I know this is going to age me when I tell you this but here it goes. When my husband and I got married we did not own a computer. It wasn’t a thing yet. I mean, computers were a thing but not everyone had one. The Internet was still sort of new and exciting and computers were really expensive. Websites were static and a place where you would go to just see that a company existed.
You know what else we didn’t have? Cell phones. I know – we are practically dinosaurs. But I tell you this so you understand that passing memes wasn’t a thing. Texting jokes wasn’t a thing. There was no Facebook, no Instagram, and no Twitter. What we did have, however, were chain letters.
Shortly after we got married I received a letter from a woman I knew telling me about a really awesome way we could all get new kitchen towels. All you had to do was buy a towel and mail it to the first woman on the list and then mail a copy of the list to the next five women on the list. Or something like that. The idea was that you would only buy one towel but over the next month, you would receive fifty. Or five hundred. Or something like that. It was a long time ago. Long story short, I felt really compelled to participate because the woman who sent the letter to me was kind of a big deal at our church and I didn’t want to let her down and break the chain. So with money we didn’t have, I went to the store and bought a nice dish towel, a big envelope, and mailed the towel. I also bought a book of stamps, paid for copies of the letter at Kinkos, and mailed the letter to the women on the list. I then went home and waited for all my new kitchen towels to roll in.
They never came. Not one towel ever showed up at my house and I learned my first lesson in adult peer pressure.
Shortly after we got our first computer we got our first email account and I learned about email chain letters. They were the ones that said something like, “forward this email to fifty friends, including me, if you love Jesus.” That was a lot of pressure! I mean, what if the person who sent it to me doesn’t get it back and thinks I don’t love Jesus?!?!?!?!?!?!
Then social media came along and there were posts with pictures of angels and pictures of Jesus holding baby lambs and if you didn’t “like” it then something bad would happen to you within thirteen minutes. If you did, though, you would receive blessings untold and unnumbered.
I think most of us are past those sorts of posts now. And it’s been ages since I received a letter asking me to mail a gift to a list of women. But there is a new kind of pressure and it’s very specific to 2020 and it looks like this:
It’s a selfie of someone wearing a mask and the words underneath say something about the way we love our friends, family, neighbors, and the world around us is to stay home. And if we have to go out, we wear a mask.
Listen, I’m all for loving my people. And if the government says I have to choose between wearing a mask and receiving a fine, then I will wear a mask. COVID is a very real virus and people have died from contracting it. I’m not arguing that fact. I’m not arguing anything. Well, I guess I am. I am arguing against passive aggressive shaming. I am arguing against selfie shaming. I am arguing against short social media posts that make people feel like they are either pro-quarantine or they are pro-death of the elderly and babies. We’ve jumped hard into the “honk if you love Jesus” place where there are only two choices – those who love Jesus and those who don’t honk.
I think we can all agree that we don’t want people to die of COVID. No one wants that. President Trump doesn’t want people to die of COVID. Joe Biden doesn’t want people to die of COVID. No governor of any state wants people to die of COVID. All politicians are making decisions right now. Some are making decisions based on medical experts. Some are making decisions based on the economy. Some are making decisions based on what they think their constituents want. But screaming that any of them are making decisions because they want people to die is probably not helpful right now.
I am able to mostly work from home. My husband is also working from home. Some people cannot work from home. So posting that people who leave their house are irresponsible is probably not helpful right now. I am so thankful for the police and firefighters and doctors and nurses who are putting their lives on the line every day – not just during COVID but all the days. But during this time I am also very thankful for the people who are working in the grocery store and the bank. I am thankful for the people in the gas stations. I am thankful for the people in Whataburger. And I am extra thankful for the people working for delivery companies who deliver my groceries or dinner when I order those things so that I can stay home if I choose to do so. So to show my appreciation, I tip those people a little more than I normally would. And if I do leave my house, I make sure to smile extra big (with my whole face so my eyes show I’m smiling even though I’m wearing a mask) and I use kind and patient words with all of those people. I know that the service industry can be a thankless world on a good day but during a worldwide pandemic, it has to be extra hard. I want those people to have all of my appreciation.
But mostly, my frustration with the whole “this is how you love your neighbor” thing is that none of us know the road our neighbor is walking down. I don’t know my neighbors claustrophobia. I don’t know my neighbors breathing issues. I don’t know how many hours my neighbor has been wearing a mask today and the reason they’ve pulled it down for a brief moment. I don’t know if my neighbor (because on social media our “neighbors” are all over the world, right?) lives in a county with zero cases of COVID.
Listen, I’m all for following the rules. I’m all for being safe. I’m all for taking care of my family. And if I’m sick, I’m always going to make choices to prevent the spread of my sickness. And I pray that others are for the same things.
What I’m not for is shame. I’m not for telling people there is one way to love others. I’m not for someone telling me if I am not loving my neighbor in the exact same way they are. It seems to me that there were some people in the Bible who often criticized Jesus for not loving people “the right way.”
Maybe this sounds too extreme. Maybe I sound like I’ve gone off the rails. But here’s the thing – social media is one of the few ways we can be in touch with each other these days. We aren’t allowed to worship together. We aren’t allowed to hang out in big groups. So we stay in touch via social media. To me, it seems like now, more than ever, is the time to be offering grace.
Can we all assume that we don’t know what our coworker has going on in their house right now? Maybe we hold back our judgement towards other parents who aren’t controlling their children the way we wish they would. Or perhaps we could consider holding our tongue or our typing fingers when someone at the grocery store is too close to the next cart. Can we take a minute to take a breath when we see someone not following “the rules?” And when we take that breath maybe we step back a few extra feet so when we spew our self-righteousness we don’t spit on anyone.
A long time ago I watched a movie where a little rabbit taught me a very helpful phrase that went something like, ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” and I took it to heart. And a guy I really love told me to love my neighbor as myself. I also took that to heart. So I do. I love my neighbor. And I love my neighbors neighbor. And most of that love involves me assuming that everyone is doing the very best they can in the moment. And none of it involves mailing a towel to five women.