On Tuesday, I watched a YouTube video that has since gone viral featuring two female sportswriters, Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro. The women decided to confront online bullies by having regular guys read the tweets/comments the women have received, out loud, face to face. If you haven’t seen it yet, go to this link: https://youtu.be/9tU-D-m2JY8 I will warn you, it is hard to watch, and much harder for the men in the video who can barely stand to read unspeakably vile words out loud to the woman sitting in front of them. It is powerful. It is real. And it didn’t surprise me even as the video made me weep.
And it didn’t surprise me that the comments posted about the video contained such charming nuggets as, “this video is so fake. who the fuck would rape that fat chick? she’s fat.”
Maybe it’s me. Maybe my heart is too prone to bleeding and I need to toughen up. Maybe the world has always been this mean, this angry, this cruel for those who do not fit in tidy boxes. Perhaps the online world has just made it easier to see what has always lurked beneath the shiny surface of society. Racism. Sexism. Misogyny. Bullying. Murderous anger. Maybe it was inevitable that someone like Donald Trump would come along and make ugly public discourse about women, minorities, disabled people, immigrants, etc. a totally normal thing, even an admirable thing, so much so that we’ll enshrine such language and attitudes into the office of the Presidency.
Perhaps it just is what it is, and it has ever been so.
All of this has come into sharp relief for me over the past few months as my son has reached a boiling point in dealing with the kids who have alternately bullied, ignored, teased and laughed at him since he was a very little boy. He’s on the autism spectrum, but is extremely high functioning; he is smart, funny, a great student, well-behaved and, to the best of my knowledge, has never had a meltdown or tantrum in school or anywhere else since he was a toddler. His ASD makes it difficult for him to pick up typical social cues when he is with peers. It is hard for him to engage in conversations. He doesn’t like playground sports. He doesn’t get the joke and that means he becomes the subject of the joke far too often. He’s quirky in a way that his family loves and accepts, but not in a way that endears him to typical teenagers. For a long, long time, not being accepted by peers didn’t bother him much. He was happy in his own world, happy to hang out with his family, and not entirely cognizant of the fact that he didn’t have real friends.
But now, it’s clear to him that there’s something “different” about him that is alienating him from his peers. He feels as if he’s “not even human.” For the first time in his life, he’s articulating the deep despair that’s always been inside him. Which is good. Being able to express his feelings is a huge step for him.
And it’s also really horrible.
What’s horrible is that kids are mean. Really mean. And at the moment, I am so angry about the meanest that I am imagining all sorts of future for these kids who are making my son so unhappy.
I imagine they will probably grow up to become the kind of people that leave disgusting and demeaning comments on Reddit or Twitter. I imagine they will become the kind of people who will show up at rallies and demand that outsiders with the wrong color skin and the wrong accent be turned away from our borders. I imagine they will become the kind of people who will think it’s ok to block transgender people from rest rooms in the Target and that it’s perfectly reasonable for a police officer to shoot a 12 year old with a toy gun. I imagine they will become the kind of people who cross the street when they see a homeless person or a black kid in a hoodie.
Or not. Kids will be kids. If I am honest with myself, I can remember times in my childhood in which I didn’t stand up for the quirky kid. Ask my family about the day in 2nd grade in which my teacher informed me and a couple other girls that we should be “ashamed to call ourselves Brownies” after we teased another girl to the point of tears in the girls restroom.
I told a friend the other day that I believe part of the reason I was called to ordained ministry is that I have always had this deep and compelling need, in Star Wars lingo, to “bring balance to the galaxy.” There is darkness everywhere, but there is also a light in the darkness and the darkness hasn’t won out, at least not yet.
I am a follower of Jesus because, at some point, I took a look at the world around me and realized the only hope we really have for anything to get any better, or for me to become a better person, is to participate in the kingdom-bringing-building work of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus endured every bullying word and action that human beings could think of, and yet the light wasn’t snuffed out, not by the longest shot. Jesus promised to be present in our loneliest, awfulest, most soul-sucking and painful moments. The light isn’t gone. Love has won, despite all appearances to the contrary.
That is the promise I hold onto in my bleakest moments, when I am in bed at night and running through the teen suicide statistics in my head.
That is the promise I hold onto when I despair about the situation in South Sudan and the dear people I met there.
That is the promise I hold onto when I hear the angry words of Donald Trump.
That is the promise I hold onto when my child says he doesn’t feel human.
My brother and I had a long conversation by text last night. He is one of the best people I know and he understands, perhaps better than anyone, what we are going through. I actually slept a little better last night.
This morning when I woke up, I found an email from him containing a link to a Taylor Swift song/performance I had never heard before (yeah, I know…I am completely feeble when it comes to most popular culture stuff. But hey — I’m listening to “Lemonade” this morning!)
It was a video of Swift performing her song, “Mean,” at the Grammys a few years ago. The lyrics include:
You, with your words like knives
And swords and weapons that you use against me
You have knocked me off my feet again
Got me feeling like a nothing
You, with your voice like nails on a chalkboard
Calling me out when I’m wounded
You, picking on the weaker man
Well you can take me down with just one single blow
But you don’t know, what you don’t know…
You, with your switching sides
And your wildfire lies and your humiliation
You have pointed out my flaws again
As if I don’t already see them
I walk with my head down
Trying to block you out ’cause I’ll never impress you
I just wanna feel okay again
Do me a favor, friends. Find an excuse to do something amazingly kind today. A #morethankind thing that might make a difference in a world that is increasingly #morethanmean.