Help! Facebook is a Better Christian Than I Am
A cheerleader said she wants to be friends with me. A couple of decades ago, this would have made me wildly happy, but at this stage of my life I figured I’d have to decline.
The cheerleader is on Facebook, the social networking site I joined recently at the urging of some friends and also of my boss, who perhaps did not foresee that I would become mildly addicted to Facebook and would never accomplish any actual work ever again. The cheerleader is someone I looked up to tremendously in high school. She was gorgeous and smart, and even sweet in a generic way that did not include getting to know me—a geeky bookworm who was sometimes respected but never terribly popular. I was the girl you voted for to plan your after-Prom party, but not the girl you hung out with at the actual Prom.
Last year, I joined LinkedIn, which is a social networking site primarily for business, and immediately set some firm rules: I would only “link” to those colleagues with whom I had shared real conversations, and preferably a meal. They needed to be people I would actually recognize if I saw them in person at a conference. Those rules precluded being professionally linked to anyone whose work I couldn’t or wouldn’t vouch for, or people I couldn’t pick out of a police lineup should that need ever arise.
They seemed like good rules. I imagined they would also work for Facebook, but I was wrong. On Facebook, free love reigns. Even using my prudish LinkedIn rules, I had more than a hundred “friends” in one week. I was astonished, since I had ignored so many invitations from people I either couldn’t remember or never met in the first place. And at first, I felt very principled about refusing the rampant promiscuity that seems to be de rigueur on Facebook: my online “friends” were going to be actual friends, thank you very much—people I wanted to hear from and about.
However, it wasn’t long before the guilt set in, catalyzed by a sweet but hurt-sounding message from the cheerleader whose invitation I had quietly rebuffed. I immediately set about making amends, and had an epiphany: ignore and ignorance stem from the same root. In my determination to make my life small and manageable, ignoring those around me, I was only perpetuating my own ignorance. This cheerleader that I have gotten to know a little bit online turns out to be far more interesting and thoughtful than I ever would have guessed in high school, and I have been a wee bit blessed because of it.
I’d love to tell you that this test run caused me to fling wide the gates of my friendship to all who would seek it. Alas, no. Joining Facebook has instead prompted a mini-crisis of faith, and a realization: Facebook is a better Christian than I am.
In many ways, Facebook is like a wild and wooly foretaste of the Kingdom. A good many of my friends are on there, mingling together, talking about life and art and parenting. My church friends hang out with my grad school buddies, my college-aged nieces (one naughty, one nice), my mom, my work colleagues, and a sister-in-law I love but rarely get to see. We bond over shared experiences, common tastes, and a good dose of humor. In my more domesticated moments I imagine that this is what heaven might be like—one vastly diverse social networking site, except with better music and more accurate spelling.
But there is that miserly part of me that wants to keep it all small and contained. The truth is that I don’t want to get “status updates” from people I don’t really know. I don’t care to know if relative strangers are feeling down today, or are waiting in line to see a movie, or are having a dispute with their child’s teacher, or any of the thousand quotidian banalities posted daily—hourly, even—on Facebook. What fascinates me about my friends seems utterly tedious about people I don’t know. But isn’t that how Jesus calls me to care?
My friend Don pointed out to me recently that the language of relationship on Facebook is that of invitation and grace. I get a message in my email in-box that so-and-so has “added me as a friend.” Do I want to confirm the friendship? Facebook’s default assumption seems to be that yes, I will proceed with this relationship, and that it will be a vehicle of grace for both parties. If I don’t accept the invitation, it simply waits patiently by unless I make an active choice to reject it. I am reminded that the Holy Spirit works in precisely this way. Too bad I am too selfish to open myself to it.
Copyright © 2009 Jana Riess