PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — Rules Of Engagement

As a blogger and Facebook presence, I use my forum to give my opinions but have always steered away from engaging in debate with others online, especially people I don’t know … until now.

Perhaps it is because my posts and blogs are shared a lot and I get tagged in them, but in the past week, I have been trolled by more than a few people, spouting inaccuracies, and I am no longer holding my powder.

Not because it is me they are attacking. I’m an old hand at being attacked. But because they are defending a policy that I believe is morally bereft and indefensible.

I want to actively engage with people who are supporting what I believe is an evil policy of our U.S. government, challenging false statements and forcing them to think about the morality of what they are supporting. But I want to do so in a way that honors my values.

After talking to a few people about it, I thought it might be helpful to share my rules of engagement.

1. If possible, have face-to-face or one-on-one discussions with people you know. It promotes relationship and is the best way to change hearts and minds. But it is OK to confront hatred, ignorance or meanness. Sometimes we can’t leave it unchallenged or unchecked.

2. Treat others the way you want to be treated, whether in the cyber world or the real world. The view from the high road is always better.

3. Facts matter. Be relentless in relying on them, share them freely and if you make a mistake, acknowledge it and correct it. I posted an inaccurate picture, was called out on it, apologized and corrected it. And then posted accurate photos. It reminded me to check and double-check because inaccurate information provides fodder to deny accurate information.

But remember, just because someone says something often enough doesn’t make it so. Lies are lies.

And we cannot “agree to disagree” when what the other person believes is wrong. (I, for example, will not agree to disagree that the world is flat or that this current crisis can only be solved by Congress. The administration can do it with a phone call and refuses.)

4. If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” I serve a Lord who is merciful, compassionate and always sides with the oppressed. I don’t assume everyone shares my faith, but I will boldly proclaim that I make my choices guided by my understanding of God and am not afraid of confronting those who claim the name of Christ with the words, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me and whatever you do not do to the least of these you do not do to me.” There are some things worth fighting for, and this is one of them in which Jesus picked a side. If that makes others squirm, so be it. I stand with Jesus.

4 Jesus was a criminal. So was the Apostle Paul. Committing a crime is not an excuse for cruelty. “Remember those who are in prison as though you were in prison in with them; those who are tortured as though you are being tortured.” — Hebrews13: 3

5. Ask questions and tell stories. It promotes dialogue. Share why you feel this is wrong and tell your own story. I go to refugee camps. I’ve seen and heard firsthand what people experience. Tell your story and why you care. Don’t let people reduce you to a trope or caricature.

6. Kindness is a virtue. Selfishness is not.

7. Silence is complicity.

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Paula Mehmel

Paula V. Mehmel describes herself as “a radical, evangelical, Lutheran mystic.” After 24 years serving as a pastor in North Dakota, she recently moved to New England, where she serves as senior pastor of Emanuel Lutheran Church in Hartford, Conn. A Minnesota native, she holds an undergraduate degree in English and German from Washington University in St. Louis and her Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry in Preaching from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. “Pastor Paula,” as she is widely known, is a popular speaker, writer and proud single mother of two sons who both attend Harvard University. With a passion for serving the last, the lost and the least, Mehmel is a committed community member with a special interest in homelessness, refugee resettlement and addressing issues of sexual violence. She also created a no-cut community theater in Casselton, N.D., to assure herself a small role in the ensemble each summer, fulfilling her desire to sing and dance on stage. One of the many reasons she is thrilled with her recent move is that she is two hours from New York City, where she goes to as many shows on Broadway as possible. Thus far, though, no opportunities to perform. She relishes the opportunity to share her thoughts on anything from social justice to theology to random musings about her latest travel adventures.

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