My Online Footprint

Part Two: Repentance

In Part One of this post, aptly subtitled “Resistance” by our new Good Letters editor, Cathy Warner (who deserves a shout-out for the various transitions she has navigated), I explored the practical side of my abstention from all forms of social media except email.

While acknowledging the theoretical cost on both personal and professional fronts of my anti-social stance—all those missed connections and lost opportunities, fewer Shares, Tweets, Likes and whatnot compared to other GL bloggers—I had yet to see my way to the time and self-promotion required for a more sizeable online footprint.

But as hinted at by my closing question, there were rocks still to turn over, and uncomfortably so for what would be found lurking in the dirt:

“Or might there be another reason behind my relative reclusion, an underlying one that has more to do with things spiritual than practical, with the very faith-based reasons for which this blog exists?”

“Yes,” I replied, leaving myself on the hook to explain why here.

Hence the subtitle, “Repentance,” one I could come up with all too easily myself. For though I enjoy the alliterative and assonant echoes of “Resistance,” the demands for an explanation I do not.

Simply put, four years and seventy-six posts since this blogging gig started, I am still something of a closet Christian around friends and colleagues who don’t know this side of me, or a mealy-mouthed one around those who do.

That’s roughly 76,000 words, a book’s worth and counting, but the list of people in my life who don’t know that I moonlight here at Good Letters is a long one.

Say what I want about the further demands that Facebook, for example, would make on my time; how about the demands it would make on my faith, the exposure of which would be magnified socially and professionally were I to post my blogging there?

I know there are ways to control such exposure and limit it to one’s designated friends, but therein lies the rub: My very use of words like control and limit.

These aren’t the words Jesus used when exhorting his disciples not to hide their lamps under bushels, but to shine as openly as a city on a hill that cannot be hid.

So what’s my problem? Why so shy in this respect, not with strangers but with people I know?

These people have my phone number, but not my turbid testimony to a higher sense of being saved and called with a holy calling as proclaimed by St. Paul. These friends have my address, but little knowledge of where I truly live.

A proper answer to that question might require another 76,000 words on my part—one that perhaps goes back all the way to the birth canal and my marathon reluctance to emerge from the comfortable confines of that dark chamber into the light.

But a sufficient answer might require just two words for this present purpose in the form of a question: Who cares?

Who cares why I’ve been too embarrassed or scared or proud or vain or conditioned by popularity to be as open with friends and colleagues about my spiritual beliefs as I have been, say, about my political or literary ones? Would an accounting of the causes in any way mitigate the effects—or compensate for the lack of them, to be more exact?

Yes, actions speak louder than words, and I would like to think that mine in general (not always in particular) tend to speak well (but not necessarily great) for the fruits of the Spirit.

But given that my work as a writer is at times a kind of cross-training routine of poetry, screenwriting, and prose, I am someone who duly deems words an action in their own right.

Perhaps this explains in part my tireless attraction to the prophets of the Old Testament. Whereas I don’t want to have to walk into the online marketplace wearing a sandwich board that reads Like me, they were quite willing to walk into the actual marketplace wearing one that said, Like me or hate me! Thus says the Lord!

Two disclaimers to be made before I go any further: First, my other reasons for abstention from social media as described in my previous post still stand. Second, I’m not a spiritual shut-in keeping the fact that I’m Christian from all my peers.

Many or perhaps most do know; but often more as a result, I imagine, of their inference or ascertainment than my forthrightness or transparency.

Certainly reticence and opacity are the easier paths when you work as I do in primetime television, an industry in which, generally speaking, a C-word far more taboo than the one that comes to mind is Christ.

During my stint at Good Letters I have posted some things I might not have if a bigger online footprint with Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, and the like had put me more at risk of exposure in the workplace on this or that show.

At other times, I’ve posted things almost teasing this risk just to see if I might be outed for my faith by peers who happened to come across the blog in their online diversions.

