At last weekend’s Eighth Day Symposium in Wichita, Ken Myers‘ second plenary address was nominally about “Social Media and the Commodification of Friendship.”
I find that at my fairly advanced age, and perhaps with a little tone-deafness to social cues, I’ve seemingly avoided the worst crippling effects of media that Ken described, which presumably makes me a social media misfit where social media brings
a thousand bits of banal but cheerfully good news. Speed, radical transparency, confessionalism, exhibitionism, prideful consumerism and, above all, a relentless positivity — these are the values and practices of today’s social media. They are enforced by tribalist pressures — that is, the need to fit in, the example set by friends and the famous — as much as by the programmers and moderators who manage these networks.
It’s more like me to be the Debbie Downer of my Facebook timeline, and I don’t, unlike the average person, spend more time on social media than anything else online. Nowhere close.
So I, and much of the audience there, were thinking more about our children or grandchildren than about ourselves — though I’m not exempting myself.
Discernment is key … Navigating cultural life generally is a matter of wisdom, not of law.
In some circles that I speak to, it’s impossible to have a conversation about the use of media or technology because people are afraid of being “legalistic.” Because there’s no Bible verse that says something about Facebook or smartphones, people say that they should be free to do what they want to.
I think the fear of legalism is itself a form of legalism. It’s to assume that law is the only relevant category guiding our lives. That places much more emphasis on law than the Bible does. In I Corinthians 10, for instance, St. Paul is quite clear in saying some things are lawful, but it doesn’t mean that they’re helpful or will build us up. So that the lawfulness of something is not a sufficient excuse or rationale for endorsing it.
Wisdom is the Biblical framework for making decisions about how we might navigate and live well. Wisdom transcends the stark categories of lawful and unlawful. Many things that are lawful are still foolish, and unfortunately the fear of legalism often cuts off the conversation about wisdom and folly.
This is, in a way, “deja vu all over again.” In my Evangelical childhood and adolescence, we had a lot of extrabiblical rules. I won’t digress into listing them or critiquing whether those who made the rules had come anywhere close to prohibiting those things that most risked spiritual harm to us. At the time, I thought not, and I was in the “there’s no Bible verse that says that” camp much of the time.
The adult response vacillated between putting scripture on the rack and torturing it to make it say “that,” on the one hand, and frank confession that they, our elders, were forbidding things they thought “inexpedient” (to use the King James term for St. Paul’s discouragement of dumb lawful stuff) on the other hand.
I now think that they were trying to do a good thing, however clumsily and unpersuasively they did it, and however undiscerning they may have been in identifying salient threats. It’s more obvious now than then, but the recent observation of Kenda Creasy Dean (author of Almost Christian) in her interview by Ken Myers was probably true even then:
One of the things that’s really tricky to convey to parents is that if you’re trying to form your kids to be Christians, it’s not going to fit them very well for American culture. It’s a lot easier to raise kids who are Christianish — who are capable of affirming a few central beliefs but who have little of consequence in their lives that’ shaped decisively by that belief.
Form Christians anyway. This anti-culture, such as it is hasn’t got very long before big changes come anyway.
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We develop heart and mind in parallel, that the mind will protect us from the wolfs, and the heart will keep us from becoming wolves ourselves. (Attributed to Serbian Patriarch Pavle)
Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.
Where I glean stuff.