Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Social Media For Good: An Idea

At 18 I had a revolutionary moment that changed my outlook on my life forever. And it's still changing it, one little piece at a time.

 I think my generation rode the initial "fame" wave, you know, where every kid wants to be famous and that's their highest aspiration in life. I wanted to be famous. (I still kind of do, but reality regularly brings me back down to size.) I especially wanted to be a famous author, the kind where everyone raves about his or her work and gobbles up each book. I wanted to have my book on front-and-center display at bookstores with a cool-looking cover that cried out to passers-by, "Read me!!!"

When I applied and got into Moody Bible Institute (for those who don't know, Moody's sole aim is to prepare students to enter full-time ministry upon graduation), I was about 50 percent sure I wanted to do ministry. I thought it sounded like a great and worthy idea, but I also knew my chances of scoring a ministry job weren't that high, and I was fine with that. I would do anything, work at a newspaper or magazine, and then get my big-author break.

One night I was sitting in my dorm room, mulling over my fame-dom aspirations when a thought slowly struck me. It started out with the concept of death, every person dies someday and usually when they die they're forgotten, except for what they leave behind. If I was just going to be fame-greedy, my life wouldn't amount to much once I was gone. Besides, if the earth was going to be destroyed by fire in the end, anything I did leave behind would eventually get burned.

I sort of had a mini-panic attack in that moment, feeling like no matter what I did, at some point it would become worthless. The fame would get me nowhere, and worse still, it wouldn't get anyone else anywhere either. In that moment I decided one thing: the only real good I could do with my life would be to in some small way, bring good to others and to hopefully help bring them to Christ. People, after all, are the only thing that's eternal upon this earth. How, when, where, this good would happen, those were all variables. But the end goal, that I knew. And from there my 50 percent desire for ministry turned into 100 percent and I was sold.
-   -   -   -   -

I share this story to give some background into why I'm advocating for this concept of social media for good. It all goes back to the idea that at the bottom line, our actions/lives/achievements are nothing if they do not bring good to others. I love using social media, but it can end up being the biggest waste of space, time, life and emotions. And that's on a good day. Sadly, social media is often used for anything but good (think cyber-bullying for starters).

History has taught us that the only way real change can happen is if people live out the change they want to see, to do it, embrace it, become it. That's the only way to turn social media into a worthwhile use of time, to redeem it into something for good. I'll be the first to say I don't want to hear about my little brother or the high schoolers I work with or my possible future kids being bullied on Facebook. I don't want to see another picture of a student who was tormented into suicide. And I don't want to go through the day posting things that are worthless, obnoxious, false or demeaning to anyone.

And that, friends, is why I'm choosing to do social media for good. It's a conscious effort to use social media platforms to bring good to others. Again, how, when, where, those are all variables, and really they don't matter. What matters is posting content, comments, messages (etc.) that uplift, encourage, (kindly) challenge and spread positive messages to your audience. The great thing we all know about social media is that content spreads. Something you post will inevitably get picked up and re-posted by someone else, who is now sharing it with all their friends. Imagine overtaking social media with all things good and turning it into a place where people actually feel good about themselves.

As a caveat, this is not to encourage people to ignore real-world problems and issues and act like everything's a cake walk. I think it's important to read/watch the news and talk about what's going on in the world. My goal in this is to help create a community where people don't feel run-down every time they log onto their account, and to create a community of positivity, truth and kindness.

Will this take over the social media sphere? Probably not. There's so much working against the idea of real good that sometimes we forget it exists. But that doesn't matter. I'm not hoping for world domination or a slow takeover. I'm just hoping to reach a few friends and maybe through that, they'll reach a few friends. I'm hoping to lift up a few people and help remind them, even on something like Facebook, that they are important and loved. I'm just hoping to do some good.

If you want to join me in doing social media for good, that is awesome! It doesn't require any steps to be part of the club. :) I would love to hear your thoughts on this idea and if you're joining in. Please post a comment (here, on Facebook, wherever) or message me. And if you feel like sharing this post, together we can get the message out.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Accountability, Trees, and Hope for Messed Up People

After I wrote my last post I've been thinking a lot about dynamics within the Christian circle, both judgement and accountability with love. I think most days we scrap the love portion and choose to either overlook the problems of others in an effort to be accepting, or in favor of judgement as all we can see are the mistakes of others.

I'm not a fan of judgement, but at the same time, I question what kind of community would Christianity be without accountability? How could we really help strengthen and encourage each other in our faith if we passively accepted all actions and turned a blind eye to sin? No, there is absolutely a need for accountability in the Christian circle, but it must be done the right way.

Judgement and accountability can sometimes look very similar. In both instances, we have to observe that someone is living in sin. What we do with that observation, how we behave and how we treat people, show if we're doing the judgement thing, or if we're doing accountability with love.

