I spent the last few weeks (mostly) detached from Facebook and Twitter. I’m not taking a moral stand here. I just needed a little time to hear my own mind. The snowballing outrage that plows through social media can’t be good for the imagination. Or the limbic system.
Last night, I came back. I was glad to witness the hijinks of the hive mind. And I missed the peephole into my friends’ and colleagues’ lives even if I don’t get to see them in the flesh very often. Not surprisingly, the outrage machine was still running at full tilt, this time over Pope Francis’ private meeting with Kim Davis—the Rowan County clerk who made herself famous by refusing to issue marriage licenses in protest over same-sex marriage—and over a picture that Cheryl Strayed posted of herself with Hillary Clinton saying “IStandWithPP”(as in Planned Parenthood) and using the hashtag #pinkout.
Poor Cheryl was not only called a baby-killer, but the Bernistas also came out in force, chastising her for supporting Hillary and accusing the former Secretary of State of all kinds of nefariousness. The hissy over the Pope’s meeting with Kim Davis was much bigger. My Facebook feed was filled with crestfallenness on one side and I-told-you-soishness on the other.
My first thought was “Cheryl Strayed is a grown woman and a fully enfranchised citizen of this country. She gets to stand with, take photographs with, support, celebrate, drink with, or vote for anyone she pleases. So back off.” But my feelings about the Pope and Kim Davis were more complex. I have to admit, I was disappointed. I have a well documented #popecrush. I enjoyed every second of his tour of the East Coast—riding around in a stylish black fiat, talking about economic and environmental justice, kissing babies and stopping the car to bless the suffering. For g-d’s sake, John Boehner resigned during Pope Francis’s visit. I didn’t want that magic nimbus to be punctured with an image of the people’s hero meeting and embracing that sadsack hater, Kim Davis.
But after I wrestled my limbic system out of the grips of outrage, I had to admit a few things. The first is this – Pope Francis has every bit as much agency as Cheryl does. In the same way that she gets to put her arm around whatever damned candidate she pleases, Francis also gets to give out his special pope rosaries to whomever he wants.
But it goes deeper than that, too. While he was here, Pope Francis also visited with prisoners in an overcrowded Philadelphia jail. In his address, he said: “I am here as a pastor, but above all as a brother, to share your situation and to make it my own.”
I know. It can hardly be argued that Kim Davis, though she did spend 5 days in jail for contempt of court, was swept up by the prison-industrial complex that incarcerates thousands of men of color and decimates communities. Like most of my friends in cyberspace and life, I’d rather see the Pope comforting those men than some backwater county clerk that refuses to issue marriage licenses to people who love each other. But poor ol’ Kim Davis must be suffering in her own way, too. This is not the world she signed up for. Last month, she turned 50 years old. How was she to know that the black and white world that she was born into where boys married girls and everything else was off-screen would go the way of the rabbit ears and in its place there would emerge a 3-D technicolor world where love means love and the greatest athlete on earth rocks a cocktail dress and boys paint their nails and girls go to Army Ranger school? Some people are slower to adapt than others. We know this.
I’m not suggesting that Kim Davis should not have to issue marriage licenses or that she shouldn’t be held in contempt or even that she shouldn’t have to withstand a little ridicule. But I am saying that she’s a sad, confused, failing human just like the rest of us. And just like the ones that Pope Francis has promised to minister to.
One of the things that moved me the most about the Pope’s visit was that he kept asking people to pray for him. That gesture was both humble (as John Boehner said: “Who am I to pray for the Pope?”) and entitled in the best sense of the word (It is our birthright to reach out to one another for love and succor.). As Pope Francis himself said: “To pray for a person with whom I am irritated is a beautiful step forward in love.” I guess I’ll do just that today. For Pope Francis and for Kim Davis.