Finding Faith in Social Media

Mo Ranch 2009
Mo Ranch 2009

Theoretically, I know that church is much more than a building or a weekly activity on the to-do list. But no other experience proves that more clearly than my annual trip to Mo Ranch outside of Kerrville, Texas in the pristine splendor of the Texas Hill Country. Though I consider myself an inveterate urban gal, there is something so ethereal, so transformational about the majestic beauty of the grand, sweeping vistas of the Presbyterian Mo Ranch retreat. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes—even as I type this.

Leaving behind responsibilities, have-tos, and the clanging of electronic gadgets is actually no easy task (particularly challenging for my teenagers). No Internet, no cell phones, no WiFi—but, oh, some amazing connections—of the human kind. I relished the hours of talking and listening, of singing and laughing, of weeping and praying. One of my fellow retreaters suggested this environment gives God the space to utter, “Can you hear me now?”

The stillness reminds us of the clutter and clatter we muddle through every day—increasing in density and volume with every new Tweet, Ringtone, and Poke.

But, it’s our reality—and our opportunity, really. Just as there is a time and place for sharing the view of a thousand glittering diamonds strewn across the deep dark blanket of a Texas night sky, there is also a place for connecting in new, unexpected ways through the mysteries of new media.

I have been thinking a great deal about using social media to enhance my church community and perhaps the lives of other congregations. I see it as a natural way to build the community of God with bold, new voices— beyond Sunday morning and the bricks and mortar of the tangible place called church. In her article, “The Church on Facebook” in The Christian Century, Lenora Rand makes a compelling argument on behalf of virtual community for churches. As she points out, “Church isn’t where you meet. Church isn’t a building. Church is what you do. Church is who you are.”

Church is carrying out the work of God in our lives, homes, and communities. I am so proud of the work of First Presbyterian Church of Dallas—serving about 1,500 meals a day through The Stewpot in conjunction with The Bridge to those in desperate need, as well as sponsoring other youth and adult-driven community service projects around the city, the country, and the world.

On Sunday morning each week, we meet with others of like mind and beliefs to worship; however, social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter can provide a valuable, even profound extension of our community-building opportunities. In our hectic world, we can look to Facebook, Twitter, or other online communities to provide a safe place for revealing our truths, sharing our frustrations, supporting each other in sorrow and joy, and even praying for one another in specific ways. We are hungry for a place to share our burdens and offer shoulders.

Often, the authenticity and truth of much of the communication on Facebook and Twitter astounds me. Admissions can range from cries of hopelessness after a layoff, to the anguish of life upheaval after divorce, to the utter joy of a child’s first steps. It’s a way to connect, engage, and soothe frayed emotions, weakened bodies, and aching hearts—woven into the fabric of our over-scheduled days and sleepless nights.

Last week, I wrote about the concept associated with Twitter called “ambient intimacy.” Commenting on my blog post, one of my readers clarified that blogger Leisa Reichelt originally coined the term. Reichelt says, “Ambient intimacy is about being able to keep in touch with people with a level of regularity and intimacy that you wouldn’t usually have access to, because time and space conspire to make it impossible.”

Some may say—who cares?

But she contents, “There are a lot of us, though, who find great value in this ongoing noise. It helps us get to know people who would otherwise be just acquaintances. It makes us feel closer to people we care for but in whose lives we’re not able to participate as closely as we’d like. Knowing these details creates intimacy. (It also saves a lot of time when you finally do get to catch up with these people in real life!) It’s not so much about meaning, it’s just about being in touch.”

Social media a powerful, intimate way to share the human experience—and perhaps even the Holy Spirit as we reach out to touch souls in an evolving, increasingly complicated world.

There are so many contradictions
In all these messages we send
(We keep asking)
How do I get out of here
Where do I fit in?
Though the world is torn and shaken
Even if your heart is breakin’
It’s waiting for you to awaken
And someday you will-
Learn to be still
Learn to be still

from “Learn to Be Still,” The Eagles

4 thoughts on “Finding Faith in Social Media

  1. Love your blog!
    My sister’s minister in TN, Scotty Smith, writes a “Gospel Sanity Devo” every day on Facebook. I look forward to starting my day with the encouragement and spiritual depth he brings. I wouldn’t have the opportunity w/o FB.

  2. Your observation about the ambient intimacy that leads to real life intimacy is accurate and practical. Social networking used to find God’s purposes — for example, a connection between a remote village and an urban church — links people in ways that may otherwise be impractical or impossible.

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