When Social Media Engagements Encourage and Connect You

I’ve never done this before, but I wanted to share an excerpt from an online conversation I just had. I’ve had some great discussions on the topic of race and racism on a friends page, and this exchange was the inspiration for my first podcast episode.

After a seemingly fruitless attempt to engage dialogue with a man who had criticised this video about the historical root of the term Caucasian, I was wisely advised by a fellow Facebook commenter not to waste time on people who want to remain ignorant. After telling him about my commitment to speak into these things, I was asked to share the story about the deconstruction process that led me into anti-racism activism.  The following was my response (as read on my new podcast Ooh, She’s Speaking)

 

“On one hand, I would say my deconstruction has taken decades, but the bulk of it has really taken place over the last few years.

I’ve claimed myself as an “anti-racist” for decades, and I truly believed I was. But now that I have gone through the bulk of this deconstruction, I can look back and say that I was very mistaken. My intentions were decent, but I had zero understanding of how much I had been shaped by external narratives. I had no real knowledge of history in this nation. I grew up raised and heavily relating to my Native American ancestry, so I had a solid amount of dislike for our founding as well as a severe distrust of our government, but even that wasn’t enough.

I held firmly to the ethic of the individual and subscribed to the idea that being “colorblind” was an enlightened perspective. I became a Christian in my early 20s and felt a strong call to racial reconciliation within the church, but I had absolutely no idea how to approach it. I didn’t understand race, the creation of the concept, the deep roots of white supremacy and how it absolutely saturated medicine, academia, our justice system, and the way we live and relate to one another to this day.

I truly believed that we lived so segregated out of preference. I thought that we could just get along if our minds were open enough. I saw people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton as opportunists, Malcolm X as a hateful man and I blamed them for the division. I looked up to the whitewashed view of a peaceful, docile MLK Jr. I never once questioned how or why I came to those conclusions, and if I’m honest, I probably just assumed it was by my own brilliant, enlightened thinking. But I understand now.

My most significant turning point came when I started learning about the difference between American Christianity and the Bible. As my entire concept of “church” shifted, as I came to the realization that we are so bound to tradition simply because it’s the tradition, other things started to fall away as well. Cultural norms, race… all of it. It was perfect timing really. My white family had moved and was living in a predominantly black neighborhood, I was questioning everything about what formed my perspectives and why I held the beliefs I did, I was being moved into more in-depth work on racism, and my eyes were open to injustice all around.

The icing on the cake was when I was finally given permission to get off my butt and start speaking out. Until then, I didn’t really know where I fit. I actually needed my friends of color to tell me that they were tired of taking on the fight, tired of talking to people and hearing the same old crap and that they wanted white people to start doing the heavy lifting.

Since then, I’ve been hosting dinner party/discussions, speaking openly about racism, and most importantly-reading, listening and learning from people of color.

Here’s the thing that blows my mind. It took me moving my white family into a predominantly black neighborhood, spending years listening and observing, developing deep friendships with people of color (I can’t tell you how many white people ask how to even meet people and do that), going to events and classes, and being part of a racial reconciliation group- to even begin to see what my friends of color have known all their lives!

It’s breathtaking, and I know it will be my work for the rest of my days on this earth. But I know that reconciliation is the heart of god, and I have experienced a depth of love and grace and beauty, heaven on earth, as I have pursued this work, bridged gaps, and worked toward unity. ”

 

Clearly, I am long-winded, but I was so excited that someone was curious enough to ask me to share my story, excited that they felt I would be open to doing so, and honored to share it.

 

From The Archives: The Illusion of Intimacy

I’ve noticed a theme in many stories shared on social media lately. I was deeply touched by The Innovation of Loneliness; a short video which explores the changes in the formation of our social circles and communities as we become more “connected.” I’ve also watched a few that explore how women’s self-perception is being impacted by constant comparison with photoshopped “beauty.” Most notable are the number of stories about disconnecting from technology to connect more fully with life and those around us.

I’ve been contemplating my own loneliness, especially since becoming a mom. I’ve wondered if it’s a natural part of staying home with my kids. Am I really cut out for motherhood? Or am I just too selfish? I’ve also wondered if the disconnection I’ve felt upon my move back to the U.S. is due mostly to moving back into the same old when I am nowhere near the same old. Perhaps I’ve just entered into a dramatically changed place? My absence and re-entry into the US have, after all, coincided with the immense growth in popularity of Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets. Questions give birth to more questions.

