Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Weeping with Those on Social Media

https://www.flickr.com/photos/wandering_angel/1823657557/
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)
In times of tragedy, it has become common on social media to see people offer “thoughts and prayers,” condolences for folks who have been bereaved or injured, and regions that have experienced disaster. It is a way of reaching out, of grieving with and for them and each other. It is a recognition that, in the words of John Donne, “no man is an island entire of itself,” and “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Every day the bell tolls somewhere, as it always has, but with the coming of instant news and the sharing of social media, we now experience its resonance more immediately and pervasively than we did before. Every day, almost every hour, we hear the bell toll, and it tolls for us.

We can easily become overwhelmed. Our thoughts are filled with it, our hearts moved by it, and we look for the light of hope, for our own sake as well as for others, lest we all sink into despair. Many offer up a prayer, whether out of great faith or feeble. We post our “thoughts and prayers” and our “heart goes out.” Unsophisticated words, no doubt. Even clichéd. Yet they express our grief, our hope and our faith nonetheless for it.

The apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Christians at Rome, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Rejoicing with those who rejoice is the easier of the two. On Facebook, we literally “Like” their announcements of good news, new homes, new jobs, anniversaries, retirements, vacations, children, grandchildren — even their pets and their meals. We have a lot of fun with it. But we also weep with those who weep. It is not merely some external idea about what we ought to do. The grief dwells within us, however much we may realize it, and it flows out of us one way or another.

Like our rejoicing, our weeping shows up on social media, too. When someone describes a difficult situation they are going through, friends often offer a simple comment like, “Praying.” Likewise, when someone specifically asks for prayer, friends will even use the “Like” button in response, as if to say, “Yes, I’m praying for you.” That may seem inadequate, and perhaps it is, but I have seen many friends on Facebook express great appreciation for the abundance of such responses they received, and how they somehow felt the prayers and were encouraged and strengthened by the outpouring.

When there are natural catastrophes such as the recent hurricanes, earthquakes and wild fires, or acts of terrorism, mass destruction or other man-made evils, such as last month’s heinous Las Vegas shootings, and this month’s killings at Sutherland Springs, we all feel the grief of it. We mourn, and one way it comes out is with such modest words as, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” It is a way of reaching out to each other, that we might all know that none of us are alone in our grief. And we pray, for we believe that God does hear and that he does care. It is a faith that God will somehow get the last word, and that it will be a good word.

In recent days, some folks have deemed “thoughts and prayers” something to be mocked, shamed, and dismissed as “virtue signaling.” More often than not, from what I have seen, those who have been dismissive have an agenda they seem impatient to get to, and all this grief-sharing just gets in the way unless it can be exploited for their politics. But however inadequate “thoughts and prayers” may seem for one’s activism, it is at the least an expression of grief and should be respected as such instead of shamed or mocked.

And if it comes down to a choice between prayer and politics, I’ve seen what both can do, and I will choose prayer every time.