In Search of More Acts 10 Moments [Excerpt]

It is sobering to think about how much violence and oppression can be boiled down to hatred of people who are “of the wrong group,” judging their personhood and worth with “face value” criteria. We can at least start to make sense of it—though not excuse it—when someone seeks revenge for harm done to their family, livelihood, etc. “An eye for an eye,” though rejected by Jesus, is at least based on empirical action; a wrong committed. But a far more disturbing human tendency is the way we hate based on an abstract narrative of supremacy. In this space, a person is not guilty because of something they did but because of who they are.

In Acts 10, when Peter was first confronted by a world with less boundaries, he first responded, “Surely not, Lord” (Acts 10:14). I fear we still often do the same. But we need more Acts 10 moments—those times when we remember that “the Lord does not look at the things humans look it” (1 Samuel 16:7). Those times when we work, play, and make policy from the standpoint of our shared humanity and Creator. Land borders are man-made. Flags and national anthems are man-made. Ethnic group check-boxes are man-made. But all humans are God-made. What might the world look like if we lived and governed from this truth?

[Read the full article on the Baptist News Global blog]


Social Media for Lent: My Reflections

Yep, I gave up social media for Lent.

It is, in my mind, one of the more potent things I could give up based on the criteria I mention in my previous post about Ash Wednesday and Lent: If we give up something for Lent, it should be something that is at least somewhat difficult to give up and that takes up a significant portion of our time so that one can conceivably replace that thing with an activity for growing closer to God. After thinking about it a while, I decided to do it this year, especially after my wife said, in front of a group of people, "I don't think you can do it."

So I did. During Lent, one person said to me, "Your presence on Facebook has been missed," which was one person more than I was expecting to say such a thing. I use Facebook primarily for rabble-rousing, so I'm pretty sure most people felt no gaping hole in their life during my absence.

In its place, I spent time each day with a C.S. Lewis devotional that has short, daily readings from some of his writings. As you may know, Lewis is both spiritually deep and intellectually stimulating, so I found this to be a great way to connect with God (and myself) during this time. In fact, the very first reading at the beginning of Lent was a brilliant passage from The Problem of Pain about the personas we maintain:
"We have never told the whole truth. We may confess ugly facts...but the tone is false. The very act of confessing--an infinitesimally hypocritical glance--a dash of humor--all this contrives to disassociate the facts from your very self...We imply, and often believe, that habitual vices are exceptional single acts, and make the opposite mistake about our virtues..."
What it included
During Lent this year, I stayed away from Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, or Google Plus (the five I mainly use).

I made some exceptions; some I can explain and some I can't. This hiatus from social networks did not include YouTube, and that is simply because it didn't occur to me until about halfway through Lent. Oops. (But see, if not for YouTube, we would all miss out on important, educational videos like this one). I still answered Facebook messages, because this is how some church members primarily get in touch with me, and it is a separate phone app that is no different than texting. I still posted announcements to social media on behalf of my church, which I do through a third-party app. And, embarrassingly, my "fast" did not include my one Facebook game indulgence: Angry Birds. If you say I should have given that up as well, I won't argue with you, but again, it can played separately from the Facebook interface.

Essentially, it was a "fast" from news feeds and posting, a commitment I kept.

Reflections on the Experience
Taking this break provided some unexpected insights on Lent, devotion, and this thing we call "social media."

Social media is all around us and hard to get away from. It is life now. Social media is how we connect in meaningful ways. It's how we communicate. It's how grandparents see their grandchildren. It's how we create accounts on other websites and services (making it very impractical to delete one's account). It's also how we get information on each other. I can't tell you how many times during Lent someone would say, "Did you see what's going on with so-and-so?" Not having been on Facebook, I did not know. Facebook is increasingly the way in which people share information. I felt out of the loop, and not just in that way. Since I follow many news sources on Twitter, I also felt that I didn't know what was going on the world. I missed the large technology-minded community on Google Plus that I often interact with. Social media is here to stay, and it's certainly something to give up temporarily and not permanently. My guess is that, if anything, taking some time away might have given me the needed break to be able to approach it with more objectivity.

I gained new insight on how quickly religious commitments can become legalistic. There were certain things related to social media that I could have easily done without breaking any commitments, but it would have appeared to others that I wasn't keeping my Lent commitment so I didn't do it. How quickly we regress into legalism or keeping up appearances! "Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition" (Matthew 15:6). Let me explain. I am an avid online reader and use apps like Feedly and Google Newsstand to curate all the blogs and sites I follow. As I read, I will often share a quote or the whole article on Twitter, which can be done with the push of a button from within the reading app without ever actually visiting my Twitter news feed. I also do this with highlighted quotes from Kindle books. I kept wanting to share stuff but never did because it would have appeared (to the zero people who cared) that I wasn't keeping my Lent commitment. There would have been no harm in quickly sharing things I was reading and it would have only been edifying for other people. But, I suppose, it taught me to read things more for what I'm getting out of them personally rather than what I want to put out there for others. I also noticed that it's not just social media that takes up time, head space, etc. that can be used for valuable spiritual reflection. There are plenty of such things in our lives. Rigidly defined commitments can have the unintended consequence of making us stick to parameters instead of following "the spirit of the law" and ridding ourselves of anything and everything that causes us to be unhealthy people. "If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away." (Matthew 5:30)

I did not miss Facebook. I'm not ready to close my account or anything, but I didn't really miss it. Facebook is really a different animal than the other social networks, and stepping back from it during Lent made me realize this. I missed Twitter and Google Plus. I did not miss Facebook. In my experience, Twitter and Google Plus have been great ways to get information and stay connected to my interests. But Facebook is a big, awkward party of my friends, family, co-workers, parishioners and acquaintances that largely does not edify my life in the way other social networks do. Facebook is making us all stupid. It is a cacophony of attention-begging, passive-aggressive behavior, daily diary entries, inside jokes that only make sense to about 3 people, and of course, the big one: gullibility. I really didn't miss that...having to see these bogus stories and memes people post that put their gullibility on full display. I don't know what it is about the internet that makes people believe everything they read. Maybe because a trusted friend posted it? Whatever it is, it seems that whenever we log on, our brains log off.

Now, I'm sure some people will lump me into the noise I just mentioned. Because I'm one of those people on Facebook who debates religion and politics. The two forbidden dinner conversations. You can find memes about people like me, making fun of us for such an allegedly pointless endeavor. That's OK. I get it. But I would simply ask you to consider that of all the things people could talk about, it's religion and politics that affect the most people in the most real ways. It's politics that determine what taxes you pay and whether you'll have money to live on after retirement. It's religion that people turn to when tragedy hits their life. It's politics that determines what you pay for health insurance and whether you will keep it when you get sick. It's religion AND politics that send your son or daughter off to war. This is why some of us feel they are conversations worth having, even if we're not always polite when doing so. But I'm not going to fault you for thinking I should get a grip, and I live under no illusion that such activity on Facebook has any real impact (though I could give a few examples that suggest otherwise).

But I digress. I guess I didn't become any less outspoken during Lent. At any rate, I'm glad I took my 40-day break from social media. It allowed me to reconnect with some important things, and that's what it's for. Whether it's the season of Lent or not, I invite you to consider how you may best disconnect...in order to reconnect.