To me accountability looks like offering support, letting someone know you are there for them, to help with anything they need, to pray for them, and to encourage them with affirming words and always Scripture. I think accountability should remove judgement with love. That above all else, no matter what is going on, you are choosing to love the person, rather than reject them. And love itself doesn't look like ignoring the problem, turning a blind eye, or choosing simple acceptance. It looks like being the person who will kindly, lovingly show another person the right way to live. It involves living by example, speaking the truth of Scripture in love, and gently challenging people to live a life worthy of Christ.

I think it helps to remember that people are like trees. The outward appearance and what you can see going on tells you a lot about a tree, or a person. You see its condition, what it is doing, its life. But you cannot forget that there is also the unseen, the root of the tree and the person. People's roots are buried deep within, we like to call it the heart, though it is not a literal heart. It is the center of the person, where all things begin--motives, feelings, the drive to action, the lifeforce. And for all our watching people, all our accountability and confrontation, unless there is work done at the root, or in the heart, there will never be real change.

And that is where we have to let go. Because no matter how hard we try, we'll never be able to reach the root of a person, to work in their heart, to cure whatever is wrong there. That's where the Holy Spirit does his work. Our job is to be like the gardener, watering, tending, nurturing, and to thus work with the Holy Spirit, not to hinder but to help.

And this is why it's a delicate balance between judgement and accountability, between love and pacifism. We are called to love, but we are also called to encourage, admonish, teach and correct. And at the same time we are not in the place to judge because we look at the outward appearance and God looks at the heart.

What I think it comes down to:

1. Attitude: Yours when confronting. If it's not done out of love, you shouldn't do it at all. If you're seeking to control someone, make them do what you want them to do, you might as well scrap the whole thing.

2. Control: You have none. So regardless of how well or how poorly you handle the situation, you have no control over what will happen. All you can control is your own heart, attitude and actions.

3. Limits: Your role is limited. The Holy Spirit is ultimately the one who convicts a person. I can be told by a million Christians that what I'm doing is wrong, but unless the Holy Spirit is convicting me, there probably won't be any change, at least not for the better.

4. Comparisons: Above all, confronting someone is not about comparisons. Nothing in Christianity should be about people comparing themselves to each other. It's a flawed comparison that causes us to measure sins on a scale. "I'm not as bad as he is, I didn't do that!" This mindset causes us to forget that all sin is equally bad in the eyes of God. He can't be around it, no matter what it is. So to say one sin is "worse" than another is ridiculous.

In the end, it's obvious we're all human and imperfect, so we'll never get this whole accountability-over-judgement thing right. It's just another reminder of why we all need Jesus, even when we have Jesus. In fact, I think that's what the history of Christianity and Scripture shows us. No matter what we do or try to do, we always screw up.

But the beauty in that is that God uses messed up people in spite of themselves. He isn't looking for the perfect band of followers. He isn't waiting for Christians to figure their stuff out before using them. Since the beginning of time, God has been using messed up people to accomplish his purposes (see King David, the apostle Peter, Saul who became Paul). And that gives me hope for myself and the rest of us, that God is still using us, imperfections and all.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Judgement, Planks and One Universal Truth

Doing anything in the Christian circle will rapidly show you how judgmental people can be. Whether it's going to church, Christian colleges, Bible studies, or simply hanging out with a group of Christians in a social setting. Unfortunately Christians can be some of the most judgmental people you may ever know. Somewhere along the line, Christians thought it was their right to look down their noses at anyone and anything they deemed unrighteous and inflict anything from physical to emotional pain.

Going to a Christian college brought this home more than any of my previous church experiences, mostly because I lived amongst it every single day, not merely encountering it on Sundays and Wednesdays. When you live immersed in a strictly Christian culture, you begin to see so much more. But for as much judgement as you may witness, you also witness the flip side if you're willing to look for it.

I never would've called myself a judgmental person going into college. I had a hodgepodge of friends in high school, most of whom were not in the least bit religious, and while I didn't always agree with what they did, I never held their actions against them as a litmus test of their value. They just were who they were, different beliefs, political views, language choice, behavior and all.

When I started Christian college, we were taught to judge each other in new student orientation. Of course it wasn't called that, it was called "confronting your brothers and sisters with love." It involved scrutinizing the people you came in contact with, watching for what they were doing "wrong." What was considered wrong was anything that broke the rules the school had established to govern us. When you observed someone doing wrong, you were told that the loving thing to do was to go to that person, pull them aside and let them know what they were doing wrong and ask them to fix it.

While I like to assume the motives behind the school encouraging us to do this were pure, the result was a campus festering with sideways glances, mutterings, misunderstandings, and instant judgement. It didn't matter what you were really doing, it only mattered what it looked like you were doing. It didn't matter your intention, all that mattered was others' perceptions. It didn't matter the condition of your heart, just the condition of your appearance. It didn't matter how you were really living, just how it looked to the people around you.

For a while I was one of those sideways glancing whisperers that couldn't believe what that girl was wearing! But it didn't make you feel better about yourself to be doing the judging. It just made you feel like you were becoming someone you hated and spiraled you into self loathing. Then the tables turned. I very quickly found that I was the one getting glanced at sideways, whispered about, and more misunderstood than I'd ever been.

