Saturday, January 20, 2018

Being a Christian on Social Media

I don't know about you, but lately I've been in an analog state of mind. As much as I love experimentation in digital and social media, I've also simply wanted to do more tactile and face-to-face things. I'd rather have coffee with you than browse Facebook (and often I'd rather read a book than read Facebook). I am trying to be present in the moment with family and friends and not distracted by devices. It's hard, and I often fail. But I want to do better.

Partially this is because I know much of new media is designed to keep us facing our screens. I don't want to be manipulated, but I know the psychological strategies of some of the larger media companies far outpace my own resistance.

Partially it's because I think I'm simply maxed out on media. I just can't keep up, there's only so much to which we can all attend, and at the end of the day, I wonder, do I want this day, this month, this year, to have been filled with scrolling through posts, or doing something else.  

A few years ago I wrote a book on faith formation in new media. Since then, I've continued to ponder how new media is forming our minds, our hearts, and our communities. I continue to believe, as I wrote there, that we are still very much learning the effects of new media on our brains, on our faith communities, on our hearts. Right now we are still observing the effects of the transition to a life where much of our shared life is mediated through digital media.

Given that reality, it is important for us to always keep in mind that what we are doing here in social media--on Facebook, or Instagram, or Snapchat, or even this e-mail--isn't about Christian ministry, as if we lived our faith in real life, and this were just commentary on faith. 

No, all our e-mails, all our posts, all our tweets, they are how we communicate faith, they are how we share human life with each other. They mediate the faith between us.

So, for example, although the Fayetteville Women's March that will take place tomorrow is a powerful analog moment of hundreds of humans present and marching together, the pages and posts from the leaders of the march (one of whom is GSLC's own Autumn Tolbert) are also part of that march. They aren't just about the march. They participate in the march and mediate it. They help us understand and celebrate it better.

Church can be mediated in such fashion also. You and I can post prayers and pray with others, by e-mail and in social media. We can use social media to share and encourage kindnesses. When we join groups, participate in chats, we engage spaces where we actively practice both articulating our faith, and find inspiring others who model faith for us.

You can read the bible, and even prepare for the Scripture lessons that we read each Sunday in worship. And unless you read books in theology and social ethics, you probably pick up a lot of your theological insights here.

As I've been preparing to preach Sunday, I came across a quote from a commentary on the gospel of Mark. I noticed it because a friend and colleague who pastors in California posted it on Facebook. This is how new media works, we influence each other (as we always have) but at greater distances and in new ways. 

Here's the quote:

"To become 'fishers of men,' despite the grand old tradition of missionary interpretation, does not refer to the 'saving of souls,' as if Jesus were conferring upon these men instant evangelist status. Rather, the image is carefully chosen from Jeremiah 16:16, where it is used as a symbol of Yahweh's censure of Israel. Elsewhere the 'hooking of fish' is a euphemism for judgment upon the rich (Amos 4:2) and powerful (Ezekiel 29:4). Taking this mandate for his own, Jesus is inviting common folk to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege." - Ched Myers, "Binding the Strong Man"
I think being a Christian on social media likely means this also, joining Jesus in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege. Social media can do a lot of different things, and amplify such a voice for such a mission is one of them. 

Blessings in Christ to each of you this weekend, and I hope to see you in that most analog of spaces this Sunday. The sanctuary.

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