By Jennifer McNally
There has been a slight but noticeable exodus from my Facebook home page since last Wednesday, the first day of this 2011 Lenten season. “I’m giving up Facebook for Lent, see you after Easter!” is the common theme of the farewell posts. And I’ve heard it preached not just a few times: “We are too distracted” and “We don’t make time for God because we’re too busy with email and Facebook”. This type of observation and these gentle admonishments are met in the congregations in which I sit with knowing smiles and nods and always at least one, “A-men!”
But, I don’t know. I think God loves Facebook.
Giving up Facebook is not the message I hear, when I sit with my God in meditation each morning. In fact, when I sit in the morning, turned toward the rising sun, my palms lifted up, my heart open, my breathing deep and steady, the call I hear is, “Go to Facebook, my beloved child.”
I fully understand the intent behind the “We are too distracted” sermons and reflections. It’s true; there is no getting around it. Email and social media and cell phones and texting can pull us out of The Moment. Am I present with my son if I am sitting with him but also texting with a friend? Not entirely, no. On the other hand, when my son and I giggle like crazy over a joke we’ve just shared and we decide to text Daddy with the same joke, and then to also include aunties and uncles and a few friends in our texting, well, there is all kinds of being present and connected right there. We are drawing our circle wide, and then wider. We are building community.
In the last year or so, my home church added our presence to Facebook. Church members joined in rapid succession and as a result I also gained new personal Facebook friends. These Facebook connections have brought much to our growth as a community. There is something about knowing someone only through Sunday morning worship that can be quite distancing. The older woman over there, the one in the matching pantsuit, carefully pressed, with pearls around her neck? I say hello to her every week, but I know I don’t have much in common with her. In fact, I know this so well, that I don’t make the time to engage in more than superficial conversation with her. Until Facebook. Thanks to the magic of Facebook, I now know this woman and I both get stupidly excited on the nights Glee is on television. And we strike up a conversation about it one Sunday morning, which leads to coffee, which leads to the discovery that we also love the same books, and music, and guess what? A friendship is born. And the new mother over there? The one who always looks serene and put together? Thanks to Facebook, I know she was up all night with a sick baby, and I know I should offer to watch her daughter for an hour today so she can nap. Suddenly, I have made a small difference in someone’s life.
Isn’t that what God wants us to do, ultimately? To understand how our lives overlap. There isn’t much that can happen on Facebook that won’t be seen by the masses. Isn’t that what God wants us to know? That we truly are all connected to each other. Time with our God is important. Time alone and in silence to fill our hearts with all that is good. But we are called, ultimately, to connect with one another.
“I’m giving up Facebook for Lent” can read, in a manner, as “I’m giving up staying connected to your life in order to focus on mine”. What if, instead, my status read, “I am going to take more of an interest in each and every one of you for Lent”? What if I encourage a friend to post a photo of her child on Facebook so I can share the smiling face she sees every morning? What if I ask a neighbor to post vacation photos so I can ooo and ahhh, and celebrate with them their time of rest and relaxation? Your dog woke you up at 5:00 am? Share with me, so I can say, “Hope you get a nap today!” Your daffodils are blooming? If your Facebook status lets me know, I will reply with, “Three cheers for hope and new life!”
It can feel like God’s work to me, dancing around Facebook with greetings and notes for family and friends near and far. Taking an interest in their lives. Spreading love.
We are called to see God in each other. We are called to be Christ to one another. I hear that call as “Be there for each other”. Not just in times of trouble, not just in times of celebration, but every day. When you’re having a regular, standard, run-of-the-mill Tuesday morning, God is there in that, and I want to be there, too. So go ahead and post “Regular ol’ Tuesday” as your Facebook status. I may respond, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
I think God would “like” that.
Jennifer S. McNally is a student at United Theological Seminary in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.