I still don't know all of the reasons people decided I was a scum-worthy Christian, why they told new students to "watch out for me" because I was "trouble." I don't know why people who never met me decided they knew enough to approach my friends about me and explain why we shouldn't be friends. Someone decided a great rumor to spread was that I "dated around" (in the Christian circle, I learned this can be the equivalent of sleeping around, unless you actually are sleeping around, then you get the same treatment), even though I only had one actual boyfriend on campus during my whole four years. But being outspoken, friendly, laughing a lot, having lots of guy friends, and some shred of self confidence was read as "trouble."

Getting slapped with a false label by the Christian community in which I lived crippled my faith in Christians for a long, long time. I became cynical, jaded, angry and turned to an attitude of carelessness. I didn't want to be like any of the people I saw eyeballing me as I walked across campus, or who confronted my friends on my behalf. I didn't want anything to do with this judgmental group of hypocrites who had been told it was acceptable to determine my worth without even speaking one word to me.

I think it would be fair to say that I walked away from Christianity for a while. I never stopped believing in Jesus or the greatness of God and his sovereignty over my life. But I did stop reading my Bible, attending church regularly, and caring about a lot of the things that I used to care about. I had dutifully followed the rules for a while, but I decided that was pointless too. Who cared about rules in an institution that enabled people to treat each other so poorly?

But as with all negative life circumstances, I believe it happened for a reason. I knew something good had to come out of it, had to. I couldn't reconcile a bad situation without some good coming from it. And what I found as good was the opportunity to connect with similarly treated people. And that was the flip side. Once you know what it's like to be ostracized and imperfect, you are able to understand and relate to others in a completely new way. It's one thing to say, "I know what it's like when people don't like you," and a completely different one to say, "I know what it's like to be made into something I'm not by a community I thought I could trust." And we knew what it was like to be burned at the Christian stake by our peers.

We were the broken, dismissed, different, shameful. But we were also the fighters, unwilling to accept that this behavior and attitude applied to all Christians. We refused to give up on a faith system that we knew was truth, in spite of the broken, messed up people who followed it. Because we knew what the judges did not, we're all broken, shameful, wrong. None were exempt, we had just learned it differently. Eventually everyone who comes to Jesus learns one universal truth: we are all epically flawed, shamefully broken, totally wrong people.

If you've grown up in a Christian setting, doing what you're told and trying your best to please everyone (the church, your parents, and yes, God), eventually you can get a complex. That complex leads you to look at your life and think, hey, I'm not so bad. I didn't steal or lie or do anything as bad as that guy. I'm doing okay. And that leads to a false sense of security, that in some way, you did something in your life to merit God's good grace, that you are doing this Christianity thing the right way, that you are righteous.

But at the same time, that attitude digs its own grave. Because in reality, you didn't do everything right, you didn't do anything right. Your self righteousness led you to pride, that nasty little piece of brokenness that deceives everyone into thinking they're something better than what they really are. And that pride is what keeps you from fully understanding, fully appreciating and fully needing Christ's sacrifice. See, we broken folk understand we need something way bigger than ourselves to make us right with God. We know that no matter how hard we try, every day we do something to screw up, because as we know quite well, we aren't perfect. And in that we learn just how much we need Jesus. We don't need him a little bit, for the times we accidentally slip up. We don't need him once a year, when we make that one big mistake. We don't need him on Sundays, when we acknowledge that he exists from our cushioned pew seat.

We need Jesus all the time, every second of every moment of every day of our lives. We need him when we think we don't, and when we know we do. We need him when we make little mistakes and big ones. We need him because he is God and we are not. We need him because our best attempts to be "good" are like dirty rags compared to his real goodness. We need him because he's the life-giving water to our souls, the one who leads us into a relationship with God, the one who saves us from ourselves and the mire we've been stuck in for so long. We need him because he will give us more than we could ever imagine for ourselves and it will be good.

It took me a long time to fully grasp the "plankeye" parable Jesus tells in Matthew 7:2-4 because I always got hung up on a mental picture of a plank sticking out of an eye. But if you ignore the literal you will see it's the perfect metaphor for us judgmental Christians. We go around looking for the mistakes of others, maybe with bad motives, maybe with good. Maybe we hope to help people, show them a better way. But have we taken that first step of examining ourselves? What's the "plank" in our lives, driving its way into our ability to really see.

For those of us who have been judged, sometimes it's very easy to see our plank. We know our weaknesses, our wrongs, the ways in which we stray. But even then we can gloss over the "little" things, and so we must examine. And if you find yourself in the group that's doing the judging, that's looking down its collective nose at all those wrong-doers, beware. That plank may be invisible to you, but it is there nonetheless. "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

** A follow-up post is coming on love, accountability/guidance and tackling the balance between the two. For now, you can find some of my stance in this post. **

EDIT: The follow-up post has been written. Find it here.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...