[This is a bit of an interlude between what I wrote last week and the follow-up post I hope to write in the next day or two.]
I don’t write this kind of post often, but there are a lot more people stopping by here than usual. A lot more. I realize that even talking about the numbers will be off-putting to some, but maybe you can trust me for a moment (even if you think I’m headed to hell for what I wrote) and believe that, though I struggle with pride and love for the wrong things (including myself) as much as any of you, I’m not looking to impress anyone with this information. It just is what it is. In the six days since I posted Gay Marriage and the Posture of the Gospel, the site has had over 25,000 hits. I know that’s all in a day’s work for a lot of writers/bloggers, but that’s more like “all in a couple years’ work” for me. My posting has been sporadic lately, and while a few posts have generated 1,000+ page views, this is something else entirely.
I like to imagine the 25,000 of you like this:
I realize it’s probably more like this:
But if you’re still here or circling back for some reason, welcome. I’m thankful for your time and attention. Obviously I haven’t worked with any real vigor to draw this kind of crowd, but I am not flippant about the fact that a crowd has gathered anyway, at least for a moment. Surprised and a bit overwhelmed? Sure. I admit I’ve labored for days over some posts in the past, and they’ve been read by a few hundred (or a few dozen) people. This one I wrote in an hour or less with seven kids buzzing around me, and within a few hours it had been read by more people than live in the little West Texas town where I grew up (spread far the fame of the Golden Cranes)!
And it’s truly been a viral sort of effect. Rather than being a function of one or two extremely popular individuals pointing you all here, over 90 percent of the traffic is coming in from Facebook. On Monday, Alan Chambers, the long-time president of Exodus International who has been in the news lately for his apology to the gay community (followed by the decision to shut down Exodus completely), tweeted the link to my post with some kinds words and sent me a nice note. But the traffic pattern stayed the same – a chunk of referrals from Twitter, but most continuing to come from Facebook. The internets are weird, y’all. I mean, if I could have picked something to go viral about, it definitely would have been something that would make me super popular and beloved like gay marriage…
Also new to me is the challenge of sorting through over a hundred comments and many other notes sent to me directly. That experience has been a bizarre mix of encouraging and exasperating. Some have been very kind. Some have been critical, but fair. Some have sent me to hell or accused me of gearing up for the coming movement to legalize human-pet marriages (and let’s be honest, that ship has sailed…we all know people who are pretty much married to their pets). I have been fascinated by how one little post managed to simultaneously (forgive me, for there is no more precise term here) piss off people who disagree with each other completely…and to simultaneously encourage and inspire people who disagree with each other completely. I have gotten both positive and negative feedback from folks on all sides of this issue who represent a wide theological, political, and social spectrum. People are beautiful. And nuts. All of us.
I confess I remember being annoyed by popular writers who would post something, then never answer questions or remarks posted in the comments. All it took was one post going viral* for me to totally get that. And that’s weird for me. I believe in community and questions and dialogue, and yet I’m at a complete loss for how to foster and facilitate that in this context with the questions, challenges, and comments coming so quickly and from so many different perspectives (never mind trying to discern tone and motive.) Maybe it’s possible, but you’ll have to forgive me. I haven’t figured it out yet. I’m not ignoring you, and as I said, I’m slowly hammering out some more thoughts that I plan to convert to words soon. I hope that will help, but I certainly can’t promise I’ll answer every question. In fact, I promise that I won’t.
But in the interest of being human and open about my own process, I want to share what this experience already has taught me about the way I read and hear other people, especially people I don’t know. One of the most striking dynamics of this whole thing is how many people seem agitated by what I did not say. Frankly, I’ve been amazed at how much conversation there has been about what I didn’t write instead of about what I did write (and if I’m honest, “conversation” is a generous characterization of some of it).
I’m wrong all the time, so I’m not discounting the opinions of those who disagree with me, but here’s what’s strange: most of the “disagreement” left in the comments is not actually disagreement with what I wrote. It’s disagreement with what is assumed from what I didn’t write…assumptions about what I think, believe, or intend to communicate based on the fact that I did not say certain things people think I should have said. Many of those assumptions are wrong – some of them way wrong.
