Because I Will Reflect on Anything… Even a Facebook Kerfuffle.

Why yes, don't mind if I do.

Quite the kerfuffle on Facebook yesterday over this devotional about the “spiritual but not religious.” People felt very strongly about it, and I even got defriended over the discussion. And because I will ponder anything, even a FB kerfuffle:

If you want commentary on the piece itself, I recommend this and this, and my friend Martha offered her own meditation on “SBNRs” (written several years ago) here. This blog isn’t really about the post itself, except I wanna say this: I’m kinda over the word “spiritual.” I think the shift is toward something different that doesn’t have a name yet: embodied? incarnational? grounded? integrated?

Anyway, today I’m thinking more about writing, how we communicate and how we reflect on that communication.

Many clergy friends gave virtual high fives that the writer finally said what needed to be said about the shallowness that often emanates from some who call themselves spiritual but not religious. Others admitted the tone was snarky and smug, too focused on the speck in the SBNR’s eye and completely ignoring the log in the church’s, and not a great thing to have out there if we claim to be an evangelistic people. But, they argue, the germ of an idea was sound. (My husband, a product manager, offered, “Sounds like a classic venting-about-the-customers thing. Everybody does it, but not to the customers.”)

My personal view is that voice cannot be separated from message. Tone is not a dropcloth that can be removed with a flourish and stowed away, revealing the true work of art underneath. It’s baked right in. “Set aside X and Y and her point is valid,” some folks said in defense of the piece. But I don’t think you can set those things aside.

My writing group deals with this problem often after several years together. I’ve been told more times than I can count, “I know what you’re trying to say because I know you and the experience you’re describing, but it’s not at all clear from the words on this page.” or “I get your point, but you come off really sarcastic here—was that what you were going for?”

That’s what the kerfuffle was about. Words on a page. (OK, screen.) People who know the writer personally consider her a lovely person. I have no reason to doubt that. But that’s beside the point when it comes to this piece of writing, which should be evaluated on its own merits. Does it work? Does it work in this genre? Does it communicate what she wants to communicate?

This completely freaks me out, by the way. Come fall 2012, it will be my words that are evaluated. Maybe even critiqued. Maybe even critiqued harshly and pointedly. There may be readers who cross the line and make it personal. But not all sharp critique is personal. Remind me of this next year, Gentle Readers, when some doofus on the Internet makes me cry. Help me sift through what’s helpful but hard to hear. Help me find a safe place to put that. And help me take everything else, tie it to the tail of a kite, fly it into a strong wind, and cut the string.

But the stuff I write doesn’t get a pass just because I’m a nice person.

That’s the work of community. That’s what the piece tried to emphasize—and failed, in my opinion, because of what was used to leaven it.

One final thing. On the Internet, there is no place for the church to talk to itself internally without the general public listening in. That includes, sadly, a lecture given by the speaker to a room full of pastors, which is readily available too. That’s neither good nor bad, it just is. We live in Terry Benedict’s casino in Ocean’s 11: “In my hotels, there’s always someone watching.”

All right then… what’s next?

13 thoughts on “Because I Will Reflect on Anything… Even a Facebook Kerfuffle.

  1. Deb

    Really? De-friended over a blog discussion? Good grief. I’m thinking they weren’t really friends…

    Now I need to go back and read that post and figure out what was so awful. ‘Cause it made a WHOLE lotta sense to me.

    Reply
    1. MaryAnn

      I don’t know. But I don’t want to speculate or talk about that.
      Facebook is a means of recreation, and people have the right to get out of it what they want, and that includes disengaging.

      Reply
  2. Martha Turner Fein

    MaryAnn, I’m shocked — you have ANOTHER friend named Martha?!?

    One of the questions I try to ask myself in dealing with others is why people choose to tell a story in a particular way. What is their thought process behind choosing those words, those details. And what reaction are they looking for from their reader. Do they achieve it or not, and why?

    The two things I noted about the original piece were that

    1) The author is tired of talking about religion/spirituality at what she perceives to be a superficial level. If you want to talk to talk to her about something superficial, choose a topic other than her life’s work.

