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A Spirituality of Privacy

Facebook screenshot, Annette Shaff / Shutterstock.com
Facebook screenshot, Annette Shaff / Shutterstock.com

Politically, the right to online privacy seems like a no-brainer. Just as employers, and the government, shouldn’t be allowed to snoop through one’s personal diary or journal, the privacy of our digital records should be likewise respected, in law and in practice.

But biblically, theologically, and spiritually, it gets more complicated. For instance, what would a “spirituality of privacy” look like? At the core of spirituality is a connection with the divine. That begins in our heart of hearts and is by necessity a private, solitary practice. But it doesn’t end there. Genuine, life-transforming spirituality is personal, but never “private,” in the sense of “restricted to me alone.” Rather, spirituality is about the connection between a person and the divine and about the connection between a person and other people. In other words, there is an essential communal, public aspect of spirituality. Genuine spiritual enlightenment leads not only to an enriching of our connection with God, but with one another as well. Thus in some ways the distinction between a “private” spirituality and our public face is an artificial one, and at our best these two aspects of our being will be in harmonious synchronicity.

Activism, Slacktivism or Distractivism?

hoto of Ugandan children by David Sacks/The Image Bank/Getty Images. Illustratio
Photo of Ugandan children by David Sacks/The Image Bank/Getty Images. Illustration by Cathleen Falsani.

I struggle to know how much is enough. I hear about Joseph Kony and the many children he’s exploited as child soldiers. I get angry, discouraged. I write about it, talk to friends about it.

And then my life keeps moving and I don’t think about it again for days or weeks.

Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, is gunned down on the street. The nation is divided, both outraged about the killing and fearful of the threat to gun rights and laws of self-defense.

And then we talk about something else.

Today’s issues include the nuns going head-to-head with the Vatican, as well as stories about still more preachers being busted for spousal abuse, or expelled from their jobs because of their sexual orientation.

Tomorrow it will be something else.

Mourning 2.0

Photo by Annette Shaff/Shutterstock.
The Apple.com website pays tribute to founder Steve Jobs upon his death in 2011. Photo by Annette Shaff/Shutterstock.

When her 91-year-old aunt passed away in 2010, Diane DiResta videotaped the eulogies to create a record of the moving words spoken. She wasn't ready to talk about her aunt at the service, so she used an online tool for publishing audio to record her thoughts, then e-mailed the audio file to close family.

And when a cherished 89-year-old uncle died in Las Vegas in February — and there was no funeral service to follow — the New York City resident again turned to technology.

"Since there was no way for the family to share his life and express their grief together, I created a blog," she said. "I added pictures, and family members were able to post their memories of him."

This is Mourning 2.0. Technological advances have dramatically altered how we grieve for and memorialize the dead.

In this new era, the bereaved readily share their sorrow via Facebook comments. They light virtual candles on memorial websites, upload video tributes to YouTube and express sadness through online funeral home guest books. Mourners affix adhesive-backed barcodes or "QR code" chips to tombstones so visitors can pull up photos and videos with a scan of a smartphone.

Social Media and Our Epidemic of Loneliness

Facebook photo, Pan Xunbin / Shutterstock.com
Facebook photo, Pan Xunbin / Shutterstock.com

The recent cover article in The Atlantic called “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” (Stephen Marche) is worth sharing. It’s about a growing trend of social isolation and loneliness in our culture, despite innumerable social media connections we use to counteract that problem.

As good as the article itself is, the title is misleading, I think. Though I agree with each of the points made about the epidemic levels of loneliness we’re experiencing, I would argue that sites like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter are byproducts of this isolation, rather than the cause of the loneliness.

When they become problematic is when we rely on them to be a surrogate for real, face-to-face relationship. I consider that akin to sitting on your couch and taking stimulants to lose weight, rather than changing your exercise and diet habits. Sure, you may get some results, but at what greater cost?

Dear Sojo Commenters

Sign at the entrance of Facebook HQ, Menlo Park, CA. Photo via Getty Images.
Sign at the entrance of Facebook HQ, Menlo Park, CA. Photo via Getty Images.

Good morning, y'all,

You may recall back a post back in January where I expressed our ongoing concern about the tenor of many comments on our site. I said at the time that in order to (hopefully) curtail the snark that had infiltrated our comments sections, we would be rolling out new protocols for readers who wish to leave their public feedback on posts, including a mandatory sign-in via Facebook.

Well, the day of reckoning is upon us.

In the Stacks: Required Reading with Duane Shank

Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com.
Photo by Tischenko Irina/Shutterstock.com.

One of my must reads is the Sunday New York Times Book Review. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written.

Last Sunday, the Review ran an essay on how books affect Washington policy makers. Lawrence Summers, former director of the National Economic Council, says that a good review can often summarize what’s necessary for a policy maker to learn. He was quoted as saying, “If you tell me that the policy makers are reading the reviews, not the books, I don’t take that as evidence that the books aren’t influential.”

While I don’t fancy myself as a policy maker, the sentiment is also true for the rest of us.

Learn about two such new titles that may have an impact on public policy inside the blog...

Lent (or Why I Need a Break from the 'Like' Button)

Photo via Getty Images.
Photo via Getty Images.

Consciously or not, when we recognize the need to step away from social media, it is because we are questioning who is in control.

If our default is to ask life’s big questions on Twitter before we offer them in prayer, then someone other than God is in control. If we "Like" what someone is doing of Facebook before we recognize everything God is doing in our lives, maybe we need a social media time-out.

Lent is the right time to realign ourselves with the fact that God should be in control in our lives.

Whenever Two or More Are Gathered...Online

Digitally created illustration of the world wide web. Image via Getty Images.
Digitally created illustration of the world wide web. Image via Getty Images.

“There is no distance in the Spirit.”

After 30 years as a believer, I experienced the truth of that statement — powerfully and indelibly — in an unlikely place: online.

Like so many of more than 500 million (and growing) members, I signed up for Facebook, the social networking site, a few years ago out of pure curiosity -- to check in with old friends, boyfriends and former colleagues from a safe distance. With its plethora of personal photos, videos and regular “status updates” from members, it was a voyeuristic paradise, not to mention an excellent place to kill time.

I am by vocation a journalist, author and blogger and had grown accustomed to sharing glimpses of my life in print and online. Facebook was just another venue to do that, but little more.

That is, until early one morning in April 2008 when I signed on to my account, wiping sleep from my eyes with coffee in hand, and noticed the status update of a friend from college: “David is really sad that Mark died today.”

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