It started with a post that I shared on my Instagram story.
Perhaps you read this and you feel it is wildly controversial. Maybe you read it and think it could be more so. When I read it, I felt like my heart had been transcribed as I sat in my home feeling helpless after yet another disturbing account of a black man’s death. Yet again, a life needlessly snuffed out at the hand of law enforcement.
To be honest, posting controversial things on social media is not really my forte. I get a little sweaty and a lot shaky if I find I misspelled something, let alone find what I posted made someone angry. And yet, every so often, there is a quote or an article that I feel is so representative of my worldview that I post it. I view social media as a tool to provide a small window into my world, a way to ensure my authenticity is 360 for those from my past, present, and even my future. After reposting the above image from the founder of The Happy Givers, I received a response to my post.
The individual reaching out to me in this message is a childhood friend who I lived near for a few years. Since that time, we have been social media friends, but with increasingly infrequent interactions. At most, perhaps a like or comment once a year. At the time of this message, it had been three years since I had heard from her. She has gone on to be quite successful, and has a following 35 times my own. I explain all this to say, I was shocked to not only receive a message from her, but to see she had even stopped to look at my Instagram story. What could I post that would be of interest to her?
My shock turned to analysis. I had, in that brief moment, dissected the tone and aim of this message. Her choice of “hey friend” was, I’m sure, meant to be disarming, but served primarily as a reminder that we were more acquaintances than friends by this point in our lives. The greeting also distinctly smelled of the type of faux kinship that leads to a comment like, “hey friend, did you know you have something green stuck in your teeth?” Let’s be honest, only the very dearest of friends can actually deliver that type of comment in a well-meaning way. The “just curious” and the “I know how busy you are!” only emphasized further that this was a type of relationship I was entirely unaware we had. It begged the question: can a relationship of this nature exist if only one party is aware of it?
But after reading on, I spotted it. There, hidden between parentheses, was the truth, lurking. She had come to dissent. Not in a way that was in seeking my viewpoint, but only in educating me on hers. As if she felt she could provide a new and unique perspective by encouraging me to listen to yet another white, conservative evangelical’s words. She was my savior riding in to save me from my naive, pathetic band wagoning. I sat there a moment taking in her yellow emojis. Her words echoing through my head.
She assumed at least two things within her message:
Assumption 1: I was in the process of figuring out what I thought about everything going on in the world.
Assumption 2: She had figured it out.
As I took all this in, I felt an all-together too familiar sensation. My stomach clenched, my face flushed, and my lungs felt trapped in a box too small to breathe properly. My hands started to shake. It was the embarrassment and pain of being shamed. I’m far too accustomed to this feeling. This was the cruel shame others thrust upon you. It is a burden you are forced to carry by no choice or commitment of your own. It’s the type of shame that is aimed to make you small, to disempower you.
In my analysis I had begun to read between the lines and had drawn two final conclusions:
1. She thought I was either dumb, wrong or sinful, and therefore as a “sister in Christ” was required to call me out. And/or
2. She was on a mission to persuade me to her side, the “right” side, the “Christian” side.
To be perfectly transparent, it’s unclear to me when this became an expectation of our generation and our culture. Is the white-savior complex of the generations before us contagious? Are we expected to be the gatekeepers of God’s kingdom? Are we only able to walk through the pearly gates if we are Republican? I must have missed the memo of this required role, because over the course of the last few years I had many opportunities to see this individual’s posts and strongly disagreed, but knew it was her platform and her worldview. I knew she was simply speaking from her interpretation, and recognized she was entitled to it. I extended her grace; I gave her the benefit of the doubt. There should always be space to allow people to speak, and yes, you can disagree respectfully, but you must recognize that by doing so you are putting the relationship at risk. You are potentially messaging that the position you are expressing is more important to you than the person receiving your words.
Is it worth it?
Was our relationship so worthless to her that it was worth inflicting pain? Was our relationship so strong that she knew it could withstand the pain? Our disagreements leave scars, and those on display in social media are the open wounds. I’m sure you remember each cutting word that’s been posted no matter who was “right”.
The purpose of this post is not to call out the very contentious argument that was clearly brewing politically and religiously. It’s certainly not to discuss our very dissimilar viewpoints of the podcast she suggested. It is to call out the cracks forming in this community, the lack of unity when we are called to something higher. It is to say that I believe without a shadow of a doubt this individual loves Jesus, and I hope she would know and believe the same of me. The beauty of the Christian community should be its diversity, not its conformity. We should be able to be so unique and so dissimilar but still so deeply connected because of our core convictions in Christ. Yet that was not enough for her as she perused her Instagram feed that evening. She could not accept that I could be sharing a viewpoint richly rooted in Christ’s love for my neighbors, for my BIPOC friends and family. She did not understand my broken heart for the lived experiences of my coworkers and loved ones. Instead, she felt the need to convince me, to save me, to argue amongst ourselves. We are women far from one another in viewpoint, and yet, I still want to root for her.
The reason I’m writing this is not because it was the first (and certainly not the last) time I will experience the shame of being forcibly disgraced. To be honest, what tipped the scale this time was that a woman had done it. For me, it always hurts the most when a woman undercuts or belittles another woman. The wound, even once healed, scars. Some days I wonder how she thinks I perceived her message. Regardless of her intent, the impact of her message and the lack of follow up spoke volumes.
I have decided to share a few experiences, like this one, that will shine a light on the shame that Christian culture freely shares with one another. Before I do, here’s the major spoiler of the series: I refuse to live one more moment disgraced. I will not stand by while friends, family, and fellow believers use their faith in order to parade their religiosity so they can shame me (and others) into place, into submission. I did not take up the cross to be attacked by the others carrying their crosses alongside me. I took up the cross to give up the world and live as a beacon of love. The kind of love that is real, that is messy, that cries ugly tears, and gets up every morning striving to take what they learned the day before and do better. The cross I bear has become so heavy with the shame you have freely given that sometimes I fear I cannot carry it any further. For fear of setting down the cross, I remove the weight of shame instead.
In case you forgot, God has freed me from each shackle of pain and shame and offered me every measure of grace in return. He offers the same to you.
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.