The Twitter Cleanup

In one of her Lord Peter Whimsy books, Dorothy Sayers has Whimsy talk about books in a person’s library. He says that they mark a person’s history and are markers of their journey – that we move from book to book like a hermit crab outgrowing its shell, leaving the old husk behind.

That is how I felt Thursday, when I reviewed my list of people I follow on Twitter.

There were the nerds from back in 2007 and 2008. The people who work in homelessness I found in 2008 and 2009. The theology people came next, followed by the activists.

They were all markers of the journey I have been on the last ten years.

When I moved to Raleigh in August of 2007, Twitter was my jam. It was all new and we were all trying to learn how to live in this social media world.

Twitter was just over a year old at that point, and had blown up in March of ‘07, after it was profiled at South by Southwest that year. Because that is where we heard about it, most of us in those days were nerds.

But over time it grew, and I would follow people with reckless abandon. And the more people I followed, the less I enjoyed it. What had once been fun became a chore, and all the incoming data filled me with anxiety. By the time Ferguson hit in 2014, I was done.

Once a year or so, I would miss it enough to go check in, change my profile pic, update my bio – but we both knew it was over.

I recently have been trying to be intentional with the place Social Media sits in my life. I cleaned up Facebook, and after siting with that a while felt like I might have the energy to reexamine Twitter.

As a result, I unfollowed more than 500 folks, most of whom were talking heads or people I had no relationship with whatsoever. Many of them I had just automatically followed when they followed me. (I never recommend you do this.)

I don’t know that this is the answer to my rejoining Twitter in an active way, but it already feels calmer over there. If you want, you can follow me there at @hughlh. I might even follow you back.

Nobody has a right to all of you.

no shopping!
I recently changed the way I use Facebook. I deleted my personal account that had several thousand “friends”- most of whom I never knew in real life – and started over, this time only friending people I knew, liked and had spent time with.

I also made the decision to not friend people I like, but who primarily use social media for work announcements – I will use other ways to stay in touch with them.

My friends list went from nearly 3,000 to less than 300, and is much more manageable. Most people have been understanding.

But not everyone.

Someone unsubscribed from my newsletter the other day. When you unsubscribe, you are given the option to say why. Here is what he wrote in the box:

I had thought that we were friends until your Facebook friending showed that you do not reciprocate. I wish you well.

So many layers in just 21 words.

I could spend hours talking about the ways in which Social Media deludes us into the appearance of connection without the reality of it.

But the bigger point I want to make is this:

Nobody has a right to all of you.

I share a lot of my life and thoughts on Social Media. I have an Instagram account, open to the public. I have a Twitter feed, open to the public. I have a professional Facebook page, open to the public. I have a newsletter that goes out every week where I share very personal things.

All of that is open to him, but because he did not have access to this one part of my life I choose to reserve for people I am in actual relationship with, he got mad.

Nope, nope, nope.

You have a right to boundaries, a right to decide how much of you is available, to decide how much of your life, your time, your story, your pictures, your memories you wish to put out into the world. You get to decide how much of your life you want to share with people, and you get to decide that on a person by person and event by event, basis.

And if people do not understand that or respect that, then you get to decide they should not be in your life at all.

Praying for our enemies

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to pray for those who persecute us, and to love our enemies.

Yeah.

I’m not always good at that part, either.

But I want to be. And I know it isn’t impossible to do it, because others have done it.

For example, Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich was a Serbian bishop in the last century who spoke out against Nazism until he was arrested and taken to Dachau.

I know, right?

And that guy? He wrote this prayer.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Enemies have driven me into your embrace more than friends have.

Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.

They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.

They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.

They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself.

They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O Lord, Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.

Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.

Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.

Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.

Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.

Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:

so that my fleeing to You may have no return;

so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;

so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;

so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins, arrogance and anger;

so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;

ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.

One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.

It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.

Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and enemies.

A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands.

For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life.

Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

From Prayers By the Lake, by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich.

Will I be safe?

Often, when I am talking to privileged church folks about stepping beyond their walls and following Jesus into the broader world – a world where people are hungry, homeless, and without friends – the heads are nodding and everyone is on board. But then somebody will bring up safety.

“If we go into that neighborhood, will we be safe?”

“If we let those people on our property, will we be safe?”

“I don’t want to have anything to do with those people, because it makes me feel unsafe.”

Of all the idols the American white church loves to worship, none frustrates me as much as the worship of Safety. This isn’t the same thing as taking precautions to protect yourself, or your community. Rather, the fetishizing of safety prevents you from ever leaving the church building itself.

“Let’s feed the hungry!”
“Is that safe?”

“We should get to know people in that neighborhood downtown!”
“That neighborhood isn’t safe.”

“That Muslim woman is being harassed. I am going to go intervene.”

“Don’t – that isn’t safe.”

Our preoccupation with safety prevents us from being our best selves, from making the world better, from taking risks that matter, from making the world as it is into the world as it could be.

Don’t mishear me: There are legitimate concerns about making sure people are safe. But that often isn’t what we are really talking about in these conversations. More often than not, when we say we don’t feel safe, what we really mean is that we don’t feel comfortable.  And if that is what is holding us back, we have some reconsidering to do.

You teach people how to be in relationship with you

I Need You to Call Me
A couple of weeks ago I met a man in the course of my work. We sort of hit it off, and I gave him my business card, which contains my cell phone number.

Two nights later, at 11:00PM, he sent me a text, asking me a question.

It wasn’t an important text, he wasn’t in danger, and there was no compelling reason for the message to be answered in the middle of the night.

On the other hand, I was wide awake, reading a book. I could easily have answered the question and went back to reading. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a big deal.

But I didn’t. I ignored the text message. Because if I answer it, I just taught him that it is totally reasonable to send me a casual text after 9:00PM and expect to get a response.

And I don’t think it is. I don’t want people to send me late-night texts. I don’t want that expectation out there in my relationships.

You have to teach people how to be in relationship with you. Every single interaction with someone else sets the norm about how we expect them to treat us. And it is important to be conscious about it, because once you taught them how you expect to be treated, it is hard to expect them to treat you differently than that.

I agree with Jesus that we should treat other people the way we wish to be treated. But we also have an obligation to tell them how to treat us, too.