I am sure of a few things though. While social media is designed to connect, its natural consequence is further alienation from one another. While keeping up with friends and family through Facebook can be an excellent way to stay “connected” from a distance; it is not a replacement for the relationship.

If I haven’t called you, spoken to you, or sent you an email of a more personal nature- I can’t expect you to know or feel tended to on a relational level. It’s just reality. Conversely, when I speak with someone I haven’t heard from in a while and realize they keep up with me through Facebook; and may even have a decent grasp on the recent goings on in my life- it gives me great pause. Suddenly, someone I didn’t consider to be part of my inner circle seems like they should be. After all, they know what I ate for dinner yesterday, the cute thing one of my kids said to me that morning, or my thoughts on the day in general. It feels strange, out-of-body, and adulterous.

Adulterous may seem like a strange descriptive, but it best describes my sentiment in these moments. It’s as if there is this potential relationship being cheated on. A relationship that could exist, but won’t because I’ve settled for cheap and quick hook ups in the form of Facebook posts, tweets and so on.

I’ve settled for surface when I could have commitment. I’ve chosen relationships of convenience and ease that take place on my terms; as opposed to the messy and challenging relationships that happen in real time. I prefer airbrushed and dressed up in place of real and wrinkled. Intelligence and quick wit win out over thoughtfulness and pause.

Human relationships are messy and flawed. Frustration and challenge entwine with beauty and creativity in the bonds we form when we walk side by side. There is a dignity within the wrestling of relationship. We are known. We are accepted. We are stretched and grown. We are challenged and encouraged. Our lives are spoken into in meaningful ways, and we are given opportunities to speak into others lives similarly. We are held to a greater responsibility relationally. When someone is sitting across from us in our living room or at a table in a café- we can’t simply unfriend them or block them from our feed.

Is it any coincidence that as we become more “connected” through social media- we actually feel less connected, less accepted, and less cared for? We yearn for beauty, creativity, and understanding but report feeling less and less of these things with each passing day.

Perhaps it’s time to do something different.

Set down the tablet or phone (after reading this of course). Walk away from the screen in front of you and do something scary. Call someone you’ve intended to call for a long time. Make plans to get together with a friend. Invite people into your home for a meal. Throw aside your reservations, fears, insecurities, and excuses. Make the change. Shift the paradigm. Reach out and touch someone 😉

What We Could All Use in the Wake of Orlando

I can’t make sense of the words and politics swirling around me on social media these days. Every time I get online, I leave feeling exhausted, discouraged, and tied up in knots.

Forty-nine lives were just cut short in Orlando; taken by a mad man.

Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, husbands, wives, partners, and friends are gone. Those who are left to pick up the pieces in the wake of this horrible tragedy mourn.

While they mourn and press into all of the questions that come when someone you love is ripped away in death; we offer policy solutions, answers, and arguments.

When my brother died, the last thing I wanted to hear were people’s platitudes, personal stories of pain, or emotional processing. I only wanted them to show up and be present. To sit with me. To allow me to grieve. To listen. And to remember.

Shiva is the Jewish tradition of mourning death. I am not Jewish, but this practice is appealing to me on some levels. When people sit Shiva, they gather around the bereaved to show their support and to honor the life of the individual who died.

The way people show up during Shiva is different from anything I have ever experienced. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin writes that “according to Jewish law, there is a particular etiquette for paying a Shiva visit. Visitors are to enter quietly, take a seat near the mourner, and say nothing until the mourner addresses them first.”

He talks about how we are generally unaware of what a grieving person needs; and that by allowing space for silence, we can help to meet that person in one of their greatest times of suffering.

In silence.

When my brother died, everything was thrown into flux. It was horrible and dark, and most days I could barely breathe. I knew grief would be hard, but I didn’t understand the impact others could have on it until I walked through it myself.

My family’s grieving process was often compounded by well-meaning people who showed up with their baggage and unknowingly used our pain as an extension of their own unprocessed grief. They walked right into our space with their poorly thought out words, inappropriately applied feelings, and spiritual reasoning.

I’m certain they meant well. And I’m sure most of us mean well right now too. But meaning well doesn’t always translate into doing well. And why is it people offer noise where silence is needed? Why are we uncomfortable with pain? Because pain hurts. And it’s hard.

Those who have experienced the loss of a family member or close companion understand how essential it is to push through the pain, and how dangerous it is to remain stuck in anger.

