Social media isn’t evil in itself. But the obsession with it tempts Christians to tell self-involved, rootless stories.
We are obsessed with telling our own story.
Social media is often named as the culprit, but smartphones do not steal our attention. We give it away. We shortchange people and tasks by diverting our attention so we can tell our story in text messages and newsfeeds.
What is self-expression too easily becomes self-compulsion. These tools have been allowed to transfigure into actions like Cinderella on the night of the ball. When we “facebook” and “google” and tweet we imbibe these means of storytelling. It becomes the only way we can be known.
To tell our story is not a bad impulse. The tools, themselves, are not evil. We witnessed the power of instant communication during the Arab Spring as thousands used Twitter to tell a story their governments tried to silence. Story is at the heart of the human experience. Our flight or fight response is the evidence of a collective story about survival. We lull our children to sleep with stories. We collect them, call it history and try to learn from it so we are not doomed to repeat it.
The danger occurs when our stories are rootless. All we need to do is look at the plethora of new social rituals to see the evidence: gender reveal parties, food journaling, push presents, work out diaries and birthday parties for grown-ups. We talk about “personal brand” as if that is a real thing of consequence. These new rituals tell a story, but that story is all about you and your life. All of it is an attempt to ritualize daily life and give it a depth that is not there.
We tell rootless stories when we forget our stories do not begin with us. Ecclesiastes reminds us, “Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account.” The past is accounted for in our stories. For this reason, we must learn to tell our stories rightly. We cannot be just a people of Facebook. We must also be bards, biographers, minstrels and poets.
As Christians, telling our stories is a facet of discipleship. Our faith is based on stories -- not the fictional kind -- but the testimonial kind. Scripture is God’s word, but it is also a witness. We know God through the story of Israel. We understand Jesus by the witness of Peter, Paul and Mary. Their stories are audible signs of God’s silent, inward grace. When we tell our stories rightly they are sacramental.
One of our richest resources for telling our stories rightly is the church year. We prepare for the babe child, rend our garments on Ash Wednesday and gasp Alleluia on Easter morning. The seasons are heralds for our own stories. The church year follows Christ’s story and announces the postures of the human life: anticipation, repentance and joy.
The question is do our stories do the same?
Too often, personal antidotes riddle our sermons. Bible studies settle for personal takeaways. This undermines our discipleship because the focus is too far inward. We are under threat of becoming biblically illiterate in our pursuit of self-understanding. Rituals like baptism, confirmation and even marriage are being co-opted into obligations rather than transformations.
The solution is to obsessively tell our stories, but to do so rightly.
We can start with more Scripture in worship, and not simply by reading, but by commissioning our artists to invoke it in both rooted and fresh ways. We can adopt a posture after Christ and instruct one another on how to testify.
We should be obsessed with telling our story, for ours is a fantastic one. It begins on the eve of creation, when God sluiced light from dark. It includes men walking on water and children rising from the dead.
Our story cannot be contained to 140 characters because it is too grand, too deep and far too wide.
So let’s tell it.
Katie Boone works at Christ Church Plano in Plano, Texas. She is a graduate of the University of Iowa and Duke Divinity School. She is currently pursuing an MFA at Seattle Pacific University.