Back to the original story: So one evening, after witnessing three motor vehicles run the stop sign within a matter of 10 minutes, I hopped on social media and let my anger fill the newsfeed of our community’s local page. I made a legitimate rant, with rhetorical questions that no parent or concerned citizen could argue against. Yet right before I hit ‘Post,’ wanting to make sure my point was made to the fullest, I included the name of our Village Police Officer. Post. Ding. The rant was up on the newsfeed for all those within the group to read, like, and respond. Within minutes I began to receive feedback—both in favor and drastically opposing. Those voicing opposition to my harsh words were not speaking against my feelings regarding the stop sign. Instead, they were upset by my ill inclusion of the Police Officer’s name. I watched as more comments came in—firing back at me personally, with language that was equally as polemical as mine. I began to comment—trying to defend my stance. The defense was unnecessary; it would not be heard—there was no defense to be had. One such person made the point that my comment, as it read, placed the blame of the situation entirely on the Village Police Officer—creating a scapegoat (my word choice). To drill their point, the individual said that as a ‘public figure’ I should be ashamed of myself in how I went about trying to communicate my initial concern. I had hurt someone--scapegoating them—for a problem that really fell on the shoulders of all us residents (again, my words). Struck by the conviction of this person’s public comment, I knew I had to respond immediately with the only thing I could, and should, say: I was wrong. It wasn’t that my anger at the blatant abuses of the law was wrong, but my addition of a particular name within a broad topic was the problem. I had taken a necessary topic of discussion—something that desperately needs to be addressed here—and made it just as inefficient as the stop sign outside, all because I let my anger get the best of me. Had I been more careful with my words and how I communicated them (perhaps to the Village Council instead of on social media), the argument would have been far more effective in bringing about a change.
Being made aware of my sinfulness, I needed to repent. I had hurt others by my comment, and now it was time to take accountability for my words—all of them—and to do the tough task of apologizing, and asking for forgiveness. I gave my sincere apology and received forgiveness from those whom I had offended and hurt. Though it was through the same medium which I began this mess, receiving others’ forgiveness I felt a sweet release from the chains I had enslaved myself with by my words. Publically (on social media) I had sinned; publically I repented; publically I was forgiven. While I remain ashamed that my hasty words littered the newsfeeds of many for some time (though since then the whole string has been deleted), I reflect on them now—the initial rant, subsequent comments (for and against), my apology, and the forgiveness that followed—and I hope others were able to see what came of it all: a public example of repentance. The post could have been (and probably was) read in any number of ways; but my prayer is that the Holy Spirit leads us all—in hindsight—to see it as a person who was angry, (though valid in his distress) voiced his anger in an inappropriate manner, was corrected by others, repented of his words, and (MOST IMPORTANTLY) was forgiven.
Social media is a difficult medium to navigate—especially in the heat of emotion. Too often, by too many (including ME), legitimate points are brought and posted to initiate necessary conversation. Yet, it only takes one ill word (or included name) to make the best of intentions and legitimacy become virtual increment flung against one another. Just like stopping at a stop sign, we all (ME included) need to be extra cautious in how we conduct ourselves on social media (especially those who use it also for the sake of furthering the gospel message). One bad comment on a newsfeed can hurt countless others, divide a community, tarnish the work of a church, and shade the radiant brilliance of the gospel message being shared with others. We, leaders, need to lead the way in 1) practicing repentance that honestly portrays ourselves, and the church as a whole, as people who struggle with sin and are regularly in need of God’s grace and forgiveness, 2) setting a public example of repentance, and in doing so encourage others to join in truth-telling and mending broken relationships, and 3) offering safe spaces for others, whole communities, to facilitate repentance and forgiveness. In cultivating a culture of repentance, we can look at the cross with honesty, bear it with accountability, and be freed of it by the Crucified and Risen Christ so that we may live and serve others in love as Resurrected people.
I pray my actions on social media the other week have not turned anyone away from the mission and ministry of our church or the grace of Christ’s gospel. I royally messed up with how I chose to share my anger. Hear my apology: “I am deeply sorry for what I said,” and receive my repentance that I have, indeed, changed my way of addressing this issue of our stop sign. Though it is not easy to publically admit one’s wrongdoings on a forum such as this, my hope is that others will read it, receive my apology as sincere, see my move forward in the hope of setting things right, and be encouraged to do the same in their own interactions. While I will continue to stand up for safer driving around our church and community, I will also try to communicate this in a way that does not tear others down, but instead encourages us each and altogether to repent of our bad habits and be more mindful of others around us. May we each and altogether learn to repent when we have done wrong—changing our ways from sin to live life in love and respect with and for others. In repentance, we truly come to feel and know the fullness of forgiveness—both that of God’s and other’s. Where there is sin may there be repentance, where there is repentance let there be forgiveness.