But wow are we angry in this country right now. We’re angry about guns. We’re angry about religion. We’re angry about bathrooms and political agendas. We’re angry about media bias. We’re angry at our current president, past presidents, and presidential candidates who may never be. We’re angry about using certain words, not using other words; and ironically angry words abound.

We are literally tearing into each other from every angle.

And we are missing our opportunity to honor the lives of the lost with each passing argument.

I want to know the names and faces of the men and women who were murdered. I want to hear their stories. I want to push into that pain to honor them and those left in this wake of sadness.

Looking back at my own family’s mourning process, I wish people had shown up, sat down, and held quiet space. I’ve come to believe that when community checks it’s baggage at the door and comes together to support the bereaved, it can be one of the greatest gifts offered.

I think it’s time for us to set our collective baggage aside and show up. Let’s sit a Shiva of sorts as people in unity and solidarity with all those who are grieving.

Let’s put away our angry words, our pointed blame, and our baggage; and join with the loved ones of the slain, with the LGBTQ community as a whole, and with one another.

I know it’s not comfortable to sit in the silent space between tragedy and solution. And I know many things need to change in this country. But if we fall prey to the notion that an angry word or a social media brow-beating will somehow effect change or represent an act of honoring the lives lost; then I am afraid we are one step closer to losing our humanity.

The Illusion of Intimacy

I’ve noticed a theme in many of the stories being shared on social media these days. I was deeply touched by The Innovation of Loneliness ; a short video which explores the changes in the formation of our social circles and communities as we become more “connected”. I’ve seen several that challenge and explore how women’s self perception is being impacted by constant comparison with photo shopped “beauty”. Most notably have been the number of stories about disconnecting from technology in an effort to connect more fully with life and those around us.

I’ve been contemplating my own loneliness, particularly since becoming a mom. I’ve wondered if it’s a natural part of staying home with my kids. Am I really cut out for motherhood? Am I just too selfish? I’ve also wondered if the disconnection I’ve felt upon repatriation from China is due mostly to moving back into the same old when I am nowhere near the same old. Perhaps I’ve just entered into a dramatically changed place? My absence and re-entry into the US has after all, coincided with the immense growth in popularity of Facebook, twitter and other social media outlets. Questions give birth to more questions.

I am certain of a few things though. While social media is designed to connect, its natural consequence is further alienation from one another. While keeping up on friends and family through Facebook can be a great way to stay “connected” from a distance; it is not a replacement for relationship. If I haven’t called you, spoken with you, or sent you an email of a more personal nature- I can’t expect you to know or feel tended to on a relational level. It’s just reality. Conversely, when I speak with someone I haven’t heard from in a while and realize they keep up with me through Facebook; and may even have a decent grasp on the recent goings on in my life- it gives me great pause. Suddenly, someone I didn’t consider to be part of my inner circle seems like they should be. After all, they know what I ate for dinner yesterday, the cute thing one of my kids said to me that morning, or my thoughts on the day in general. It feels strange, out of body, and adulterous.

Adulterous may seem like a strange descriptive, but it best describes my sentiment in these moments. It’s as if there is this potential relationship being cheated on. A relationship that could exist, but won’t because I’ve settled for cheap and quick hook ups in the form of Facebook posts, tweets and so on. I’ve settled for surface when I could have commitment. I’ve chosen relationships of convenience and ease that take place on my terms; as opposed to the messy and challenging relationships that happen in real time. I want airbrushed and dressed up in place of real and wrinkled. Intelligence and quick wit win out over thoughtfulness and pause.

Human relationships are messy and flawed. Frustration and challenge entwine with beauty and creativity in the bonds we form when we walk side by side.

There is a dignity within the wrestling of relationship. We are known. We are accepted. We are stretched and grown. We are challenged and encouraged. Our lives are spoken into in meaningful ways, and we are given opportunities to speak into others lives similarly. We are held to a greater responsibility relationally. When someone is sitting across from us in our living room or at a table in a café- we can’t simply unfriend them or block them from our feed.

Is it any coincidence that as we become more “connected” through social media- we actually feel less connected, less accepted, and less cared for? We yearn for beauty, creativity, and understanding but report feeling less and less of these things with each passing day.

Perhaps it’s time to do something different.

Set down the tablet or phone (after reading this of course). Walk away from the screen in front of you and do something scary. Call someone you’ve intended to call for a long time. Make plans to get together with a friend. Invite people into your home for a meal. Throw aside your reservations, fears, insecurities, and excuses; and (to quote an old telephone company jingle)- “reach out and touch someone”.