When We Respond: Living in a World of Hashtags

I sat in the quiet of my living room on September 12, 2001, drinking coffee from a mug with the skyline of New York City on it. The skyline on the cup prominently featured the Twin Towers. At the same time, my television flickered live images of New York City, prominently featuring smoke and debris where the Twin Towers no longer stood. I was confused. I was angry.

I, along with many others, told God how I felt.

And there were no hashtags.

I sat in the noise of my living room on November 14, 2015, tapping on images of Paris on my iPad. The same images of Paris flickered on my television. And on my phone. Sensory overload. I was confused. I was angry.

I, along with many others, told the world how I felt.

There were hashtags.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how we respond to things…and how we don’t respond. For example, ISIS goes on a rampage in Paris and we impose the French flag onto our profile picture on Facebook—no Russian flag on our pictures when ISIS blows up a Russian plane two weeks earlier. Odd.

Ferguson, Planned Parenthood, Syrian Refugees, Boko Haram, Donald Trump, you name it, everything gets a response to some degree or another. For some the response is massive, for others the response is simply our lack of response.

When we respond, though, we want others to know that we have responded. We do it publicly. We do it on Facebook and Twitter. And we do it with hashtags.

Then it goes away.

This has led me to wonder if my responses, and the responses of others like me, are determined more by my encounter with hashtags than with God.

An encounter with a hashtag can cause anger. It can lead to lashing out. It is short-lived.

An encounter with God will cause transformation. It will lead to thoughtfulness. It is lifelong. An encounter with a hashtag can cause anger. An encounter with God will cause transformation. Click To Tweet

This is demonstrated very clearly in two distinct moments in the life of Moses. The first is in his encounter with a moment of injustice—something that would certainly go viral in our age of social media and hashtags.

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. (Exodus 2:11-12)

Notice the words, “He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people.” This act of violence, this injustice, causes Moses to become deeply angered. It is important to mention at this point that there is nothing wrong with Moses’ anger towards the violent injustice that he sees. Not to be angered would in some way be another form of injustice. The issue is not Moses’ anger, it is his lashing out in anger. He gets caught up in the moment and responds by killing a man and hiding his body in the sand. It is apparent that Moses, in the moment, did not consider the helpfulness of his actions or the consequences that he would have to live with. The story ends with Moses fleeing for his life, being far removed from the injustice he witnessed, and tending to sheep in a wilderness for the next forty years.

We should probably let that sink in for a moment. Forty years.

The injustice Moses witnessed had been taking place for decades. His anger burned hot and he lashed out, and then the injustice continued on for many more decades and Moses was irrelevant.

This is exactly what happens when we respond, living in a world of hashtags. Remember Kony? Remember the Nigerian schoolgirls taken by Boko Haram? Remember the Planned Parenthood videos? Whether three years ago, two years ago, or two months ago, when the hashtags fade, do does our anger. So does our commitment. So does our resolve. We continue on with our lives, waiting for the next hashtag. And those suffering injustice continue on with their lives, waiting for a savior.

There is a second distinct moment in the life of Moses. Having had forty years to ponder the injustice that he witnessed, and his failed attempt to do something about, Moses finds himself in the quiet of the desert, and this time he has an encounter with God.

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up. (Exodus 3:1-3)

In the first instance Moses saw a person in a moment of injustice that led him to act with presumptuous power. However, this time Moses sees God in a moment of holiness that led him to act with appropriate humility. Moses is on holy ground and he discovers that the Holy One sees everything. He has seen the misery of his people in Egypt; he has certainly seen Moses’ short lived anger and subsequent murder; he has seen Moses’ forty years of obscurity, and even more so, he has certainly seen the emotions and regrets that dwell hidden deep within Moses’ own soul. It is here in the presence of God that Moses can rightly relive his own anger at the injustice he has seen, and find comfort in knowing that God is equally outraged. But more importantly, it is here in the presence of God that Moses can rightly make sense of how to respond. Moses must respond to God and be transformed by him before he responds to his anger.

This is the case for all of us. Far too often we respond to our anger and the devastating result is that we are transformed by our anger, becoming someone or something that we never wanted to be. This is unhelpful both for us and for the world.

The world that we live in is certainly filled with horror. Beyond the terrorist attacks that make the news, there are the 36 million people living in slavery every day who do not make the news. Horrors abound in our fallen world. The world is desperately in need of people who seek the God in the burning bush rather than the hype of burning issues. The issues, believe it or not, will come and go as the years pass. Today’s issues will at some point become tomorrow’s memories. Hashtags long forgotten. Our responsibilities, as those marked by Christ, is to press deeply into the presence of God in such a way that we are transformed and capable of responding to the horrors of the world in such a way that the world itself is transformed. Today’s issues will at some point become tomorrow’s memories. Hashtags long forgotten. Click To Tweet

Calling today’s issues tomorrow’s memories is not a way of minimizing the issues. The issues will become memories—the question is what type of memories will they become. Will they become the memory of a failed response to injustice, lashing out in anger and murdering a man, or will they become the memory of a parted sea and a people freed from injustice?

In order for the memories to become the latter, we must not become people who are driven to respond to encounters with hashtags, lashing out in short-lived anger. We must become people who carry the hashtags with us, into deep encounters with God, so that we are transformed in such a way that the world is transformed through us.

As followers of Christ, our lives are formed by a symbol; it is not a hashtag—it is a cross. As followers of Christ, our lives are formed by a symbol; it is not a hashtag—it is a cross. Click To Tweet

— [Photo: dfbphotos, CC via Flickr]