The perfect, definitive model for a meaningful Lent. I’ve got it. Hang in there, I’ll share it. In my first take of this column, I took hundreds of words to get to the punchline. Wise and witty words they were. Sure to lose readers the more I wandered on through my torturous thought process.
So, with hope of netting companions on a Lenten journey, here’s the punchline: LOL. If that’s something that trips off your texting thumbs dozens of times in a given week, whether you are “laughing out loud” in true humor or in the sarcastic, derogatory, nasty tone of tweet that has become epidemic, I’m asking you to rethink it.
LOL could be so much greater than that. It could change our outlook on our world if we will just tweak it a bit.
I’d like to say this idea came as a bolt of enlightenment in one awesome “tongues of fire” moment. But that’s so not me. It’s more a case of peering through steam rising as I’ve stirred and sifted the murky cauldron of my mind: hurt from a perceived slight, grumpy critique of people and institutions I’m supposed to respect, disappointment at choices made by loved ones, agonizing over my own faults that seem scarier with age. If it’s a cauldron, what does that make the stirrer?
See, that’s what I meant about hundreds of meandering words. Glad I decided to fast forward.
LOL bubbled up in my cauldron mind on the first Sunday of this month, as we heard St. Matthew’s Gospel start us through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. You know the vivid imagery about not lighting a lamp and then hiding it under a bushel basket. “It is set on a lamp stand where it gives light to all the world. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”
It’s a teaching that has generated countless homily themes I’ve heard in my lifetime. A priest new in our parish had a fresh vision of how to let this little light of mine shine.
He challenged us to take this idea of bringing light to the world with us whenever we go on the Internet. “How could you reflect your faith, reflect Jesus to others whenever you are on Facebook?” said Father Santhosh Thottankara, a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
That was it, Father didn’t belabor his point. We could figure it out for ourselves. Imagine yourself entering a snarly, sniping online chat when all are trying to top the last devastating comment. What if we offered a kind word instead of the virtual kick in the head. What if we said “I’ve made mistakes, too. Give the guy a break.” What if we found an anecdote or news byte that shed some light on the post from a stupid blogger or tangle-thumbed chatterer.
What if we LOL — Lift Out Light —in the dark cyberspace?
The epidemic of online darkness was the subject underway when I turned on Hawaii Public Radio right after that Mass. “I think the very best thing we can do, if you see a kind of unfair or ambiguous shaming, is to speak up,” said Jon Ronson, author of “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.” Ronson, who writes and speaks about social media, was interviewed on “Ted Radio Hour” Feb. 5. He recalled the early days of Twitter as “a place of radical de-shaming. People would admit shameful secrets about themselves and other people would say ‘Oh my God, I’m exactly the same.’ Voiceless people realized they had a voice and it was powerful and eloquent. When powerful people misused their privilege, we were going to get them. This was like the democratization of justice. Hierarchies were being leveled out. We were going to do things better.”
That high purpose has faded, with the power of commenting anonymously morphing into mob mentality, a subject the author frequently writes and speaks about. He uses an example of a woman whose short tweet of flippant humor about going to Africa but not fearing AIDS because she’s white went viral. She was bashed in an online frenzy of accusations of racism, harassed personally and “was fired … because social media demanded it.” She was never given a platform to explain or apologize for her thoughtless words. “She was got because she was perceived as having misused her privilege,” said Ronson. “But the phrase ‘misuse of privilege’ is becoming a free pass to tear apart pretty much anybody we choose to. It’s making us lose our capacity for empathy and for distinguishing between serious and unserious transgressions.” Ronson talked about interviewing people who suffered for making a similar mistake. “The people I met were mangled. They talked to me about depression and anxiety and insomnia and suicidal thoughts. One woman, who also told a joke that landed badly, stayed home for a year and a half.”
How much psychic, even spiritual, damage could have been repaired by someone courageous enough to step out of the mob and speak up, Ronson said, “because I think the worst thing that happened … was that nobody supported her, like everyone was against her, and that is profoundly traumatizing, to be told by tens of thousands of people that you need to get out. But if shaming happens and there’s a babble of voices, like in a democracy where people are discussing it, I think that’s a way forward, but it’s hard, because if you do stand up for somebody, it’s incredibly unpleasant.”
Was that going too secular when the subject is supposed to be spiritual and all about Lent? Lord knows, there is no end to Biblical references on the subject of LOL, Lock Our Lips. “The hypocrite with his mouth destroys his neighbor, but through knowledge the righteous will be delivered.” That’s from the Book of Proverbs, and I imagine any religion teacher could tell you the language doesn’t excite the class.
That’s why I’m going with just LOL. Light Others Lives. It’s doable with a couple keystrokes.
Online sites abound exploring the faults and abuses of social media; some take a spiritual tack with Bible studies, homily guides, even examination of conscience. Bless me Father … I have hurt, maligned, accused and devastated friends … and total strangers, 100 times since my last confession.
Browsing on the subject, I found “Eight Things Christians Need to Do on Social Media” “Five rules for social media sanity,” the American bishops’ PR nun’s catchy “When Your Phone Becomes Your Prayer Book” and even a blog called “JesusHacks.” Catchy. You look if you like. Oh my, there was even a WWJSay — no, no, no, let’s not revive that cliche that went so far off the track in the 90s.
All we had to do was tune in to the Gospel readings all month to find more fuel for my Lenten fire. On Feb. 19, we heard “You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” Lead On, Lord. Lots of Love.
No matter how many other citations, sacred or secular, there may be on the subject, you can’t really map out a Lenten plan to speak no evil by text or twitter without calling to mind the adage that everyone’s mother preached in everyone’s childhood. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Or as Thumper paraphrased his bunny mommy in “Bambi,” the Disney movie: “don’t say nothing at all.”
I pondered that concept. Would you believe there’s a whole school of study about what is called the Thumperian principle? I came to realize that it would take this Lenten exercise beyond the ability of even the most devout, most penitent practitioners.
Don’t say anything? You mean, give up texting completely!? Observe total Lack of Likes on Facebook. For six weeks?! That’s insane. Lots of Luck, little ole lady! Laughing Out Loud.