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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: evangelism

The Problem of Virtual Words (and the Power of Rain boots)

jenmichel@me.com

I’ve managed to tick off not just a few people in the past week, most of them complete strangers who wouldn’t be able to pick me out of a liberal line-up. (Well, I suppose if they’ve bothered to stalk my politically criminal self all the way here, they’ve probably seen a picture.) The truth is, despite the pot that I’ve stirred with my recent piece at Her.meneutics ("How Canada Convinced Me Not to Vote") and my potentially explosive blog post ("When Gay Pride Comes to School"), today I’ll continue on in my very uninteresting life, acting the part of every other ordinary mom who arrives at school with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, kissing cheeks and doling out lunchboxes, shouting last minute reminders that, “You need to check with Mr. Price if there is still band rehearsal. Just call me later and let me know.”

That life – the one in the school pick-up line, the one at the soccer sidelines, the one I live in my neighborhood and church and city – that’s my embodied life, and it’s the one that matters most to me.

I’ve always believed that writing should be an extension of my life, not an escape from it. Words aren’t the act of whistling in the wind. Words should be have skin, should speak across a table. We have this example in Christ, the Word of God, who took on flesh and pitched his tent among us.

God didn’t write a blog post. He sent His Son.

This theological reality of the Incarnation makes me painfully aware of the limits of virtual words that arrive without skin or skeleton in your inbox.

Which is why relationship is the means I use to try and animate those words, pumping blood into their lifeless forms. Of course this isn’t always possible (distance, time), but when it is, I try and seek it.

I have many friendships that I certainly never want to jeopardize by the words I write. Although the risk remains of offending someone I love, that I love them and am loved by them is itself enormous insularity from the potential fracturing.

A friendship here in Canada is surviving our disagreements. I dare say it’s even thriving even as we hold differing views of morality and do not share the same faith perspective. I’ve asked if I can share their words as they say it far better than I. The following is excerpted from an email exchange:

* * * * *

“I have to say that the last few days have been eye-opening for me (in a good way), and a good chunk of what I presumed about people who don’t think like me is now out the window, and I’m feeling a little unmoored.

In the last few years I have been lazy about the way I consider people who do not agree with me. This is what happened…

First, because it’s so easy to do so, l was lazy and let myself lump everyone together into the same pile as the most prominent, most vocal, most visible and most idiotic Republican representatives: Sarah Palin, fox news, Rush Limbaugh, Trump, Akin, Ann Coulter, the gun people, quite possibly George W (although I’m not entirely sure what to make of him, yet) and worst of all… Grover Norquist.

Second, in the last two decades, I have become increasingly wary of strict adherence to religious laws, largely because I took some time to learn about the laws of Orthodox Judaism and their origins. I went and read up on the laws of keeping kosher and decided that they are ridiculous (and funny). I dabbled in reading the Torah and decided it was a bit odd also. And I have trouble with Creationism.

Third, I hold different opinions about homosexuality than you. The aforementioned laziness led me to lump anyone who views same sex marriage differently into the aforementioned lump.

Then along come you and Ryan -  smart, funny, kind people, worthy of all respect and who clearly defy lumping. I read your facebook post, your open letter to the school, some of your blog posts, and the post about not voting. And I also read the comments to that post, and a bunch of those thoughtful people also cannot be lumped. So my easy view that all conservatives and republicans are Ayn Rand loving, gun-totin’, climate-change denying nutballs is out the window, and now I have to reserve judgment, listen to people, consider their positions, be empathetic and considerate… all that nonsense. Smacks of effort.”

* * * * *

My friend is absolutely right. It is far easier to criticize than grant someone the benefit of the doubt. It is far easier to dismiss people as we dismiss their opinions. It is far easy to cling to our biases, stay hunkered down in our certainties, and label anything different or dissenting as stupid. That makes us feel safe.

But relationships are for more difficult that these easy and simplistic judgments: relationships demand time, effort, mutual listening. They introduce ambiguity, because we are complex creatures. They will not be hurried and will suffer no substitute.

My friend, though not a Christian, reminds me that this is of course the Jesus way: that the gospel of love, forgiveness, peace, grace, isn’t a set of spiritual abstractions or truths to which we mentally assent. They find their footing in a Person, Jesus Christ, and they find their credibility in us, even as we imperfectly and clumsily love others.

I would hardly say that I’m doing this perfectly, only that I’m trying to live an authentic and embodied life: it’s a writing life, no doubt, and words without skin and skeleton will show up in your inbox today.

But it’s also a life of skin that shows up, on drizzly days like today, in rain boots.