An Open Letter…

Posted February 24, 2016 by reformedcam
Categories: Religion/Social, Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , ,

… to the person who reported me to the General Presbyter.

TL;DR version: I apologize for offending you. Let’s talk.

Recently, someone reported to the General Presbyter of the presbytery in which I am currently located how I had posted something offensive on social media. Tons of emotions swirled in my head as I had the meeting with the GP. Anger, frustration, sorrow, and confusion were rampant in my brain and heart. I am not being censured and I am not in trouble in any form or fashion, but I am still very upset about this instance.

And after almost a day of thinking, I am upset with myself most of all. You see, I have spent significant time cultivating my online communities. I have spent lots of time on Twitter and Facebook developing friendships and camaraderie spanning multiple communities and parts of my life. I have developed relationships intended to help the people I interact with and myself grow. Both of my major online communities (Facebook and Twitter) have been developed in a very intentional way.

And I know sometimes I post things people are not going to like. I know I am going to post things with which many will not agree. But, in a way, this is part of my effort. I want to have discussions regarding various topics. I want my communities to interact with me in ways which will cause growth. I do not want to alienate people or separate myself from my intentional, developed communities.

This report came to the GP about my post(s). I do not know which post(s) it was about. From the conversation, I gather it might have been political. But it might not have been. I might not ever know. I certainly do not know who reported the post(s).

But whoever that person is, I want to say something to you: I am sorry. I am sorry you did not feel comfortable approaching me. I feel as though this is my fault. I feel as if I did not fully include you in my intentional community. I feel as though I posted something making you feel as if you could not talk to me about it. If that is the case, please know I had no intention of doing such a thing. You are part of my community and I want you to be comfortable in this place. I want you to know I am open to conversation about any topic or subject I post. And you do not have to confront me in public. You may always send me a Personal/Direct Message on whatever platform I posted the material. I would be happy to talk on the phone or via e-mail. We could Skype or Facetime. I am open to any form of communication about anything I post, as long as it follows Matthew 18.

Social media can be tough to navigate. I understand. It is a platform that seems indirect and distant. But please know a lot of people use these platforms to develop and foster very real relationships. If you are a part of one of my communities, I very much care about you. Even if I do not “like”every status or “favorite” every tweet, I still see you in spaces that I have intentionally created. I want to grow. I want you to grow with me. Let us make these places ones of real community and fellowship.

Again, I am sorry I let you down. I hold all of this on my own shoulders. Let’s talk about what I did to make you uncomfortable.


By the Seat of my Pants

Posted June 14, 2015 by reformedcam
Categories: Uncategorized

I wonder if I have ever told you the full story of how I proposed to Heather. Maybe you know I proposed to her at a Lucero concert at the Rev Room in Little Rock on December 21, 2011. If you have not seen those videos, they are on YouTube, here and here. It was definitely one of the most important nights of my life, and it was exhilarating, but it came close to not happening.

I had e-mailed the manager of Lucero a few months beforehand, explaining my plan. I told him I knew Heather would say yes (we had discussed marriage at length beforehand and both knew we wanted it). He said he would pass along the message to the band and see what they thought. Those months went by and I heard nothing. As the concert approached, I started to get nervous about whether or not I could pull this proposal off. I had invited my best friends (Chad and Craig were the cameramen of the videos), Heather’s best friend, and my sisters to witness it all go down. It was somewhat obvious that I was planning something. Not all of that crowd is the rock-show crowd.

The day of the show, I had not heard from the manager. It was game time and I did not have a game plan.

As soon as we got to the club, I made an excuse about going to the bathroom. I shot back to Rumba Revolution (the bar/restaurant behind the club) to look for the band. I had been to enough Lucero shows to know they hung out back there and were willing to chat with fans. I saw their table on the way to the restroom and made a plan to hit it up when I was done with that other business. As it would turn out, Ben Nichols was in the bathroom at that time. I caught him by the sink (because anywhere else would have been awkward) and asked him if his manager had talked to him. Ben affirmed that it had been mentioned, but they never made a decision about whether or not they would allow me to make the proposal. I proposed the proposal again, and Ben told me we could do it.

