Thursday, April 3, 2014

But first, let me take a selfie

Last Wednesday, the youth at my church introduced me to this new, catchy little song by The Chainsmokers. Is it what we should be listening to at church? No. Is it what our young people are listening to? Yes. And as a church and a community, we’re naïve if we think we can ignore these things and expect them to go away.

“Can you guys help me pick a filter?
I don't know if I should go with XX Pro or Valencia
I wanna look tan
What should my caption be?
I want it to be clever…
I only got 10 likes in the last 5 minutes
Do you think I should take it down?
Let me take another selfie.”

Many people dismiss social media as some kind of fad – something that is here today and gone tomorrow. But Leonard Sweet, a leading pastor in the United Methodist Church, as well as other theologians, offer a startlingly different view. Sweet says that social media is as much a revolution to our culture as Gutenberg’s printing press. The printing press made it possible for ordinary people to have books, including the Bible. It made it worthwhile to learn to read, to be able to study and learn. No one alive now would turn their noses up at books, considering it irrelevant to their work.

Sweet warns that the same can be said for social media. We ignore it at our own peril since it is a paradigm-shifter, creating a new atmosphere that our children and youth will take for granted. Most of us already know that young people are tech-natives. They intuitively understand technology, using new smart phones, tablets, and other hardware and software with ease. And the pace of technological innovation is staggering.

Social media is just another advent in the rapidly growing world of technology. And like any tool, it can be used positively or negatively – in ways that encourage health, wholeness, and life or destroy it.

This song is proof of one destructive tendency our young people encounter everyday in their social media driven lives. “Selfies” are pictures of yourself that can be posted to a variety of social media platforms – Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, etc. And, more importantly, they become a way of validating or negating self-esteem.

When I was a kid, I dressed in a relative void. I may have taken a couple of friends to the mall with me, to help me pick out the perfect outfit or prom dress, but otherwise, I trusted my own taste as well as the input from what my peers were wearing. And, if I didn't get it quite right, I only heard about it from a limited number of people, even when I was in a class of 500+.

Now, when a young person takes a selfie, they may have not even bought the clothes yet. They may be in the dressing room, considering the purchase, and instantly, they can have “likes” or comments from dozens if not hundreds of people. And, like so often when we are distanced by technology, folks can be cruel! The onslaught of comments and put-downs can damage our youth. I’m sure you've heard the tragic stories of young people hurt to such an extent by an overwhelming barrage of destructive comments via technology that they ultimately chose to take their own lives.

So what can we, as a community and as a church, do to help? The answer is not simply unplug, although carefully supervised screen time and online profiles is a wise course. But additionally, I would encourage us to build authentic, real-life community with our young people.

This Sunday at the Krum Church, we’ll be affirming our belief in the gift of the church. Church is not limited to a physical address, a building, or a place you go occasionally. In the New Testament sense, the church or ekklesia, is the gathering of those called out by God.

And just what are we called out of? We are called out of the ordinary, out of the typical, out of the complacent and self-centered. We are called out of normal human inclinations to be good news to the world – to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and eat with sinners. In other words, we’re called to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And a great place to start would be our young people. Consider how you might embody the unconditional love of God for someone who might desperately need it. 

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