Magazine article The Christian Century

Facebook Tsunami

Magazine article The Christian Century

Facebook Tsunami

Article excerpt

I THINK OF social media as a tsunami. And I'm a guy in a beach chair writing postcards.

For many years I've used the web pages of the churches and seminaries I served to communicate our ministry. I text often and have three different integrated e-mail accounts. I own a desktop, laptop, iPad and iPhone that are connected through a mysterious cloud--as if that doesn't beg for a sermon. But I could never bring myself to join Facebook.

For a while I used all of the typical excuses: "I'm too busy to monitor another stream of communications." "After Facebook I'd have to sign on to Twitter, LinkedIn and whatever is inevitably next." "Would Jesus have a Facebook page?" But I've always known these are just worn-out cliches.

I don't really know why I've dug in my heels. But when a tsunami hits it doesn't really matter what you do with your heels.

Facebook has over a billion active users, and over half of them use the site every day. Twitter offers "up-to-the-second information" in almost every country in the world. LinkedIn has 2 million professional profiles in South Africa alone.

The significance of these statistics is that social media is changing the way we tell our stories and strategize "personal development." Our identity is increasingly less determined by the mothers who watched us play games in the street in front of our homes, or by those who live and work beside us and roll their eyes when we do that "so like you" thing. The church's claim that all identity questions are all resolved on the day we're baptized is an increasingly hard sell. Now we are who we're perceived to be online, which means that human identity has become a virtual reality. This has to be dangerous to the soul.

More than one social commentator has warned that if you don't manage your profile through social media, someone else will do it for you. I recently had an experience that proved that point.

When I was elected to be the president of the seminary I just began serving, the congregation that I was leaving knew nothing about the confidential process. Hoping that the seminary trustees would vote for my nomination, I wrote tender letters that would announce this excruciatingly difficult decision to the members of the church. The first-class letters were stacked in long trays on a shelf in the office of my assistant, who was waiting for my call before mailing them. …

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