Thursday, September 3, 2009

Trolls and the Holy Ghost Dialectic

One of the things the emergent church gets pinged on a great deal is our relentless focus on conversation. We chat. We gather. We discuss. We convene. The idea behind those conversations is to get to know the other, to open ourselves to who they are. In those exchanges, we find understanding of the other. More importantly, it is in conversations with those who are not exactly "us" that we can find the deepest and most potent movements of the Holy Spirit.

The problem for emergents, as I see it, is that we don't really quite grasp how significant the thing we're doing is. While this approach is a foundational and roots-rock approach to both proclaiming and living into the Reign of God, we keep it in house. We like to talk grace amongst ourselves, but often don't realize that the same grace needs to be intentionally applied to our more challenging relationships. It needs to be expressed outside of comfortable places, in relationships that go beyond cups of coffee or tasty microbrewed beer shared among like-minded people.

We need to be graceful to our trolls.

Trolls, as anyone in the blogosphere knows, are those true-believing souls who take it upon themselves to attack and subvert those who fail to meet the pureblood standards of their particular belief. I've had several over the years. I've had hard-core neoatheist trolls, who have mocked my faith and my stupid fake Easter bunny God. I've had hard-core fundamentalist trolls, who have hurled snippets of scripture and bitter invective in equal parts. I am currently in between trolls, although there are some recent promising prospects. Hi Mark!

It's easy...and, in it's own way, hammer on these folks when they show up. What is not quite so easy is to realize that when Jesus told us to love our enemies, he was talking about trolls. It's a tough thing to do. Our immediate and human desire is to go to war, to open up the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.

This is what the trolls want, although it isn't what they need. They look to the troll-lords on shout radio and shout-tv for inspiration. Trolls want to rant and bellow. Trolls want to find self-affirmation in a seething and closed-circle hatred of those who are different. As such, they are part and parcel of the cult of baseless self-esteem that has come to define our increasingly blighted society. But what they need is the same thing that we all need: the transforming grace of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

So...get to know your troll. Hold on to what is good, and defend what is right, but still be sure to show 'em a little lovingkindness. When they spit on that grace, offer up some more, and then some more after that. The font of our grace is, after all, infinite and without measure.

Evil is, after all, not overcome with more evil.


  1. Oh, I love this topic. Yes, I find it incredibly hard to love my neighbor. Televangelists, evangelicals, right-wingers... people who blow up clinics and shoot abortionists. I have better conversations with atheists and those who have gone through incredible struggles with finding faith than those I consider to be 'close-minded'. Especially when I get emails from those in my church with links about the 'dangers' of the Emergence movement and how it distorts the 'true Gospel', the 'cultic mindset', how our representative is a Christian (so what) and 'the other Rob Bell' has a church called Mars Hill and teaches some controversial stuff over there... on and on. Thus I am a heretic for going along with this stuff if I agree with any of it. And so I proudly use this title: orthodox heretic.

    Thus I have to GENTLY discuss any Emergence 'theory' with them. And refrain from name-calling or banging them over the head with over-intelligence or circular logic -- churches love teaching that stuff. Even if I get my pride bent once and a while.

    Because G-d loves everyone (John 3:17). I have to keep reminding myself that. And them. Even those I see him shaking his head in dismay at. Because I'm one of those people too. Still. I still screw up. We all do.

    I still stray over to that side of the fence. And that's how I talk with the conservatives about how life is more grey. How Truth can be both Truth and still there exists truth without absolutes.

    Then there comes the time where we all need to agree to disagree and walk away. Unity isn't conformity. If everyone thought like me, looked like me, drove like me, well... life would be a big ball of 'Everything But The' ice cream. And sometimes I'm in the mood for 'Karmal Sutra'.

    It's not about winning. It's about we all end up in the same place. Even if we don't KNOW that. We still can choose to believe it.

  2. I do find it hard to love liberals, ya know those who think they actually have loved their neighbors, their enemies, and loved God with all their heart etc.. Those who think they have kept the law, and just wished other "conservative orthodox trolls" would just understand that. One is not "spitting" on your grace sir, you have no grace to offer; grace is God's gift to His children and even His enemies, and such His children understand who God is and who they are. All people bear God's image, and such all people, including the unborn, have value. What I think you meant, was keep offering up forgiveness, and then offer up some more and more. That would be the Biblical model, man needs not more of man's "grace", but only God's grace.

    I must say - Sara's comment is a prime example of exactly the rubbish that is being taught and accepted, no offense intended. God does not "love" everyone, God hates many. Psalm 5:5, Psalm 11:5, Proverbs 6:16-19. Nontheless, I am grateful to be considered a "promising prospect." Perhaps we will both learn something, that being more absolute Truths springing forth by God's holy and perfect word. Since the Holy Spirit wrote the Bible, I submit new "truths" are no truths at all.

  3. @ Sarah: Yup. Keep working on it. Peace, little sister! Stay gracious in the Way.

    @ Mark: You too need to work a little harder. The most excellent way seems to elude you.

    Did I say I was offering up my own grace? If I had, I would be sorely mistaken. The only grace any of us has to offer comes from Him. You and I both know this. Tend to your reflexive anger, my brother. It does you ill. I will endeavor to be gentle with you, for rage against rage only serves the Accuser.

    Advice: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."

  4. Dave,
    I have no rage, anger, etc.. towards you, write that down if it helps. That said "brother" - when do you advise one to actually speak the Truth in love? I thought Sara's comment provided such a grand opportunity, unless what she said is True to you?

    Maybe you could tell me, when is getting angry or "hate" appropriate, biblically speaking. I sincerely ask btw. Thanks.

  5. @ Mark: Good! I'm glad to hear it. Maybe it's just your avatar image, which isn't exactly the friendliest pup around.

    Interesting that you ask. We've been doing some great Bible studies at my church on conflict and anger. As much as I like to get all temple cleansy (Jn 2:13-16) on folks with whom I disagree, I think if you take Christ's actions in their proper context we're only allowed to do that with Word Faith/Prosperity Gospel hucksters. Benny Hinn and Creflo A. Dollar just cry out for some whuppin'.

    I tend to take more of my direction from Christ's moral exhortation in Matthew 5:43-48, and the similar teachings in Ephesians 4 and Romans 12.

    Romans 12:9-21 is a particularly governing teaching...and an interesting one. On the one hand, we are to "hate what is evil." Yet that "hate" has to do with maintaining our integrity as followers of Christ. What we "hate" are those things that impede or cloud His grace in us. It is not a justification to hate others, particularly if you read it in the broader context of Paul's teachings.

  6. I think if you take Christ's actions in their proper context we're only allowed to do that with Word Faith/Prosperity Gospel hucksters. Benny Hinn and Creflo A. Dollar just cry out for some whuppin'.

    You used the word "only" refering to xyz, why? What about the "gay christian" movement? I agree about the pulpit pimps you mention, but why are they "only" and other false teachings excluded?