I’m not a news junkie, I don’t have a Facebook feed and my favorite flavor of ice cream is not Heavenly Hashtag. In some respects, I feel as if I embody my generation’s version of my parents’ refusal to text message.
Blogging is the medium for which I feel affinity, both in the writing and in the reading. I find myself exposed to many more viewpoints in the blogosphere than are presented to me by CNN or Fox News. I try to remain at least minimally conversant with the issues of the day, which seem to change every few seconds, not unlike the electronic billboard at Shaw and Blackstone in Fresno that flips through a half dozen ads before the light turns green. The Malaysia Airlines twin tragedies — the plane that vanished in the Indian Ocean and the one that was shot down over Ukraine. Missiles and murders in Gaza and the West Bank. The execution of James Foley. The drought here in California.
And yes, even the hullaballoo over the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, as petty as that may seem in comparison to the above.
In reading the comments on a blog post about the tragedy in Ferguson, I sat up and noticed when one commenter accused another of wanting a soapbox rather than a discussion. After thinking about this, I realized that both are essential elements of good blogging. At least for myself, I know I want both a soapbox and a discussion. Yes, I appreciate the opportunity to report on events as seen through my own eyes and the partiality of my own filters. The best part, however, is the discussion that ensues, the comments that challenge me, encourage me to stretch my thought processes and help me to see contrasting viewpoints and approaches that I could never begin to imagine on my own.
I like to think that my commenters help me to improve my writing in that they encourage me to consider multiple angles rather than merely committing my raw thoughts to pixels. While inflammatory remarks do have their place in the pantheon of rhetoric, my commenters provide appropriate checks and balances that often cause me to pause and use the backspace key more than I did, say, a year ago. They give me a reason to take time out to think about how my words will affect those who read them.
Nevertheless, I am sometimes way off base, and I am grateful to my commenters for setting me straight. At times, my shortcoming is in the realm of making assumptions that may not be apparent to readers. My understanding of how something works may be very different from your understanding of how it works, particularly if, although brought together by the digital world, we are widely separated by culture and geography.
I think about readers like Belle, who have, in my opinion, provided some of the most insightful comments in this space. In her comment yesterday, for example, she asks why I haven’t pursued various enumerated avenues in my efforts to rejoin the workforce. In an “I could have had a V8!” moment, I had to smack my forehead at the realization that there is so much back story that I have never adequately explained. I have fallen victim to the fallacy of assuming that everyone else knows what I know.
And then there are the blessings bestowed upon me by fellow chroniclers such as The Art Bag Lady, who yesterday went toe to toe with me on her own blog. She pointed out a number of my prejudices in writing about homelessness, including conflicting opinions that I have expressed and things that I can’t possible appreciate, never having been homeless myself. Aside from being deeply honored by her lengthy critique, I genuinely appreciate the opportunity to benefit from insights born of working with the homeless regularly and of actually having been homeless, both of which are outside of my personal experience.
I think also of Dennis Cardiff’s blog, Gotta Find a Home, which consists almost exclusively of transcriptions of his conversations with the homeless of his Canadian city. In at least one respect, Dennis has succeeded where I have failed. He is an excellent listener; he allows the homeless to tell their stories in their own words. By contrast, I don’t spend a lot of time just listening to the homeless individuals whom we serve through our ministry in this community. They come to the door of the parsonage seeking help with a particular need, and I enjoy doing whatever I can to help fill that need. Biblically, I believe this is called “standing in the gap.” Ezek. 22:30 I have to laugh, because this is such a “male” thing. It seems we always want to solve someone’s problems rather than taking time to just listen. A lot of us men only feel satisfied when we have actually done something, taken some sort of affirmative action. Unlike many of the women in our lives, we tend to forget that being a listening ear is an action, too. And that sometimes it is exactly what is needed.
So here in the parsonage, we make some sandwiches, pack canned food and pasta into grocery bags and start thinking about places to stay the night and residential treatment programs and who needs a ride to where. But dare I suggest that such pat solutions close more doors than they open?
Just as blogging provides us with a forum (a soapbox and a discussion), so does lending an understanding ear and a sympathetic shoulder provide an empowering forum to the homeless. Listening more and speaking less provides a voice to the voiceless. It makes the invisible visible. And it allows them to tell the rest of the world about the abuse they suffered as children, the odds that have been stacked against them from the very beginning, and the lack of viable choices that has pervaded their entire lives.
And perhaps I would be less prone, as The Art Bag Lady points out, to alternate between empathy and irritation if I were to stop telling it as I see it and allow the homeless to tell it like it really is. If for once I would just shut up and listen.