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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.”

Facebook: The New Public Square

"Facebook" illustration via Wylio http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/3185202042
"Facebook" illustration via Wylio, http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/3185202042.

Even though I use Facebook frequently, I doubt my usage pattern will justify a $100 billion valuation for the company or send a new crop of Silicon Valley paper millionaires to Ferrari dealerships.

I never click on sidebar ads, I immediately block all games, and I have no intention of using Facebook's virtual money. I've done some advertising -- to little effect -- and will do more, but not much.

On the other hand, I find Facebook intriguing, sobering and oddly encouraging. To me, Facebook is an intriguing window on the world. It's the raw stuff of human diversity, not filtered through self-serving politicians or media summaries. When I decided to "friend" people whose views differ from mine, little did I know how much we differ.

Name an issue — say, the recent dust-up over breast cancer funding for Planned Parenthood — and I read not only the rage and indignation of fervent extremes, but deep divisions within the sensible middle. The hope that we could find common ground by moving to the middle could be delusional. Divisions are still there, but maybe they're just calmer.

I Love Jesus, But I Swear A Little

Swearing. Photo via Getty Images.
Swearing. Photo via Getty Images.

An Open Invitation to Unfriend Me on Facebook, Stop Following Me on Twitter and Discontinue Reading My Blog if You Need To:

If you are a Christian who takes offense at swear words or believes for some reason that clergy should never be cranky or irritated, then I am not the person for you to follow.  It’s ok.  You don’t actually need me. The entire publishing arm of the Christian Industrial Complex (I believe my friend Shane Claiborne coined that term) has a great deal of material that is just for you!

Digital Prayers of the People

"Tree of Prayer" image via Wylio http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/4404284129
"Tree of Prayer" image via Wylio http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/4404284129

I know that for people of all faiths prayer is an incredibly important part of life, not only for one’s own sense of connecting to God, but also in order to stay connected to the people around them. As social media gets further embedded in our everyday lives, this sense of who is “around” us is changing, offering an opportunity to expand our understanding and experience of community. Prayer has always been a means to cross-over bounds of geography, personal experience and other divisions in order to lift up a common hope that God’s love, hope, peace and joy will be made known and Social Media, when used well, can be a powerful means of further crossing those bounds.

#OccupyWallStreet: A Digital Hootenanny

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(+Video may contain coarse language+)
Indie music darling, Jeff Mangum, who rarely plays in public, surprised #OccupyWallStreet protesters in New York City earlier this week with an impromptu concert. A New Jersey singer-songwriter pens two songs for revolutions. And an order of Catholic nuns offer free mp3 downloads of a protest song inspired by the life of St. Francis of Assisi.

TGIF: Links 'n' Such

A homeless man on San Francisco's Mission Street. Photo by Franco Folini, www.flickr.com/photos/livenature/

The Gubbio Project, which helps churches become refuges for homeless people throughout the U.S., recently earned a new fan: Author Anne Rice. "When I was in San Francisco, I visited St. Boniface Church in the Tenderloin and was moved by the sight of many peaceful homeless people sleeping in the pews of the church," Rice wrote on her Facebook.com page earlier this month. The author of the Vampire Lestat books and most recently the biblically-themed Christ the Lord novels and her spiritual memoir, Called Out of Darkness, provided her "people of the page" as she calls them, a link to the Gubbio Project where they could donate to "this fine work on the part of the Franciscans of St. Boniface in helping the homeless."

Take a Walk on 9/11

As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, many of us are wondering how best to honor the many victims of that tragedy and its aftermath.

Here in Cincinnati, my wife Marty's answer is inviting some of our friends to join us on a walk with some Muslim and Jewish families she invited by simply calling their congregations. She got the idea from my friends and me at Abraham's Path, who are sponsoring www.911walks.org to help people find or pull together their own 9/11 Walks all over the USA and around the world. The goal of these walks is simple: to help people honor all the victims of 9/11 by walking and talking kindly with neighbors and strangers, in celebration of our common humanity and in defiance of fear, misunderstanding, and hatred.

No Time to Think

The avalanche of information available via the Internet is both a blessing and a curse. Used judiciously, it is an invaluable tool for research -- making what used to take hours in a library now just a few clicks away. Any piece of information, no matter how obscure, is at our fingertips.

The proliferation of blogs and listservs mean an amount of information that is simply impossible to keep up with. We have news summaries several times a day and instant breaking news headlines as they happen. And then there is the rise of a new social media. Facebook has enabled us to connect with friends and family, so we know immediately the latest cute thing their toddler did, what they're cooking for dinner, and the most recent book they read. On Twitter, we share thoughts and activities in 140-word tweets.

All of this means we know more than ever, but never have time to think about it. Neal Gabler, a senior fellow at the Annenberg Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, lamented in a piece in The New York Times Sunday Review:

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