Excitedly, I thanked him and rushed off to my friends. After finding Heather and the rest of the crowd down in the pit area, I realized I had no idea when in the concert this would be happening. A few minutes later, I saw Ben walking back to the back again and rushed after him. We discussed the plan. He told me to come up during his solo set, when he sent the other members of the band off. I asked him which side of the stage I should be at and he told me to go to the one closest to the door.

I finally had a plan. I knew that it would be happening. I could stop actually worrying about everything and just let it happen.

The engagement almost did not happen. It was a moment that rested completely on a hope. A hope that I could pull off the the next-to-impossible. I went into that concert not knowing what, if anything was going to happen. Thankfully, Ben was flexible and totally cool with the whole idea. If it were not for the chance encounter in Rumba restroom, Heather and my engagement might have looked very differently.

A Letter to Governor Hutchinson

Posted March 27, 2015 by reformedcam
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , , , ,

Here is the letter that I sent to Governor Asa Hutchinson today regarding HB 1228:

Mr. Governor,

I am writing you in regards to HB 1228, which was voted on and passed by the Arkansas Senate today. As a native, and still voting, Arkansan, I urge you to veto this bill. Further, as a chaplain and candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., I believe this bill is a moral outrage.

If we take a good, honest look at the bill, it is nothing more than a guise for people who want to discriminate against others. The authors and proponents of this bill are taking a stance against something that scares them. And, they are using the idea of religion to push their views onto others. What the authors and proponents failed to take into consideration is the United States Constitution and how federal judges have interpreted the First Amendment. Religious freedoms of all are already protected by federal law. There is no extra need to extend said rights.

Instead, what this bill actually is, is the oppression of people. It is no secret that the authors and proponents of the bill are targeting people of the LGBT community. The Human Rights Campaign knows it. Yelp knows it. Everyone knows it.

As a Christian, I cannot stand idly by and let this bill become law without letting my opinion be known. Jesus tells us that there are two commandments greater than all the others. They are, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40, NRSV).

If we dictate that people cannot be a certain way, that they cannot exist the only way they know how, then we are not loving them as we love ourself. I cannot tell someone they are not allowed to love who they love, be who they were born as, or dictate how they live their life, all while loving them as I love myself. In my view, that is the opposite of the commandment that Jesus gives. If Christ commands us to love our neighbors, that is what we should do. Unconditionally.

If we were to look to the business side of things, we can see this bill is a bad idea. Yelp has already taken notice of the bill, as noted above. Wal-Mart and Apple have also spoken out against HB 1228. Salesforce is about to leave Indiana. You should see this bill, Mr. Governor, as anti-business if you do not see it as discriminatory. Even if it is repealed in five years, those will be five years that Arkansas will economically suffer. Might I remind you that you will be the governor associated with that time.

Mr. Governor, I hope and pray that you will make the right decision. I want to see Arkansas succeed, because it is the place I do, and always will call home. If this bill is passed into law, the state will fail. We have heard the call from civil rights groups. We have heard the stance of the multi-billion dollar industries that you want to bring into our state. We have heard it from our own corporations that happen to be multi-billion dollar industry giants.

I fear for the future of Arkansas if this bill becomes law. Not only will businesses leave, but people will leave. This bill, if it becomes law, will make certain Arkansans feel that they cannot call The Natural State home anymore. This is a dangerous precedent to set, and I hope you choose to veto this bill.

