I’m guessing that by now you are getting pretty tired of the negativity on social media. Aside from the 2016 US election cycle, it’s hard to remember a time in recent history when Americans (including Christians) have been more at each other’s throats. Here are some of the comments I am seeing: “If your church doesn’t support X, stop attending.” “If you are white, shut up.” “All this protesting is ridiculous.” “We need to keep protesting indefinitely.” “Police officers need to be supported.” “Police departments need to be defunded.”
I have my personal views. I think racial injustice is a major issue and it’s a topic I wrote about recently. I’m in favor of peaceful protests. I support police officers and believe this broad brushing off all police officers as evil is terrible. Looting and vandalism are shameful. I am concerned about taking Covid-19 precautions. I cannot stand how this epidemic has been weaponized by opportunistic political leaders.
Funny thing, but I think if I were to sit down in a room with most of the people I follow on Twitter or Facebook, they would probably say roughly the same thing (and I follow some interesting characters!).
This begs the question: Why is there so much mudslinging? Some say it’s just because we are all sinful human beings. I agree with that. Others say, “We just need the gospel and everything would work itself out.” In a sense, I agree with that too (depending on what they mean by the gospel). But I also believe the “Everyone just needs the gospel” approach can be a sneaky way of not getting our hands messy in the process. Just saying “everyone needs Jesus” is not enough if we never do anything to back up this statement and show how Jesus can transform a sinful heart.
I’ve given this a lot of thought over the past few years and I think it comes down to a very simple, obvious, and dare I say boring explanation for why Americans, in particular Christians, are at each other’s throats. Are you ready? This is a snoozer. You might want to take a nap mid way through reading this, but here we go…..Drum roll, please!
As a culture, we are losing our ability to have long-form conversations of meaning with others. That’s it. Feel free to quit reading now.
For those of you who continued……
One pastime Janan and I have is watching old television. Bonanza is amazing (and predictable). It’s hard not to notice the way scene transitions were made. Sometimes it feels painful as a camera shot hangs on a character for a whole ten seconds…gasp. The intro feels like thirty minutes long.
Take old-time TV talk shows. Ever watch old tapings of Larry King on CNN (Yes, I just called 90’s TV old) or Late-Night comedy host Johnny Carson? It’s insane. Guests could actually come on and have conversations that lasted longer than 5-minutes! Crazier still, they were allowed to talk without being interrupted every ten-seconds if the host felt they were becoming boring.
Radio. Yes radio. Have you ever listened to old-time radio episodes? They are a lot of fun! In fact, next week on my podcast I’m having voice actor Katie Leigh (she plays the character of Connie Kendall on the kids audio drama Adventures In Odyssey). Now, radio is by and large junk! Aside from the occasional outlier, most of the stations I’ve found on the AM/FM dial and even Sirius XM are nothing more than a couple of talking heads spouting their opinion. Talk radio? There was a day I was a silent addict to talk-radio shows. Not anymore (except for the Dan Patrick show. His voice soothes me :)). In college, I remember listening to this guy named JT the Brick on Fox Sports radio. From time to time I would write into his show and got the biggest rush when I heard my emails read on the air. I usually wrote on hockey, not a topic many in his audience seemed to care about (Still haven’t been able to figure that out)! One part of the show I loved was when callers dialed in and were stumbling with their words or making a boring point. At that moment he would scream “POW!” and promptly hang up on them. That’s how a lot of talk radio is. Agree with the host or “POW!” No thanks.
Check out the video section on Facebook. Which videos have the most hits? The ridiculous ones! In fact, it’s become a thing among many professional YouTubers to stop making high quality films, and instead, create amateur looking content with crazy captions. Clickbait.
So, where do we go? Honestly, I think it’s time to get radical.
I’m certainly not attempting a shame tactic. I love the good meme or crazy cat video, but as far as I know, neither have done much to improve my spiritual state (Especially cat videos as I am quite certain most of them possess some form of an evil spirit).
Instead, long-form conversations are where I’ve noticed the greatest lasting good happening in my life. Those times I sit with someone and listen to their viewpoint. Wow, so helpful. In fact, we just had some friends of ours over yesterday and in thinking about that conversation, I realize I learned a few things. Why? Because we had lunch and chatted for a couple hours.
“Okay Ezra,” you might be saying, “that makes sense. But what are some other ways I can engage in long-form conversations that don’t involve me talking?” (I’m going to assume you were just dying to ask this question).
Here are several options I have found helpful:
Mind blowing, I know. But books have changed my thoughts in profound ways. I remember first reading Jim Cymbala’s Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. Game changer. More recently, I read Stephen King’s book on writing (language alert). It shifted the way I communicate as an author. Currently, I have about eight open books on my Kindle (where I do most of my reading) and this year I am on pace to read about a book a week. You might be saying, “That’s nothing. I do a book a day!” Kudos to you. Or, you might be saying, “I’m lucky to finish one book a year!” I get it that reading is tougher for some and easier for other. But man, they’ve got this thing called audiobooks! If you aren’t a big reader, making a shift to reading or listening to one book a month from a broad range of categories can be a life-transforming process.
Podcasts are one of the most underrated forms of information available today. It’s crazy! Authors come on and essentially give you the highlights from their books, and it’s free! I have several favorites. Ask NT Wright Anything Podcast is fun. IMbetween Marriage Podcast by my new friend Daniel Im and his wife Christina is great. The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos is informative. Revisionist History by Malcolm Gladwell is great. The School of Greatness by Lewis Howes is fascinating. Others I like include: StoryCorps by NPR, American Greed Podcast, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast, and of course…hands down the best one of all time…The Monday Christian Podcast.
Options for information are endless. There are thousands of ways we can get informed on a wide variety of topics. We could sign up for a course on Udemy, listen to a University professor on The Great Courses, all for very reasonable prices.
The key is intentionality. Clickbait is more accessible than life-changing information. To be honest, sometimes communicators of great content aren’t near as exciting as the controversial talk show host.
There is nothing sexy about long-form conversational learning. It doesn’t give me the quick fix a funny cat video or controversial political clickbait article will, but the rewards are so much more fulfilling. It’s a 24 oz Steak versus a moon pie. (Why would anyone ever eat a moon pie?).
If you feel yourself getting caught up and feeling anxious today, try some fresh long forms of conversation.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of long-form conversation is that it gives us empathy for others unlike any meme or snarky social media post can. Anyone can have an opinion. Not everyone can have empathy. But the second is where real life-giving relationships are formed.
I know this has happened in my life. It’s tough for me to be angry with someone, regardless of how I disagree with them politically, when I sit down and hear their story. I might come away saying, “I still disagree with your opinion,” but that conversation barrier is broken.
As I write this, my little girl Zoey is watching Curious George in the background. How I have not inserted any monkey references until this point is beyond me! Like George, I think every Christian should have a holy sense of curiosity (emphasis on the word holy. I don’t think George has learned this part). We should wonder what makes others tick.
Struggling with frustration at life right now? Try engaging in long-form conversations. Cut back on social media, the news, and meaningless clickbait info. I like this recent tweet from Tara Beth Leach: “I imagine a very different evangelicalism if more said, ‘I don’t know. But I desperately want to understand, learn, listen, and grow.” Good words.
Long-form conversations. They might sound boring, but are incredibly rewarding…and I didn’t even mean to rhyme.