognize his incredible talent.
As the game unfolded, the Pacers battled his team tooth and nail. They put up a valiant fight, but in the end, they had fallen in defeat. LeBron did what he does so often; he turned on the afterburners and blasted them into submission. I was heartbroken and dejected. I was angry and looking for a target at which I could shoot my daggers of emotion.
I lashed out.
I took to Twitter and said something very negative about LeBron. I even hash-tagged him. I intended for anyone who follows him, perhaps even LeBron himself, to see it. I truly hoped he would see it. I wanted to take the air out of his victory balloon.
At first, I thought I was clever. I'm an author, and I had strung together some clever words, saying something mean-spirited cloaked inside some insincere compliments. I thinly disguised my back-handed jabs at his character. Boy, did I tell him.
I had a problem, though. The problem was that I had recently become obsessed with loving people the way God wanted me to do it. Therefore, I knew that doing what I had done did not fit that expectation and goal. I knew that I was being mean-spirited and wasn't following the command to love my neighbor. My conscience rebelled against my clever words.
LeBron probably never saw the tweet. If he did, he probably just blew it off. After all, he likely gets thousands of tweets coming at him in a constant barrage. Still, I knew what I had done, and I knew it was inappropriate, unloving, and just plain wrong. The more I thought about it, the more guilty I felt. I couldn't cope with the inconsistency between what I knew to be right and the reality of my action. Eventually, I did the only thing I could do. Since I couldn't un-tweet it, I hash-tagged him again, this time with an apology. I knew that I needed to do it. He probably never saw that either, but God did.
For one heated moment, I forgot that LeBron James is a real person with a family, a heart, and feelings.
The Moment in Which We Find Ourselves:
Politicians are another category of people that we seem to have lost any sense of their humanity. As I write this, we are about to enter another heated political season. Politics has always been an ugly business, but over the last several years, it seems that the ugliness has reached an all-time high. Social media has made everyone into a pundit and a talking head. Memes have taken the place of newspapers and magazines. TV news is all about opinion, and that opinion gets amplified as it gets copied and pasted into every social site around. Add in the fake messages, and you've got the witch's brew for demonizing anyone brave enough to run for public office.
Here's my message to you, whether you are reading this within the cycle that is currently starting or find yourself in some future political cycle: Please remember that the person you are tempted to attack is a real person. He or she has a family. Many of these people have children. They breathe and eat and sleep, just like you do. They are sometimes right, and they are sometimes wrong — just like the rest of us. They have feelings and a heart. Hateful words and messages can injure them just as they do you or me.
I have sometimes forgotten that principle in my rush to defend or promote my personal views.
We can justify ourselves by pointing to what we believe to be their immoral positions on social issues or their lack of integrity or even their loose grasp on the truth. Those factors may or may not be correct, but whether they are or not is on them. As a Christ-follower, my obligation is to someone higher, and I must follow His higher expectation.
As a Christ-follower, Jesus obligates me to love (agape) them — even if they are my political enemy. I am obligated to treat them the way that I'd want to be treated if I were in their shoes. I am obligated by the grace I have received to keep a tight rein on my tongue.
It is one thing to disagree, but it is another thing altogether to disparage and say hateful things — especially in a public forum. I have a favor to ask. Please join me in not cloaking our hateful words inside a blanket of pseudo-Christian piety. To do so is to dishonor our Lord.
During the last cycle, I found one side effect of all the hateful posts and memes, especially distressing. There were young Christians who, because of those angry words, lost their respect for some older Christians — the very people who had been formative in their early faith walk.
Some of those young believers have walked away from their spiritual families altogether, perhaps even from God. They were disillusioned by those they loved and respected, and at a loss to find a place to connect with people demonstrating the character and compassion of Jesus. They did this because they saw the people who taught them to value all people showing them the complete opposite in their social media feed.
When I consider this heartbreaking reality, some words of Jesus come to my mind. They have to do with causing the young to stumble, deserving millstones to be placed around their neck and cast into the sea (Matthew 18:6-7).
A Personal Commitmentment:
Sure, I have the right to freedom of speech. I have the right to share my political views. I know I should participate in our democratic process. Still, I have a much greater obligation to Jesus; that obligation is to love all people.
- To love my enemies.
- To love my neighbor.
- To love my family.
- To love those people who may be observing my attitudes and actions.
- And, by extension, to love even those people who don't quite seem real to me because they are always in the public eye.
I must treat all people, and each person, the way that I want them to treat me.
One concept that I adopted back in 2016:
I hope you agree.
Have you ever met a famous person? What about them seemed normal to you?
Why do you think we find it so easy to say hateful things on social media?
Have you ever felt disillusioned by something someone said on social media?
Discuss the merits of either disconnecting from social media or trying to view it as a mission field. Should we withdraw from this cultural phenomenon or try to engage in a positive way?
What are the potential negative side effects of engaging in religious or political debates on social media?
For the next week, purposefully avoid making negative social media posts and, instead, intentionally post only positive comments — at least one per day — directed toward someone who needs encouragement.
Donny, Marie, and LeBron