Godspeed, and good luck with your decision,

Cameron Highsmith

I Do Not Want You To Leave

Posted March 25, 2015 by reformedcam
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , , , ,

This past Saturday, March 21st, 2015, the Presbytery of New Covenant voted on amendments to the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.’s Book of Order. Included in that vote was amendment 14-F. In case you are not familiar with this amendment, it is an amendment to the Book of Order that would redefine marriage. Instead of saying that marriage in the PC (USA) is only between a man and a woman, it changes that to “… a unique commitment between two persons, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.” In order to pass this amendment, as recommended by the 221st General Assembly, a simple majority of the presbyteries (regional governing bodies) have to approve of the amendment. The Tuesday before the Presbytery of New Covenant met, the 86th presbytery approved 14-F, which put the PC (USA) over the line of the simple majority of 171 presbyteries. This means that, in June, the PC (USA) will officially recognize same-sex marriages and allow them to be performed in approving congregations/buildings (in states where it is legal, of course). On Saturday, when the Presbytery of New Covenant voted, the tally came out to 128-114, in favor of 14-F. Whether or not the votes were affected by the fact that the PC (USA) had already garnered enough votes is something to look into another time. Here, I want to address the people that spoke out against 14-F in the Presbytery of New Covenant as well as other places across the nation in our denomination.

I do not want you to leave. I want you to stay with us. I want you to be part of our collective church and faith journey. I value your faith journeys and each of you individually as a person. We are not our denomination without you.

I was born in 1982 and baptized into the PC (USA) that same year. As long as I can remember, there have been disagreements in our denomination. Even on a local, congregational level, I can remember members of my home church disagreeing on issues. And despite those differences, the members of my home church stayed. Even if they “lost.” They still came to worship. They still stayed for fellowship events. They remained friends with the members who “won.”

The people who did not get their way stayed because this is not about “winning” or “losing.” This is about being a church. This is about being members of the Body of Christ. I do not want you to go because I know that 98% of what we believe as Christians is the same thing. And, as Mike Cole, General Presbyter of the Presbytery of New Covenant, said on Saturday, that should not keep us from working together for Christ.

Our polity is set up in a very distinct way. Our national denomination is intended to make sure everyone’s voice is heard. This amendment does that very same thing. In the last paragraph of the proposed, soon to be adopted, amendment, the language reads, “Nothing herein shall compel a teaching elder to perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.” This amendment has passed and will be included in the Book of Order. But that does not mean that any congregation that disagrees with same-sex marriage will have to participate in same-sex marriages. This amendment was written with that in mind. We, as a national denomination, do not intend to force anyone out. Even though this amendment allows for other congregations to do something you disagree with, you will never be forced to do something you do not want to do.

And, if you disagree with this amendment and its purpose, then I encourage you to draft one with which you do agree. I am not saying that you will succeed, but you will encourage more dialogue. And that dialogue is how we grow. Why do you think the center of Reformed worship is the Word Proclaimed? So we can have dialogue around the Word.

I know that this is a painful time for you. Something is happening within the church that you do not agree with and do not wish to see happen. For many of you, the PC (USA) is the denomination in which, like me, you grew up. This change is painful because it is separating you from the denomination which you care so much about. And that sucks. But there is something you must know: The people who want an amendment like 14-F have been in pain much longer than you. This has been an effort that has been happening for over 40 years now. And all along the way, there was opportunity for them to leave. For years, they were dismissed. They were told their beliefs are not valid. They were told they were not welcome. They were told that their humanity was less than ours. And every time, they came back to worship. They came back to fellowship. They came back to friendship. They came back to The Table. And I am asking you, because they stayed, to stay.

The way churches move can be painful. Not everyone agrees with the way a church or denomination moves. I guarantee you that there will be amendments in the future that will be painful to me. There will be changes to the Book of Order which will make me question the way the church is headed. But I will not leave. I have not left before now, which I was certainly tempted to do, and I will not leave in the future.

If you go, we lose our collective voice. I have a friend who was fond of saying, “I don’t want a church where everyone thinks the same thing. That sh– would be boring!” And it would be boring. And there would be no conversation, forcing the church to grow. We would forget the humanity of the other side’s argument. We would forget what it is like to think about the other side before we spoke.

If you stay, we continue our “Big Tent” theology. A theology where everyone is welcome. A theology where we can be inclusive of all people who associate with Presbyterian. If you go, our tent becomes smaller. It becomes narrower. That is the opposite of the goals of the people who propose amendments such as 14-F.

