Monday, March 16, 2015

The Care and Feeding of Trolls

Bewaretroll
You have trolls in your life, don't you?   Me, too.

Happily they don't gather in my own congregation, and I tend to stay away from places (real life or internet based) where they do.  But should I?

That's the question of the day. 

Melissa pointed out that the problem with the trolls is first that they are misguided on what are issues of opinion/conscience and what are issues of righteousness, and second that they are UGLY to those they come in contact with.  I hate confrontation; I dislike criticism. And drama?  Let's not even go there.  So my strategy so far has been isolate and ignore.  First, isolate my own children as well as the seekers or young/immature Christians in my life from the trolls, and then if possible isolate myself because they scare me and make me angry!  Second once they're isolated, I've basically ignored them, letting them go on their trolly way.  They don't mess with me; I don't mess with them.


When I wrote the parable I couldn't send Jesus through the streets ignoring them.  I needed to tell the story in such a way that some of the trolls saw Jesus and were transformed.  Because I believe in the power of Jesus, his story, his sacrifice, his Spirit, his love and his blood to transform the ugliest person into a creature remade in his image.  Even the trolls.

Thus I humbly offer some suggestions for myself (and you too) on how to step up and show Jesus to the trolls in our lives.

  • Fear God.  "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).  Melissa and I both experienced a lot of fear and worry about these posts. In fact the story was told in parable form because the thought of calling out trolls without the buffer of a story was too anxiety provoking. We tend as a blog to stick to the positive and leave controversial topics for other folks.  We're nerds, moms, bible students and encouragers.  But the courage we need to face the trolls (and any other enemy!) comes from confidence that we need only fear God.  If he is pleased with our actions and our hearts, then we need have no fear of those who bluster, argue and threaten any more than we need fear those who attack with literal swords.

  • Be at peace. Along with not fearing the trolls, we also need to be careful that as we respond to them, we don't get caught up in troll-ish ways. God calls us to be at peace with others, be peacemakers and to give room for His wrath rather than take vengeance for ourselves (Romans 10:14-21 and Matthew 5:9).  Yet when the trolls question my motives (Well, if you think that, you don't really care what God has to say/don't love God/don't respect him), I am instantly infuriated.  I try not to respond harshly, but it takes a great deal of discipline. I want to encourage you and myself to pray earnestly for a gentle and quiet spirit, for bold and honest words that clarify rather than confound, and for the fruit of the spirit - especially love, peace, joy and patience to be evident in these conversations. 

  • Confront your troll.  If you have a personal relationship with a troll, they need to be confronted about their sin (Matthew 15:18, Luke 17:3-4). Paul encouraged church leaders to reject those who are divisive after a second warning (Titus 3:9-11).  These confrontations are in fact a kindness, because I am firmly convinced that I have never known a troll who realized that they were wrong in their attitude and approach.  I understand that confronting a troll is terrifying, but you are following Jesus when you do.

  • Follow Jesus.  A careful reading of Matthew 23 shows Jesus' confrontation with the trolls in his life - the Pharisees.  They, like our modern trolls, were preventing people from entering the kingdom, neglecting mercy and justice to focus on minor details, and displaying an external righteousness that clearly did not match the death inside of them  (Matthew 23:13,23,27).  His words are bold and he strongly condemns them, yet at the end rather than hatred, Jesus shows his care, longing to gather them up under his wings (Matthew 23:37).

  • Confess.  Surely we have all mistaken our opinion for the truth of scripture?  Or by some harsh word discouraged someone who was seeking Christ (even unintentionally)? Perhaps reacted too strongly to a misguided young Christian who was asking an honest question and deserved a citizen soldier to warn them kindly?  Anything in us that leans away from love and towards a law we created, away from unity towards a division of our own making, away from deep study of the word of God towards an understanding we've always been comfortable with, needs to be confessed to God today.  And with that confession should come sympathy for the trolls.
Sympathy? Yes, I urge you to have compassion on your trolls.  Feel sorry for them.  They are missing out on the whole counsel of God as they focus on some minor issue of opinion.  They are isolating themselves from other Christians.  Wonderful things like grace, mercy, joy and hope are falling by the wayside for them.  Be as gentle and as kind to your trolls as you would any other sister or brother who was caught up in sin. 

Am I wrong to isolate the young and weak in our church family from the trolls?  No. I don't think so.  But I have been wrong in two areas.  One, I have been inappropriately afraid of them.  Two, I have not had the compassion on them I should have.  The compassion I need is one that doesn't let them go on trollishly hurting those who pass by but that lovingly rebukes them for their sin.  It's going to be tough for me; it's far easier to ignore them, but as one who loves Jesus, I have to try.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not headed into the depths of the internet to brave the troll in its den, but the next time I'm in a conversation with a cudgel-brandishing wart-encrusted sister, I am going to let her know that I love her and her attitude is sin.

Helene

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