I have a friend who has a small, home-based business. Much of her interaction with customers is through email. A couple of weeks ago, my friend commented that an impatient customer had called and emailed her repeatedly to ask if her order was ready yet, despite the fact that my friend had told this particular customer that her item would not be ready for at least two weeks.
What the impatient customer did not know was: my friend had been taking care of grandbabies, and she provided meals for the family of a friend who passed away that week, and she was dealing with some pretty serious health issues of her own.
The customer couldn't understand why my friend said it would take two weeks to complete her order.
The customer had forgotten that on the other side of her computer screen, as she cranked out her fussy emails, the person receiving those messages was a real-live, flesh-&-blood woman with very real limitations on her time and energy.
Because so much of our interaction today is via electronic media - emails, texts, voice messages, Facebook posts, "chatting" - it is easy to forget that every time we "speak" (email, text, chat, etc.), we are speaking not into an impersonal electronic void, but we are speaking into the lives of actual people. People with hearts and souls, personalities and preferences, hurts and histories, jobs and families, joys and struggles.
When communicating and interacting electronically, it is way too easy to dehumanize the people on the other side of the screen: we think of them as inboxes or cell phone numbers or avatars, instead of as people.
Another friend and I were talking recently about how labels make it way too easy to do the same thing - to dehumanize people. We take huge populations and put them behind the rainbow flag, or the Confederate flag, or the Christian flag, and then we relate (or don't relate) to them based solely on some broad, impersonal categorization.
From what I have seen over the past couple of weeks, it is way too easy to spout garbage when we are speaking not to a person with a face, but to someone whom we think of only in terms of a flag or a label.
And so I want to tell you about two people I know, and then I want to issue you a challenge...
First person - let's call her Sarah. Sarah is a lesbian, living an openly lesbian lifestyle with her female partner. She is a radical feminist. She identifies herself as Christian, although her description of the god she worships is nothing like the God who reveals himself in the Bible. Sarah is one of the most beautiful people I know. She is creative and funny and kind. She is my friend, and every time I am around her, she makes me smile.
Second person - me. I am a heterosexual, homeschooling, politically conservative mother-of-seven. I am a Christian, and I believe that as Christians, we must accept God as He reveals himself in Scripture and that even our sexuality must be taken captive to the Word of God. I am a Calvinist and, concerning gender, a complementarian.
Sarah thinks that I am narrow-minded and old-fashioned, and yet she consistently treats me with kindness and respect. Sarah knows that I believe her lifestyle choices are an offense to God, but she also knows that I struggle with and am grieved by my own pet sins.
Amazingly, in spite of our very great differences, I love Sarah...and she knows that. Amazingly, in spite of our very great differences, Sarah loves me. We see each other as distinct individuals with intrinsic personal value.
Knowing Sarah as an individual impacts how I relate to the gay/lesbian community as a group: I no longer see an impersonal, unfeeling, inanimate rainbow flag - I see the face of my friend.
And now the challenge...
Next time you sit down at the computer and pull up your Facebook page, or type an email, or add your two-cents'-worth in a comment thread...
Next time you send a text or chat with someone on-line...
You are not only speaking to and about flags and ideologies and worldviews, as offensive and unbiblical as some of those are...
But you are also speaking to and about individuals, other human beings who - although they may be terribly twisted and broken by sin - are still image-bearers of our Creator.
Remember: whatever you say or write or text from your side of the screen, there is a person on the other side of the screen - a real, live person - who will hear you.
How would you speak differently if you were sitting face to face?
3 weeks ago