I do not want you to leave.


I’m a Fraternity Man

Posted March 9, 2015 by reformedcam
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

This is a response to the video found in this tweet.

I am a fraternity man. I joined a fraternity when I was at Westminster College in Fulton, MO. The college has a long history with fraternities. Many of the several fraternities on that campus had alumni who financially bailed out the school at one point or another. The chapter of the fraternity I joined, Phi Delta Theta (PDT) – Missouri Beta, was chartered by Robert Morrison, who was the main founding father of the international fraternity. He also provided much-needed financial assistance for Westminster College. He spent the rest of his life in Fulton, MO and is buried there. Members of Phi Delta Theta come from all over the country, and Canada, to perform ceremonies at his grave and learn more of the history of the end of his life in the town of Fulton.

Robert Morrison and 3 of the other 6 founding members of the fraternity ended up being Presbyterian pastors. I did not know this when I pledged to the fraternity, but I do not take it as a coincidence. I grew up Presbyterian. I chose to go to a college affiliated with the PC (USA). I joined this fraternity. I have now graduated from a PC (USA) seminary and am looking to be ordained into the church. Joining the fraternity of Phi Delta Theta is a part of my life that almost helps me believe in predestination (at least earthly predestination).

The founding fathers started this “secret society” in response to the president of Miami University in Ohio shutting down Beta Theta Pi and Alpha Delta Phi and expelling most of their members when they “rebelled” against the school’s administration. Robert Morrison, John McMillan Wilson, Robert Thompson Drake, Ardivan Walker Rodgers, and Andrew Watts Rodgers started meeting in Wilson’s college dorm room to start Phi Delta Theta. In these meetings, these men decided that Phi Delta Theta should have the principles of, “friendship, sound learning, and moral rectitude.” That is, the fraternity was founded in order to provide a social way for its members to become better men.

As I learned about my fraternity and talked to other young men in my college class who were joining other fraternities, I learned that most of these institutions had similar stories. On our campus, we had the fraternities Delta Tau Delta, The Kappa Alpha Order, Beta Theta Pi, Phi Delta Theta, Sigma Chi, and Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Each fraternity had its own national reputation and each chapter had its own reputation on campus. Sometimes, these reputations were perfectly in sync. Sometimes, they were starkly different from one another.

But, despite whatever reputation, there is something very important we need to understand. Most of these fraternities, like the ones on my campus, were founded by privileged, white men with the intent of “improving” privileged, white men. And, I believe, this only got worse before it got better. The military calls of the First and Second World War, and the subsequent return of college men to the institutions they left. The military influence of returning G.I.’s made the fraternity system much more patriarchal and, frankly, dangerous. It is my own hypothesis that the effort to prove one’s “manhood” in the military had a direct correlation to systematic hazing in fraternities in North America.

All the while, fraternities aimed recruiting based around people that would benefit the system. If you were rich and had ties through your family to a set of letters, fraternities knew about you before you even stepped foot on campus. If you seemed “cool” enough, you were bombarded throughout rush. If you did not fit in, you were simply discarded. The system, as so many others like it, found ways to establish and benefit themselves.

And I would like to tell you that with the integration of universities and colleges around the USA and Canada, that this got better. In some instances, it really did. Fraternities have become more diverse on some campus. But on many other campuses, fraternities only became more segregated. On campuses in the South, for instance, black fraternities had to be established on campus, because the traditionally white fraternities simply did not recruit black men. Sororities have the same narrative.

And, really, is it such a surprise? Robert Morrison, while he lived in Louisville, edited the True Louisville Presbyterian, which was suppressed twice for its staunch, pro-Confederacy views. I never knew that. I never knew that, because it is something we do not talk about inside the institution that is Phi Delta Theta. I would be willing to put money on the idea that most of the other fraternities that I mentioned had founding fathers that had similar views. And, we find ourselves surprised when a chapter of one of these institutions says or does something racist. Kappa Alpha Order chapters still have “Old South” parties. The chapter on my campus did it every year I was there. Members dressed up like Confederate generals.

