I’m guessing if you’re reading this, like me, you feel poisoned by the onslaught of post-election laments, rants, hate-slinging and terror posted on social media and broadcast on television news. Like me, you’re also probably somewhat addicted to reading, which in itself is a good habit, but in this technology age, social media is like bait, luring us like a giant worm on a fishing hook into an ocean sized library of opinions, blogs, 140 character soundbites and 21st Century laments. On occasion we discover an island sanctuary, where a poem or an Internet prophet calms our soul. Internet reading choices, like a thousands species of fish in the sea, satisfy erudition, bookish cravings. Entertainment television offers escape. Yet, soon enough we feel waterlogged. Our brains loaded with abundant blog fish and Twitter sushi, we promise we’ll fast more often.
I promised myself the other night when I felt envious when a friend told me she’s never on Facebook or social media, that I’d cut my social networking in half or more. I wasn’t coveting her lovely house by the beach. I envied her social media-free, low-sensate nerve endings that makes her calm in an otherworldly sort of way.
I thought of Jesus in midst of the despair of his day, when injustice reigned under the power of political forces and religious legalism, he roamed from town to town listening to laments of the poor, the broken, the neglected and the sick. Moving in step with the first century pace, he heard the cries of injustice face to face.
Jesus wasn’t inundated by onslaughts of rants, harrassment, terror, cries and outrage at Internet speeds that we download today into our minds and hearts. His culture didn’t have heart-bearing public media sessions like those launched on the Phil Donahue show in the 1970’s, evolving into broadcast therapy sessions on Oprah and Dr. Phil, digressing into platforms in the likes of the Howard Stern Show, and trash TV like the Jerry Springer show. Jesus would surely turn over tables knowing the Twitter hate and Internet bullying between Christians with different theological perspectives in the name of Christ. Although he knew religious hypocrisy well, and the problems of blending politics and religion, and although he knew white supremacists and skinhead types of his day, even dining with some of these folks, the difference is, in the first century Jesus faced them in real-time, not reel time, not fiber-optics time.
His technology free ministry gave him ample time to retreat to quiet places to pray, where, on a regular basis, he brought his cares to God. Of course we can do the same, but it’s harder for us when technology has become an extension of ourselves, when we’re temptated to grab our phones by our bedside for one last peak.
Last night before bed, I said, ‘just one last blog’. I read a post shared by a friend on Facebook written by a mother, a popular blogger I read on occasion. She wrote about the terror she felt after internet harassment and threats from those from the alt-right movement who harassed her family for having black children. She wrote, they “inundated all of my social media sites with racist memes, posting altered racist photos of my young children and suggesting violence towards me and sexual behavior in regards to my kids.” They even posted her address and photo of her house.
Her words struck my nerves light lightening. Already tired from a long day, I had no defenses. Sorrow filling my weary soul caused a restless sleep. I woke with despair. Sure, atrocities went on in Jesus’ days, but such news didn’t travel at light speed to a device in the hands of someone going to bed. We need to be careful of the post-traumatic stress from too much information and hate flooding into our minds from media. We need the spirit of self-control to limit our media usage. If our phones have become like extensions of our hands, then put them out of sight, or turn off the TV and take a week off from Facebook (deliver us from temptation oh Lord!)
Even more so in this precarious Information Age, we need ample time for abiding in God’s love, for hearing and knowing God’s will. Yet, this requires receptivity and a calm and humble spirit so we can hear God’s call in order to do our part in fulfilling the dire needs of the world. This requires the awareness that technology, with all it’s power, is not our god. It means chosing healthy online habits, and making prayer and time with God a priority.
My work requires a good deal of computer work, and keeping step with worldly affairs. But I know the dangers of being pulled into the media vortex. I’m doing a few things this week. I’m limiting media time other than work to 30 minutes a day to check news on one or two sites I trust, and to read a few blogs. Before bedtime, I’m leaving my phone downstairs, away from my bed. I’ve used my phone as a clock, so I’m replacing it with a clock. I’m trashing my Facebook phone app which vibrates when someone posts, making it more tempting to view the news threads many times a day.
By limiting our media use and spending more time in prayer and with God, we immerse ourselves in love, for God is love. In love, there is no fear, including no fear of the state of our world. Entering into the kingdom of love is where we build our faith, humility and hope. This is how we become lights on the hill.
Promise me, promise yourself, and I’m with you in this. Unplug often, take walks, close your door and pray, avoid the temptation to turn on your phone by the bedside and instead, seek God, seek God, seek God always. Make your life about listening for God’s still quiet voice that says, go this way. Soak yourself in the great ocean of love.
And remember, we’re needed. We’re so needed. Offline.
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