The other day at our pastor’s meeting we were talking about communication and all the different ways we try to hold together and influence the world as a network of cells and congregations in Christ. We are pretty good at holding together and influencing the world, but it is difficult.
In the middle of an elaborate dialogue about how we can best communicate, we had a little “Pentecost.” It centered on Facebook. We started talking about what Facebook makes us do to talk to people: how it restricts us, how it commodifies us, and how it tries to use us to make money. We asked, “Why are we doing this? What monster are we paying to communicate? What rules are we learning for relating?”
Someone said, “Why don’t we just desert it and stop using the medium and focus on being the medium? We already have a great communication system. It is called living in community. Let’s focus on being the media, not on conforming to some other rubric. Let’s be face to face, not Facebook.” It was like a little fire burned through us. I heard Peter preaching “Be saved from this wicked and perverse generation!” in Acts 2. I have been building the Facebook pyramid for a long time. Increasingly, it tells me to produce bricks without straw. Why would I willingly do this with all the people I love best?
So I am going into the wilderness without Facebook all through the summer at least. Maybe I will be led to escape from all the other social media, as well. I won’t be instagrammed any more or pinned, tumbled or tweeted, perhaps. I started saying good bye to my 1600+ friends on Facebook the other day. I could tell that I might be doing the right thing because it was hard to disentangle myself from that “everyday affair.” For one thing, it is not like I don’t use Facebook for good things, influence people for good, represent Jesus there or keep up with all sorts of loved ones. But for another thing, in just one decade (surprisingly, the same decade in which Circle Thrift has been thriving) Facebook has conformed me to a brand new way to think of “friends,” to say happy birthday, to announce important things in my life and to present myself to the world. It has been fun and beneficial in some ways. But has it been right and are the results what I really want? I’m not so sure. The fact that it is hard to extract myself, makes me wonder. “Has the social media got so many of my friends locked in that I won’t even know anything about them unless Facebook mediates our communication?” That one question is enough to make me want to flee back to being a person again and not just an image or message mediated by a faceless machine. I think I want my face back.
Yesterday we celebrated how God honors us by including us in his spiritual reality and investing himself in ours. I am the vessel God chose to fill with his content. When the Holy Spirit came upon the gathered believers, God made his preferred media plain; it is people. God’s face can be seen in Jesus followers and in the acts of the body of Christ. Every time that reality gets undercut by locking it in a book, even the Good Book, especially Facebook, I think something goes missing. We lose the significance of God becoming incarnate in Jesus and undermine the reality that the Holy Spirit is continuing to incarnate Jesus in each and all of us.
So for the summer, for sure, I want to get rid of as much internet communication as seems reasonable and have a face-to-face season. The more I think about it, the more important it seems. I began wondering what “face-to-face” really meant, and I realized more about how conformed we have become to machines. If you are twenty, you’ve spent ten years with Facebook. Mark Zuckerburg may have influenced you more than Jesus when it comes to making relationships. The other day some therapists who were part of my research were lamenting that they often run into children texting their parents from their bedroom! One teen said, ”I don’t talk to my parents about my grades; they can check it all on line.” You probably have your own anecdotes, like all the times you want to say something to someone on the bus and you have to get them to stop looking at their screen or to take out their ear phones in order to do it.
We may not be able to change the way the world works. It often caves in on itself anyway, so we don’t always need to figure that out. But as far as we are concerned as the body of Christ gathered as Circle of Hope, we should perfect the amazing, human communication system we already have, not conform to the monsters that eat our time and don’t produce truth and love. I am talking about perfecting the face-to-face network we have in our cells and public meetings, and all the other ways we connect in our neighborhoods and teams. Why shouldn’t I rely on you to speak the truth in love? Why would I “go over your head,” so to speak, and rely on some faceless machine to broadcast what the Spirit is offering through me? Why would I reduce your importance to a “like” icon or a comment?
Why shouldn’t I be saved from this perverse generation?! So I am going off social media so I can be social media. I am not interesting in damning all use of whatever “social media” is, or in adjudicating what being off it might mean as if I were trying to create some postmodern holiness code. Not me! I just want to reinforce our own communication system rather than spending the hours doing all the work it takes to use the machines that try to get in the middle of it and wheedle their way into being indispensable until they can steer me where they want and steer my riches into their coffers. What do you think? (Don’t tell me on my wall).