Look, I honestly believe that most members of these fraternities are good people. I know a lot of people who were SAE’s at Westminster College, and I would not speak poorly of them or their chapter. I have met several members of Phi Delta Theta from the University of Missouri and University of Arkansas, and with just a couple of exceptions, I have not been impressed by their members.

The overall problem I have with the fraternal system at colleges and universities is this: these institutions have been entrenched in a certain way of thinking for so long, that it will take monumental effort to reverse the old way of thinking. On the surface, I know this seems like it is happening. Almost every major fraternity has a “no hazing” policy in place. But, I guarantee you that if you could see the system of pledging that still happens on campuses, it would shock you. Phi Delta Theta has a policy for all of its chapters in the U.S. and Canada that requires them to be substance free. Yet, the larger chapters have so many members and collect so many dues, that they can simply ignore this policy and pay whatever fine comes their way. It is hard to beat the system when you have so long been the ones perpetuating it. As a privileged, white man, I know this firsthand.

I will end by saying this: I do not think the fraternity system is necessarily bad. I believe that if we take the ideas of, “friendship, sound learning, and moral rectitude,” and apply them to ourselves, then they can be quite beneficial. I think having a close-knit group of friends to grow with during college can be extremely important. The community services that these groups can do (not all fraternity chapters do a lot for their community) can be invaluable to the colleges and communities in which they are located. And, housing in these buildings can be cheaper than living in a college dorm. It was at Westminster. But, despite the potential positive benefits from these organizations, much of the system that has been set up only benefits a few. There is much work to be done if these organizations are going to rediscover their relevance and start to affect more positively than negatively.



Arkansas Hates the Gays: On SB 202 & HB 1228

Posted February 25, 2015 by reformedcam
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , , ,

In case you have no idea what is going on in Arkansas:

(TL;DR version – The people who passed bills like SB 202 and HB 1228 actually live in the Dark Ages)

Last year, Fayetteville, the city that houses the University of Arkansas, proposed an ordinance that would extend civil rights (i.e., the protection from being fired, protection from being kicked out of rental property, etc.) to LGBT persons in the city. It was a hotly contested debate that ultimately failed, unfortunately.

However, this spurned a wider debate in the state government. What ended up happening follows as such: The Arkansas Senate passed the bill named, simply, SB 202. The Arkansas House passed the, “Conscience Protection Act,” or HB 1228. Both bills prevent local communities from passing equal rights ordinances that have not already been passed. Essentially, this is an effort to keep the LGBT community as oppressed as possible.

The authors of these bills “believe” that their religious freedoms were under attack. As in, “Woe is me! It would be against my religion to provide services to persons that ‘violate my religion,’ because all gays are going to Hell! And they’re nasty because they’re not like me!”

They passed these bills under the guise that Christianity is under attack from an outside source. If you were to ask them, they would probably identify one of the sources as a socialist, Muslim guy who lives in D.C. Or they might say there is a larger, non-religious strain developing in America. But the real reason is that they are white men who are afraid of things getting better for people not like them. The people at the “top,” who perceive themselves to be at the “top,” do not want things to get better for people who have purposefully been placed at the “bottom.” These folks have had the privilege of being in control for a long, long time. And what it all boils down to is this: they do not want you to have the same rights and privileges as them. And they hide this idea by burying it under another idea that they are protecting fundamental rights. Never mind that religious rights are already protected by the federal government. Never mind that businesses already have the right to refuse service to anyone, because they are private businesses, and are not applicable to being punished under the law in doing such.

In fact, because equal rights ordinances are not on the books in so many cities and states, it is well-documented that you can already be fired or kicked out of your housing for being a member of the LGBT community. This is proof that people who believe that serving LGBT persons is a violation of their religious freedoms already have the right to discriminate against persons of that community. HB 1228 and SB 202 are redundant in that sense.