Four years later, the closet has yet to be opened against my will. And while that’s a sad fact for what it says about my workplace, it’s a sadder one yet for what it says about me.

But there’s a point at which repentance itself can be cause to repent, and I seem to be nearing that point. Because, really, the same two words again apply: Who cares? So what? Give thanks. Move on. Live and let live, let go and let God.

Maybe I’ll take the social media plunge, and maybe I won’t. Maybe I’m supposed to change, or maybe I’m supposed to see myself as perfect in His eyes if not in my own.

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  • Ed

    Good words and relevant to me personally as we’ve just studied in our church’s bible study with respect to Christ’s admonitions in the sermon on the mount to both let our light shine before all men and then follows it up with do your acts of righteousness in secret. A tension then I hope to work out in my own workplace.

    • Brad Winters

      I’m glad you point out that factor of tension; it’s a critical piece of the puzzle, and one that I would not want to forsake.

  • Brad, this is a beautifully forthright exploration of your dilemma. My 2-cents worth of a reply is: if you were writing for GL 50 years ago, at the height of modernism, when secularism was the country’s prevailing ideology, “coming out” as a Christian to your colleagues could indeed have jeopardized your career and friendships. But today, due to many factors (one of which is Image itself), being a writer who is a person of faith is nothing to hide.
    I think the spiritual reasons for going light on social media are of a different sort and apply to all of us, not only to your personal situation: It happens that my morning meditation today was from Scott Cairns’s Love’s Immensity, which is his wonderful translation of the mystics of the Christian tradition. Today I read Mother Theodora of 4th century Egypt, who said that “only humility can save us.” An awfully lot of what goes on via Facebook, Twitter, Google +, etc. is self-promotion–the very opposite of humility. To use these social media in true humility is, I’d say, maybe the biggest challenge to Christians today. I myself have not found a way to do this.

    • Brad Winters

      Thanks, Peggy. There is certainly no or little actual jeopardy in play externally speaking. And your closing thoughts echo exactly my continuing aversion aside reasons dealt with here. Glad to know I’m in good company!

  • Dyana Herron

    I have really enjoyed both pieces of this post, Brad, and I am particularly grateful for what you shared today. The issue of what to reveal about ourselves on a very public forum is a tricky one– I’ve certainly had moments where I think, “I want to be honest here, but it just isn’t worth the risk that so-and-so will see this.” One thing the switch to Patheos has shown me– with its visible social media counter buttons– is that many more people are reading and sharing than I would have thought. And in some ways that makes me feel good, because that’s the point, right? But it also makes me nervous, and I don’t even work in an industry where there could be real and serious consequences for being too vocal about Christian belief.

    I’m really happy that you seem to be letting yourself off the hook here for having these reservations. My childhood religious background, which was very conservative and evangelical, taught me that Christians should be very open about “witnessing” and “testimony,” in order to bring lost souls to the Lord. It took a while for me to realize that one doesn’t necessarily have to talk about belief in order to embody it, and affect others. It seems much more important that you do not alienate yourself from the opportunity to create art through television that will affect so many.

    Anyhow, a lot to think about here. Thank you!

    • Brad Winters

      I think we must have spiritual DNA as much as we do genetic, and I guess all this cogitation has just helped me reckon my makeup on that front. The lilies neither spin nor toil, right?

  • As Tim Keller says, be really good at your craft, and people won’t be put off that you are a follower of Jesus. They won’t care. I have found since I’ve shared my blog posts, my audience and those who are supportive of me have expanded, not contracted. Make much of Him and He will enlarge your life in so many ways. Humbly, my two cents.

  • Brad Winters

    Good for you. I do plan on sharing it more widely, if not through the standard platforms. If you happen to check back here, where did Tim Keller say that? I’ve had a book or two of his on my shortlist for a long time now…

  • Kristina Colussi

    It is so funny that I actually heard about your work – at Facebook! on Bradford, Scott, and Dean Winters page. Obviously something good can jump off from FB! I admire you and your way of thinking, but I have to tell you that people on FB like your work, and me too. Just stay good as you are (with your beliefs) and that is enough!