    2) She believes that the SBNR folks are implying that the two concepts of spirituality and religion are separable, which they are not for her. And that’s why she finds them so annoying.

    Whether or not the second point is correct, I can certainly empathize with the first point. Everyone has certain things that are important to them — and listening to people who think they’re discussing the point while just rattling of catch phrases that you’ve heard too many times is both boring and annoying. I don’t blame her for being harsh, even if I think it may have been an inappropriate forum for that harshness.

    Reply
  3. Martha Turner Fein

    And as a second comment, separate from my thoughts about communication, I have a question for you that may help you clarify your choice of words to replace “spiritual.”

    What does religion/the church offer that goes beyond the feeling of connectedness to a larger whole that is implied in the term “spirituality”?

    That connectedness makes people feel good. But there’s more to churches and to religion than feeling good — how would you describe that “more”?

    Reply
  4. Erica

    Spiritual bugs me, too. I really don’t know what it means anymore. I like embodied: in that it suggests the unity of the body and the spirit, which, by my reckoning, is a whole lot more in line with Christian philosophy.

    Maybe the better way to engage the person who defines as “Spiritual but not religions” would be to start asking wha they think the terms means.

    (And, thanks for the link!)

    Reply
  5. Rachel Heslin

    I love this commentary from the “Don’t Flay The Sheep” blog:

    “If I were her, I would have added the observation that just as a sunset and the mountains and a lovely peaceful deer are parts of nature, so too is the busload of stinky people you are crammed into mass transit. Yes, human beings are part of the natural world. Not always pretty, but there are times when unlovely things happen in the mountains as well.”

    Of course, my own take on the original post is that she comes across as defensive. When people excoriate others for differences in perspectives, I sense a certain insecurity in the excoriator (I think I might have just made up that word.) If she were deeply secure in her faith and purpose, she would not be irritated by even something that comes across as patronizing and dismissive. Therefore, if I were the one in her situation, I would use that irritation as an indication that I could benefit from some internal analysis, figuring out where I was unsure in myself and seeing what I needed to integrate or heal.

    From the perspective of a writer…. When I received the hate mail over writing my version of the Pledge of Allegiance (which replaces “republic” with “ideals” and removes the phrase “under God,”) I was initially devastated. Later, though, after I’d recovered a bit, I reread what he’d written, and realized that most of what he’d accused me of had nothing to do with me nor what I had actually written. What helped me most wasn’t arguing his points or trying to make him see that he was merely projecting his own fears and pain, but visualizing sending him love and compassion for that pain.

    So, yes. To paraphrase back to you what you said: When you read what others say about what you have written, give yourself a framework. The important thing isn’t whether or not they liked it (although it’s always nice when they do!) Instead, ask if the criticism accurately reflects a disconnect between what you wrote and what you were trying to convey. How much of the interpretation is based on the reader’s personal take on things? Are there ways in which you could have phrased it differently which would have included that other perspective, or does it appear that the reader would have slapped his/her assumptions on your words regardless of what you said?

    And yes. Your friends will give you a safe place to regain balance and help sift through all these things if needed.

    : )

    Reply
  6. Jules

    There was a kerfuffle? I guess I missed out on that aspect of it. All I saw was people having different reactions, but I admit I didn’t read every single comment. Sorry you lost a “friend”. Or did you, really?

    Reply
  7. Dot

    Kerfuffle? I understood the meaning by how it was used but I looked this up because it isn’t a word I’m completely familiar with. I’ve heard it before but I’ve never used it or looked it up in the past. Kerfuffles seem to spark a lot of discussion.

    Reply
  8. David WILLIAMS

    Kerfuffle is such an apt term. Both the initial piece and the subsequent disagreement over it seem providentially suited to this week’s Matthew lectionary passage. Mind if I…um…borrow the whole kerfuffle for illustrative purposes?

    Reply
  9. Rocky Supinger

    Like most things that attract a lot of attention in the religious world, I tried to avoid paying attention to this. Thanks for your clarity in framing what’s really at stake. I read the piece and I think you and your husband are both dead on.

    Reply

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