Thursday, May 8, 2014

Why I left Facebook and went to the the Desert...

Social media for me is like the crisis that early Church Fathers faced when Rome embraced Christianity.  

I know, that doesn't make any sense.  So let me explain.  

For years, Christians were the persecuted by Rome.  Even if you take a liberal view of history, we can all agree that Christians at least weren't the most liked group in ancient Rome.  

And then, one day, everything changed.  Constantine became a Christian and Christianity was no longer marginalized, but celebrated and promoted from the emperor.  

A religion with limited resources now had infinite money at its disposal.  A religion that sat on the sidelines now had copious amounts of power.  And we all know where this is headed...right?  Power, corrupts.  

But there were genuine people still in the ranks.  These genuine Christ followers grappled with the question of how to remain a humble servant of Christ amidst the glorified institution that Christianity had become.  

There were two main schools of thought.  

One group said, "Let's try to make this work.  Let's be a light amidst the glory, power, and corruption. Let's serve our brothers and sisters in love and be a reminder of what the truth is in spite of the glitz."

The other group said, "It can't be redeemed, let's go to the desert.  Our fleeing will be a reminder that God looks down on this perversion of his following."

That's how I look at social media, especially Facebook.  As I watched for months, I tried to be in group A.  "I'll be different," I told myself.  "No passive-aggressive posts from me.  No quizzical status updates that coerce people into asking how I'm doing or what I'm talking about."  If I had a problem, I would either work it out through God, or if necessary talk directly to the person with whom I was in conflict.  

But as I watched, I just got sicker and sicker, angrier and angrier.  I tried to post things that brought light- inspiring quotes, thought provoking articles that I always provided caveats for, fun (because everyone needs more fun in their lives).  But watching everyone else, it was too exhausting to watch.  

It became a medium for people to be angry without having a conversation.  It became a place for people to lie about their lives, painting things as rosy in order to escape reality.  It became a place for people to slam others (in the most professional and sly sort of way).  

And then this picture.  Church Father, or Desert Monk?  Which one was I going to be?  Be a light in the midst of poor relational skills and defensiveness (which usually ends up being plain old sin), or let my absence be an indictment on Facebook?

Interestingly enough, both the Church Fathers and the Desert Monks at this time were largely influential.  I was surprised to learn that God effectively used both groups to accomplish His will.  Because he is a God of infinite resources, whatever conclusion these men and women took, stay or go, He used them.  

And so I could trust that he would use me as long as I walked humbly with Him.  And so I walked away.  I walked away from the desire to paint this great picture of my life to everyone else.  I walked away from the anger and frustration of others and myself.  I walked away from the fear that if I wasn't on Facebook, I'd lose important connections.  

But I learned something through the process.  I was a lot happier without Facebook.  I was excited to learn things from people when they shared news with me face to face rather than learning it outside of their presence.  I learned that I wasn't responsible to micromanage, stalk, or keep up with other people that weren't in my circle.  I'm beginning to let God bring people in and out of my life.  I'm detoxing from unhealthy social media use and unhealthy social media ways of relating.  

Strangely, Desert Monks went to the desert to be alone, but people followed them.  Some of them became frustrated because so many people wanting to learn the ways of Christ followed them into the desert.  I'm not saying that I am anyone to emulate (I'm good at some things but terrible at others), but I do trust that some people will follow me out of this strange world of social media and into deep face-to-face relationships.  

This leads me to one last thought.  I believe in my heart of hearts that technology will be with us forever.  I don't eschew it, and I want to stay ahead of the curve, mainly for ministry's sake.  I work with middle and high schoolers, and one of the deciding factors of why I could confidently leave Facebook is that teens don't use Facebook much at all anymore.  So, I didn't need it to work with my tribe.  Facebook has become a tribe of middle aged people who are desperately seeking connection.  That's not where God has intentionally called me.  And those who are middle aged who need connection, I'm looking to connect with face to face, not via social media.  

So, I'm not going to totally leave technology.  In fact, I think blogs have the potential to be an awesome redeeming space on the internet, and I hope that I can turn this blog into just that.  But, that's going to take some time, and some effort, and some relearning of how we do blogs.  But that is a post for a different day...