Just keep Babel’ing on….

I recently read a short blurb on Twitter which mentioned how important it is for religious leaders to use social media because, if you’re not online, you don’t exist to anyone under thirty. This reminded me of a discussion I had with my friend Joey Reed concerning Facebook, Twitter, and various other social media and how people of faith use them.

First, I’d like to point out every bit of new communication technology has had its detractors. From the Guttenberg press granting the unclean masses the ability to learn above their station to television rotting the minds of our children, complaints have been loud and forceful. It’s the same way with social media and the Internet.

Interestingly enough, the complaints about modern communications echo those of the past. I’ve met a number of educators, teachers, and religious leaders who complain about the availability of information on the Internet. Many whom I’ve met have been annoyed that anyone (the unclean masses) is able to learn without the need of a traditional lecturer. Some, it would seem, are upset because it takes them out of a position of power. They are no longer the arbiters of knowledge able to hand it out as some special mystical gift to the “chosen ones.”

Others complain that social media is ruining the minds of our children. It keeps them online too much. They’re engaged with online activities to such a degree they’re not able to interact with “the real world.” It sounds exactly like the same thing my parents told me when I was a child. “Derek,” they would say, “you keep playing those video games and watching TV all the time your brain is going to fall out and you won’t know how to deal with other people.” My mom is gone now and the Technological Age has left my father behind. I love them both very much and they were right about a number of things but, on this, they were very wrong.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. Both of these areas do need direction and guidance. For example, we need to be effective guides who will show others how to find good sources in a world of free information. As web 1.0 came on the scene, I learned the hard way that there was a great deal of horrible information out and about. Much of it was deliberate misinformation because geeks and nerds such as myself love to mess with people’s heads.

In the areas of consuming media, we have to also teach people how to be discerning. This is one reason I’m studying signs and symbols. I’m a huge believer in grace and try my best to see God in what would be considered by some the darkest and dirtiest corners of what is often loosely referred to as entertainment. I do not recommend this for everyone. In fact, I don’t even recommend it to myself where everything is concerned. There are some things even I’m not ready to handle.

With this in mind, those of us who would be guides in the world around us must first learn that we are no longer the sole fonts of wisdom and knowledge. Next, we need to learn how to see God’s goodness everywhere. We are called to walk with others as we discover those symbols of God, which are often grossly distorted, and tease them out. Then we should also be willing to point out those things that aren’t so nice.

For example, I recently came across an article about the Israeli soldier who posted a picture of a child in the cross hairs of a sniper rifle. This is bad. Very bad. In fact, it’s ugly and horrible and made me, as a father of two, want to scream. This horror needs to be brought out into the open, named, and shamed.

So, where do I see God in this situation? Where can I find good in this even a bit? It took some time to find it but it happened. The good I found, first and foremost, was the number of outraged people who made an uproar about it. The fact human beings were disgusted about it showed me a God working in and through people who find this horrifying. I was also reminded of another Israeli guy who, in opposition to his culture, took up the cause of the weak and the outcast. He stood against the mistreatment of children even though others would later abuse them in His name.

In the end, social media is just another form of communication. If you are a Christian who doesn’t see a need for it, then I’d suggest you don’t like the idea of the Day of Pentecost as outlined in the Book of Acts. Many people see this story as one about “speaking in tongues” and all other kinds of crazy things but, at its heart, it’s a story about communication. The ability of a small group of people to communicate with a much larger one. On a theological level, it also is a promise that the whole Tower of Babel thing has come to an end.

From where I’m sitting, I can see the rise of the Internet as a new Day of Pentecost for many Christians. It will allow a few, small voices to be heard around the world and allow us to speak with people of all nations and tribes. It allows us to build new friendships and share our lives with one another. And, who knows, maybe we can even walk over the Interwebz together as we discover the grace of God in this strange, amazing, and changing landscape.

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