The most ironic things about HB 1228 and SB 202 fall under the ideas of big government and free market systems. These are the same people that cry that government is, “Getting too big!” Another part of that mantra is, “The government does not need to do anything! If something is not meant to be, the capitalist free market system will shut down the bad practice on its own!” Yet, here we see a government that is larger being used to stifle smaller, more voter-based governments. Here we see them turn away from their market-based ideas. If they stuck to their guns, and really believed the LGBT community was evil and going away, there would be a cry that the free market would shut down the LGBT community, because the free market shuts down all things that are not good for democracy and capitalism and America and freedom and Jesus.

But the key is this: somewhere, deep in their hearts and minds, the people that passed SB 202 and HB 1228 know that equality is coming. They see that they are on the losing side. They violate their “deeply held beliefs” because they know if they want to keep the status quo, they are going to have to kick and scream to keep it. And here is another ironic thing about this situation: it will produce multiple court cases. The side that fights for lower taxes and limited spending for all tax-paying citizens, will have to waste taxpayer money to defend their laws, which will be shut down in some court in the future.

It is too late to reach the authors to ask them not to follow through on their bills. It is too late to ask Governor Hutchinson to veto the bill, even though Wal-Mart said it was the right thing to do (WAL-MART GAVE A LESSON ON MORALITY!). The bill, in the near future, will be law in my home state. And, until court cases happen, it will remain that way.

The good news is that cities are already moving to pass new ordinances before the bill becomes law (it has 90 days to take effect, from the date of adoption). Conway, home to UCA and Hendrix College, has already done so. Eureka Springs has done likewise. A petition has started in North LIttle Rock, which you should sign immediately, to do the same.

My only hope is that the authors of the bill see the damage they have done very quickly. If they cannot see how they are actually causing people a great deal of pain, maybe they will see the damage when large businesses change their minds about coming to Arkansas. Maybe they will see the problem when Wal-Mart and Tyson refuse to play ball and back the side of equality. Maybe they will see the damage done when small businesses that they frequent refuse to serve them.

Final note: This will not reach any of the people who agree with HB 1228 and SB 202. By that, I do not mean that one of those persons will never read this, but rather that it will not reach them mentally or emotionally. They are apologists for their way of life. They will be able to explain away the large government and free market criticisms. They will be able to say that, even if this irritates big businesses, it is righteous because it supports the “little guy,” who is the backbone of the American economy and way of life. They will say they do not know a single gay person (so much more to say here, but that is for another post/sermon), but they do know plenty of God-fearing Christians who are under attack from the Left.

::BIG SIGH:: But what can we do except keep on talking about this kind of stuff.

Update: HB 1228 failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee today! (2/25/15)

Update: HB 1228 was put back through committee, was passed through committee, and was passed by the Arkansas Senate today (3/27/15). I would encourage you to contact Governor Hutchinson and let him know how you feel. Let us hope that Fortune 500 companies keep threatening to leave the state so that our “pro-business” governor gets the idea that this is wrong.

Common Ground

Posted February 9, 2015 by reformedcam
Categories: Uncategorized

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Have you ever found yourself in an argument, not knowing how you got there? Perhaps you were just having a simple discussion with a friend. Maybe you were talking to a stranger when you saw they were wearing a certain team’s logo. Perhaps you were trying to talk to someone about a faith-based issue. Whatever it was, both you and the other person started off in a very calm manner. Things in the conversation were progressing just fine, and then both of you are yelling at each other! “What gives?” you think, backtracking the conversational process, “how did we get from a nice chat to getting mad at each other?”

I, for one, am not known to back down from my own convictions. When I believe that something is right, I believe that something is right. When I get passionate about an issue, I get passionate about an issue. And, I believe the other side is wrong. Of course, these ideas are founded in the way I was raised, my education, and, most importantly, my belief in Christ. When I get into an argument with someone about a certain issue, my goal is to get that person to agree with me. In that moment, there is little else in the world that I care about.