I think this phenomenon is symptomatic of some deeper issues we’re facing, both culturally and within the Church. But I’ll be reflecting on that for a while, and I don’t want to rush to a bunch of wild conclusions about it. For now, my receiving that kind of feedback in this case has exposed two things that are true of me in many other situations.
The first is that I’ve often demanded, even if sometimes unintentionally, that when someone deals with an important issue (and especially one I care a lot about) they say everything that I think needs to be said about that issue if they’re going to say anything about it. I’ve had very little grace to just let them say the one thing that seemed important to them to say in that moment. And especially when I don’t know that person, it becomes far too easy for me to bring all of my bias and baggage on the issue to the table and, through that filter, size that person up based not only on that very limited window into who they are, but also (and even more troubling) based on assumptions I make just because they haven’t said everything I want them to say about the issue. And it is good for me to gain that insight into my lack of grace and discernment in how I judge others. I don’t particularly enjoy being reduced to one moment or one conversation or one post that I’ve written, but I do that to others all the time. My bad. I repent. God help me to change.
The second thing I’ve realized is that sometimes I do that because it’s easier than dealing with the fact that what that person has written or said pokes holes in the boxes I’ve built around my safe ways of thinking and living. I don’t presume motives for anyone commenting on my post, and I’m not discounting anyone’s input for that reason. But it’s hard not to read some of what has been written and notice that it doesn’t deal with what I did write; it just seems to discount or dismiss it because of what I didn’t write. And while my incomplete and imperfect view of Jesus (in general and in that post) shouldn’t be mistaken for Jesus himself, there are some very clear truths and realities presented there that seem to be too easily brushed aside in the rush to gather up the caveats (which may or may not have been sort of the point of the post in the first place). But it’s hard for me to stay irritated about that (not impossible, just hard) because I’m aware of how easy it is for me to do exactly that when I’m on the other side of the transaction.
And again, I’m thankful for the reminder that I don’t want to live that way. I don’t want to find loopholes or escape routes when the comfortable rhythms of my thinking and living are interrupted by people or ideas I can’t immediately reconcile. I don’t want to shift the conversation before I’ve weighed the challenge in front of me. And I definitely don’t want to see Jesus, even if I’m seeing him in a new way, and jump too quickly to, “yeah, but…” ‘Cause I have an endless supply of yeah buts, and they almost always are weapons of self-protection, not keys to the Kingdom.
I want to test everything, certainly, but my goodness it’s easy for me to lean into (good) things like conviction and mistake my current imperfect understanding of truth for truth itself. And I’m not sure there’s a more reliable way to slowly wander away from truth than that.
Again, thanks to those of you who are new and those who are not. Thanks for the encouraging words and for the questions and challenges. I’m just a guy who has been ruined by the love of God and the life of Jesus, and I’m not going to get all of this right. I’m happy to have you stick around, but only if my fallible external processing here won’t cost you any sleep or create too much anguish for you.
*I used the word viral thrice in this post. My pal Ross (who has a terrific new record coming out soon that you should definitely buy) and I discussed what the official internet threshold for viral was and concluded that it probably was 10,000, which was handy since we had that conversation right as I passed the 10,000 mark. Ross suggested that if anyone ever tells us viral really means a million, we’ll just say, “Yeah, I’ve heard it both ways.”
My friend Nick Flora (who has a terrific new record that just came out that you should definitely buy) was around during this craziness, and he concurred that five digits was where one crossed into viral territory. Nick has 14,000 Twitter followers (if you count the 41 following Fake Nick Flora) and once had a tweet retweeted like 16,000 times, so he’s pretty much an expert on this.
So it’s settled, if only so I can say for the rest of my life, “Remember that time I went viral?” And pretty much everyone will say, “Not really.” Or “you had something that got to a million people?”
Yeah, I’ve heard it both ways.