  • Always a pleasure, Brad. You crack me up! 🙂

    I may be the guy who toots his own horn (and the horns of fellow writers) far too often, but I believe promotion of one’s work serves a purpose outside of self-glorification. I know far too many talented writers that are unwilling to share their work through social media, and I can understand it on some level. Writing is most delicious when I am writing for the sake of writing.

    But we who write for Good Letters are most definitely writing for an audience, and one that I would like to see grow. I cannot speak for everyone, but I *needed* to know that a faith community of writers like those present here existed. I *needed* to know that there were intelligent, talented Christian wordsmiths who were engaging culture, processing the content of their lives through the written word, and waxing poetic all at once.

    That being said, I am quite positive that there are other Christians like myself who need to know that they are not spiritual orphans in this world. “We write to know we are not alone,” the saying goes. I think social media can help others feel less alone with regard to our work here at Good Letters.

    Furthermore, I am confident that each of us can shape his or her own social media footprint in a way that models discretion and humility all at once. Well, you guys can, that is. 🙂 I just have fun with it, and let ‘er rip! But I think it can be done, and I think it can be done with the aforementioned end in mind: To reach others and bring them out of isolation and a loving community where art, culture, faith, and words *matter,* by gum. 🙂

    My two cents. Social media FTW. I stand by it! 😉

    – CTJ

    • Brad Winters

      Chad, I agree with every jot and iota of what you say here. Thank you for highlighting the painfully obvious fact that Good Letters itself is a form of social media — one that I consider nothing short of indispensable. It will do me good to follow your social media example sooner or later enough! Would that everyone did it with not only your discretion and humility, but your generosity as well.

      • Ha! 🙂 Thanks, Brad. The only reason I am generous with this stuff is because I love it. It’s easy to celebrate writing that deserves celebrating! 🙂

        The other issue here goes back to the tree falling in the forest when no one is around, but as applied to writers: If Brad Winters writes an essay and no one knows about it, what does it matter to anyone outside of Brad? 🙂

        The fact that you’re a gifted writer is something that needs to be shared is not a matter of ego or even of revealing who you are to others in a potentially vulnerable way: It’s a matter of moving writing toward one of its ultimate purposes—to being read! 🙂

        The “Field of Dreams” mentality that “if I write it they will read” may hold true where physical books hold sway, but in the infinite alleys of the Internet, there are too many things to read for anyone to make any sense of, so people naturally respond to interesting tweets and Facebook posts that essentially say “This is worth reading!” 🙂

        I love social media, and I love trumpeting the talents of the people who impress me, and I will always do that. I have done publicity work for essentially free on the side for awhile now, and I love it because I love the people I am promoting. I think if we here at Good Letters take it upon ourselves to support one another—to cross-pollinate by promoting one another’s wares to one another’s readers/followers, we can expand our audiences, encourage one another, and give people a reason to read, and to share what they’ve read.

        It’s not a matter of self-promotion if we’re promoting each other, too. In fact, when people see us recommending one anothers’ works, it may be that people will know we are Christians by the way we love one anothers’ writings without jealousy or fear or competition! 🙂

        You got a decent number of shares already on these two posts. Sounds like a good start to me! 🙂

        One final thing, Brad: You don’t have to eat the social media elephant in one gulp. One small bite of the elephant at a time is probably adequate. 🙂 Setting boundaries, limits, goals, etc. is also a reasonable thing to do. Social media does not need to be an element of your life that threatens to set everything else off balance.

        Good social media opens up opportunities, connects people who can sharpen one another, and allows a person’s reach to extend beyond the boundaries of the past. GREAT social media prompts people to share the things you’ve shared, and turns readers into fans who can help you reach an even bigger audience.

        I’m rambling now. Probably I get excited writing about these things. 🙂