I think a lot of us interact with others the same way. It is a pretty common mindset that we have when we get into arguments. Whether the nature of the interaction is faith-based, political, or just saying your team is the best, we get into these conversations needing to influence the other person. But there is something that we always forget in these moments: they are trying to do the exact same thing.

Sure, in the nature of these conversations, on some level, we acknowledge the other person is trying to make a point. This can be clear to a frustrating level. But what I am trying to say here is we do not realize how strongly the other person believes in their convictions. When I do get into an argument, I often find myself thinking, “Come on, you cannot really believe this!” I believe their convictions are faulty, and therefore it will be easier for me to sway them than for them to sway me. This does nothing but harm for us in today’s day and age.

This is a dangerous style of interaction. It is dangerous because when we do this, we do not realize that they hold as tightly to their convictions as we do ours. Because we believe that the other person cannot really believe something that is the opposite of our thinking, we lose the idea that they do hold on to that value just as much as we hold on to ours. This makes us more adamant that we are right and they are wrong. This makes us argue with more passion. This ramps up our feelings on the subject and actually makes us less willing to listen to that other person. At the end of the argument, we find ourselves walking away in disgust. We are driven so far we believe there is no common ground for us to stand on.

If we just approach someone without attempting to understand their story, how can we expect to reach them? If we go into a conversation with no understanding of what the other party is in need of, how are we supposed to give that to them? If we assume to know everything about that other person, are we really approaching them with love? What can we do to find the common ground we need to move forward together?

What we need here is empathy. Empathy is, “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” In other words, empathy is an attempt to understand the journeys and experiences of another. When we use empathy, we are trying to understand what makes a person who they are. We are appreciating where another person has been in their emotional, spiritual, and physical journeys. Empathy is not a skill that comes easily. Empathy is a skill that can include a whole lot of risk. But empathy is a valuable skill to learn for when we are tempted to argue with another person.

An excellent example of empathy in the real world comes from an article posted by Lindy West. I would not be surprised if you have never heard of Lindy West. I had not heard of her until this past week. She is a writer for an online magazine. A friend posted an article by her on Facebook and the title caught my attention. It read, “What Happened When I Confronted My Cruelest Troll.”

In case you are not familiar with the most recent iteration of the word, a troll is someone who harasses another online. They often use social media to badger, taunt, and threaten their victims. They use social media because it is easy to just create new accounts. Even when the administrator of a network bans fake accounts, the trolls can just create a new one and pick up where they left off. That is why the phrase, “Don’t feed the trolls,” has become so popular. It is many person’s beliefs that if you simply ignore these trolls, they will find no pleasure in harassing you. If you stop letting their harassment “get to you,” they will just get bored and move on.

In her article, Lindy West tells the story of how this one troll in the summer of 2013 really got under her skin. He went above and beyond all efforts in order to harass her. He created a fake Twitter account in the name of her dead father. In the biography section of this account, the one using Lindy’s dead father’s name, it read, “Embarrassed father of an idiot. Other two kids are fine, though.” It was clear the purpose of the account was to single out, and harass, Lindy.

Ms. West’s father had died from prostate cancer just 18 months before all of this started. In her article, Lindy describes her father as a caring, vibrant, musically gifted man who cared for just about everyone he met. Yet, here, she notes, “… there was my dad’s dear face twinkling out at me from my Twitter feed. Someone – bored, apparently, with the usual angles of harassment – had made a fake Twitter account purporting to be my dead dad, featuring a stolen, beloved photo of him, for no reason other than to hurt me.”

Lindy goes through the usual thought process of being the victim of online harassment. I say, “usual,” here, because it is so common. People are harassed online every day. It is a usual thing that happens in our society. And Ms. West knew the usual routine. She could just ignore this troll. She could block this troll. She could also report this troll to site administrators. Those processes were standard protocol for dealing with online harassment. But something stuck in the back of her mind. She knew that even if she did all these things, her dead father’s photo on a fake account would still be out there, on Twitter, making fun of her. To her, it did not seem that the, “usual,” course of action was the right course of action.

