what you mean to say…

**THERE HAS BEEN AN UPDATE TO THIS POST AS OF 6/1/2012 See Below***

I don’t follow Rick Warren. Frankly I don’t know much about him apart from the fact that he is a pastor of a really large church and has written a number of books that Christians seem to like an awful lot. I don’t know anything about his character or his sense of humor although he appears to be someone who offers spiritual direction, a man who is taken seriously in the Christian world.

A tweet he posted came through my feed over the weekend. It came through my feed because several people I do follow, some of whom I know live and in person, follow Rick Warren. The tweet was this:

“If they’re cute, it’s flirting. If they’re ugly, it’s harassment.”

No context, no explanation. At first, my Twitter friends and I thought he’d been “hacked” since the posting previous was hours before and the posting after offered no context for it. Perhaps it was a “one-off” tweet, a passing thought, a drunk tweet. It’s hard to say. Lord knows I post things all the time that cross the border from sensible and head straight into the stupidity time zone. The statement gnawed at me as it did several others I know. It was a knee jerk response on my part, I admit and so I puzzled about it. “I wonder what he meant.”

I checked his Facebook page and found the ensuing discussion about the tweet. I was not the only one who wondered why he would post something like this. The troubling thing, though, was the number of people who found it funny, the number of “likes” on the page, the number of people who jumped in with a LOL and “that’s funny because it’s true!” comment.

It isn’t funny and it isn’t true.

What is true is that harassment is not trivial. What is true is that our culture already subscribes to statements like this pack of steaming bullshit. Women in particular suffer this sort of judgement day after day.  What is true is that many many people make statements like this every day and it only perpetuates the bullshit. Our task is not to just laugh it off but to look a little deeper at it and to ask more questions about those statements.

The second bit of what gnawed at me this weekend is this- my reaction comes not because “someone” said this but rather because someone who is known as a spiritual director has said it. If one of my friends had made this statement I would have called them out on it. I would have required them to give me some context on it and I hope they would do so. Sure, we all say bonehead things but I hope we have enough friends who will metaphorically slap us silly when we do. We ought to articulate these things even if we’re “kidding around.” The things we joke about are not toss off, they are not unimportant. We make jokes about them because we DO find them important even if we also find them ridiculous. They hit us where we live, either as outrage or as humorous because we care about the implications of that joke.

Rick Warren has posted and tweeted since this one and has made no commentary on it. He has given no explanation of it. If you look at the discussion on his Facebook fan page you’ll find a number of people explaining “what he meant.” They have given it context that was not written by Rick Warren directly but by the image they have in their head of who they expect him to be. People who are “giving grace” and lending context don’t help the discussion. “What he meant was” means nothing if it’s not coming from the man himself in my opinion. He’s able to respond. He simply seems unwilling to explain it.

In any case, perhaps we all ought to be working harder on saying what we mean to say. It may help dispel the mythology we build into our day-to-day interactions around who are and how we are with one another.

************UPDATE**************

Four days after I published this post and after several other bloggers posted pieces about it, after many many people retweeted the offending remark and even more people either commented on Rick Warren’s Facebook page to ask about it or @replied him on the subject, Mr Warren made a post on Facebook which read:

I clearly was hacked. Anyone who thinks I’d say this doesnt know me at all. In fact I never saw this until a couple of hours ago when some alerted me to it on Twitter and I instantly removed it there. I don’t pay much attention to this particular Facebook page because it is a public account. Who knows where else the doofus posted this? As a pastor who has to constantly deal with the emotional damage from sex trafficking, abortion, abuse, slavery, pornography, gendercide, sex addictions and every other violation of God’s law that demeans and destroys, I never joke about sin.

Just before he posted this he also made another remark on Twitter and Facebook to this effect:

Now, I as I said, I do not generally follow Mr Warren. I have not read his books. Perhaps this is in fact his attempt at humor. My response to this tweet/update is that if a friend told me this over drinks in a bar I would let it slide with little more than a head shake and “that’s not actually funny.” I’m a child of divorce. I take the subject seriously. I don’t think it’s a matter of joking. My point, as it was above, is that I don’t feel Rick Warren has the luxury of making jokes such as this interspersed with little wisdom gems from his books and scripture quotes. It’s a harsh judgement on my part, yes. Still, I believe it to be true.

It’s entirely possible that he will say this was a hacked tweet as well in the next four days. I have no idea. What I do know is that the whole thing feels a bit fishy to me.

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