I have finally come kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century: I am now on Facebook. I have resisted social media because: 1) I find the interaction to be somewhat superficial, and 2) I’ve never heard of journalists or potential employers checking a person’s social media and finding anything which raised their estimation of him/her. However, due to the upcoming book launch, my publisher asked me to start a Facebook page. So I pulled the trigger.
One important part of setting up a page (other than figuring out how to get the stupid thing to work the way I want it to) is to find “friends.” But that’s a broad term. On Facebook, sometimes getting “friends” feels more like feeding a narcissistic urge to see how many people remember me.
The first set of friends was easy: people in my family and church. The next was trickier: people from old jobs, alma maters, and other past chapters of my life. During this phase, I saw many “friend” names which stirred wonderful feelings and waves of nostalgia.
But a few names evoked memories which are not fully healed – memories of that spring when I lost both my PhD and my teaching job, each time suffering the “walk of shame” as I left. Those names remind me of painful days when I wished the ground would swallow me, of sleepless nights when I was wracked with humiliation and rejection.
Frankly, when I see those names, I’m overwhelmed by memories of feeling kicked when I was down. When I see those names, I don’t want to be their “friend.” No, what I want is to keep judging them for what I deem to be their sins, ranging from passive-aggressive manipulations to backstabbing to betrayal. What I want is to sit high atop my throne and watch them take their own “walk of shame” out the nearest exit. What I want is to blame them, hold them in contempt, make them feel the agony I felt.
But scripture has an annoying habit of holding up a mirror to the ugliness in my own life. I so badly want to judge others; like the Pharisees in the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11, NIV), I find myself on the side of those just itching to cast stones.
Then Jesus’ words kick me in the teeth: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone….” And with that simple statement, Jesus indicts me. My role suddenly changes from that of the Pharisee who cannot see his own guilt, to that of the woman “caught in the act” who knows her guilt all too well. Those names on my Facebook page, which bring to mind the supposed sins of others against me, now reveal my own passive-aggressive maneuvering, my own backstabbing and betrayal toward them.
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone….” Perhaps others have committed sins against me. But what about my own sins? I’ve sinned against them too. And not only against them, but against everyone from innocent bystanders to my strong supporters. The mirror of scripture broadens to reveal my sins against all of them. Jealousy toward those who, in my view, have never deeply suffered (why should they get off so easily?). Envy toward those who have achieved more than I, especially in academia (why do they get to have what I couldn’t?). And self-centeredness: when someone else mentions a personal tragedy, usually I’ve managed to turn it around to mine. After all, there’s only room for one in the pool of self-pity.
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone….” One by one the woman’s accusers leave her; I can see them unclenching their fists and dropping their stones to the ground as they walk away. And when they are all gone, he tells her: “[N]either do I condemn you….Go now and leave your life of sin.” With those words he redirects the focus from her past to her future.
Which brings me back to Facebook. On my homepage, the names keep coming at me. Occasionally I see one that gives me pause. At that moment, I have a choice to make: Will I take the part of the Pharisee, who sits in judgment because he sees only the sin of others – or the part of the woman, who bows in brokenness because she sees her own?
Each name brings hesitation, then reflection on which role I will play. And each click on the “friend” button is, hopefully, another stone falling from my hand.