Instead of acting the same way she always did, Lindy West decided that she would write a blog post about it. She put herself out there in the most vulnerable way possible. She wrote about her feelings and posted it to her website, as well as the magazine for which she writes.

The next day, she woke up to an e-mail. An e-mail from her troll.

“Hey Lindy,

I don’t know why or even when I started trolling you. …

I think my anger towards you stems from your happiness with your own           being. It offended me because it served to highlight my unhappiness with my         own self.”

He went on to say he had deleted all of the Google Mail accounts he had created in her father’s name, as well as that fake Twitter account. He said doing what he did was the lowest thing he had ever done. When he read her reaction to seeing her dead father on the Internet, he realized there was another human being reading the things he had written. A human being who was having incredibly human reactions to what he had written. He apologized again. And again. And then he donated $50 dollars to the cancer treatment center where her father had been.

Lindy threw open the door. She put herself out there for the whole world to see. She opened her feelings to the whole world. She took a risk so big there was no way it was going to pay off for her. But it did. And it changed her and her troll’s life. The empathy that this harasser suddenly had made him realize that there was common ground for the both of them. The empathy she received made Lindy think the same thing.


That empathy that came to be after Lindy opened herself up to the troll is the common ground we all need in our lives. It is the common ground that Paul is talking about in this particular section of his first letter to the church in Corinth. To be a Jew, Paul became a Jew. To minister to those outside of the church, he walked with them. He became weak to understand the weak. In order to affect the hearts and minds of the ones he was trying to reach, Paul empathized with them. Paul walked with them, suffered with them, and tried to understand their points of view. In order to be a better teacher of the Gospel of Christ, Paul reached out to others to understand from where they were coming.

When we put ourselves in other people’s shoes, to understand their ideas, beliefs, and stances, we can reach out to them more effectively. Not only will we be able to reach them better, but also we will understand them better. No only will we understand them better, but we will love them with more intensity. When we understand where a person is coming from, we can start to understand what it means to be them. It is then we can walk in their shoes as Christ walked with and like us.

Just talking about the Gospel is not enough. Part of spreading the Word of Christ is being like Christ. Using empathy to understand where another person comes from allows us to love them more. Lindy could have just used her usual tactics and ignored her troll. She could have dismissed him and tried to move on. But by taking a completely different path, she changed the narrative. She made it possible for love to appear. And it did.

The moment this person realized that his threatening attitude was effecting another person he changed. In fact, this past summer, West wanted to talk to the person who had harassed her again. She asked the radio show, “This American Life,” to help her seek this man out. They e-mailed him, and after months of silence, he agreed to speak. West and this man ended up spending two and a half hours on the phone together. She found out that when he was harassing her, he felt disappointed in himself. He was taking his anger at himself out on her because she had the same physical appearance and was happy. He found it easy to direct that anger somewhere else, particularly with the anonymity of the Internet. But when she posted her reaction to him using her father’s likeness, it changed him. He saw the other person that is Lindy. He went back to school to be a teacher. He lost a lot of weight. He found a new love interest. He is now volunteering at a school while he continues his education. And she ended up forgiving him after their conversation.

Empathy is a huge risk. I am fairly positive that not every community Paul went into accepted him with open arms. Lindy could have only given more ammunition to her online harassers. But like Paul tells us in the text from today, we are not proclaiming the Gospel without risk. We do not expect to be rewarded. We do not expect treasures or success. But instead, we humble ourselves to do our duty.

Hear this call to not only proclaim the Gospel, but for an extreme amount of empathy while doing so: “If I proclaim the gospel,” Paul writes, “this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel… What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel. For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.”

Arguing is not always without merit. Sometimes, it is good to have an argument. Sometimes, an argument is how we learn to grow. But learn this: the other person, on the other side of the issue, is a human just like you. Do not discount them without understanding their story. Do not dismiss them without trying to love them first. Do not walk away from someone without trying to understand him or her. When we empathize with someone, the only result will be to love her or him more.