Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why I Believe In Social

This post originally appeared on The Bluevine Collective on September 21, 2010.

Whenever someone asks me why I love Twitter, I’m initially at a loss of words (because I don’t know where to start!). But then I quickly recover, and my face lights up.

I love Twitter - among other social networks - because of what it represents. A friend described me, saying, “You like to network, but you go beyond that. You take joy in bringing people together.”

I see social media as one way to do that.

So many recent tech and business articles start out along the same lines: “Social media has drastically changed our culture...blah blah blah.” And that’s true. But I believe the social networks are uniquely placed to develop our spiritual growth. Because I believe - as Marshall McLuhan did - that the medium is the message. What if church was the blog - was the conversation - was the photo gallery - was the podcast?

Pastor Bruce Reyes-Chow is a great example. He’s a technophile, a prolific blogger. In fact, he believes in blogging as a spiritual practice. How ‘bout that? There are so many hands and feet of the church who are using the networks as additional limbs to reach others.

It breaks all boundaries. Social is open. A tweet has the power to spread like fire. A Facebook petition can mobilize and influence key legislation. Just like Gutenberg’s Bible made the Gospel available to peasants - just like the move away from all-Latin Catholic masses - just like Jesus made us a shortcut to get to God - social media gets to the heart of accessibility.

It builds relationships. I’ve formed new (in-person) relationships with folks I wouldn’t have otherwise known. God wants us to be in relationship with one another. Social media serves as an extension of - but certainly not replacement for - those relationships. A recent article from Inside Facebook describes how several different religious communities have developed an online presence that seeks to engage its members where there are most -- online.

It moves us towards authenticity. In the “old days” the Internet used to be a great place to hide out; anonymous identities could reign supreme. Defamation and libel tore across the Interwebs. And while some of that may still occur, online presence is becoming increasingly normalized. There is an expectation towards openness, honesty. If you make an error, you can quickly retract it (most of the time...). Privacy settings are great, but creating many accounts across the web, means authenticity is expected. Disqus is a fantastic example of this. It’s a commenting system that tracks your comments across the web. Friends and family often ask me how to “control” Facebook and limit what certain groups of friends can see. But doesn’t that sort of lose the whole point of social media? Doesn’t Jesus call us to live an authentic life? It’s hard to do that when you’re packing up certain parts of life for only certain people to see. We all need accountability and social media moves us, symbolically, towards that.

It is encouraging. My church’s current series is called “From Garden To City” which is a year-long bible reading plan. and it comes complete with a website that posts the daily reading, and often a blog post from a church leader reflecting on the passage. It’s amazing to wake up in the morning, do my reading, then hop and Twitter and see Pastor Joel tweeting his favorite passage, or my friend JT explaining what he learned from a verse in a Facebook note. Suddenly, the act of reading a bible has become 3-D and interactive. The daily discipline of cracking open the Word is no longer a solitary, linear activity.

All this said, I don’t want to claim that social media should in any way replace traditional forms of worship, or that social media doesn’t have its pitfalls -- it does. Social media can make us proud. It’s turned some everyday folks into Internet celebrities. Some people focus on how many “followers” or “fans” they can achieve. The constant stream of knowledge can be over-stimulating, when what we really need is some peace and quiet.

So balance is key. Like the famous Spiderman quote: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Some may think it a stretch, but I believe social media can bring me closer to others and even closer to God.


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