Your Best Image Now

The Wall Street Journal just published a provocative piece, “Are We All Braggarts Now?,” on bragging in the modern era.  The author, Elizabeth Bernstein, began this insightful essay by riffing off of Facebook status updates:

Best gift ever from the best husband ever.

Swam 30 minutes at a very fast time despite the large amount of Chardonnay served to me on the plane last night.

Got my first royalty check for my book!

Sunset sail. Turned into a moonlight sail. Shooting stars everywhere…Perfect.

A benign reading would be that these are just typical daily updates. But folks, this is bragging, whether you recognize it or not. And it’s out of control. How did this happen?

You should read the whole piece, really.  As Bernstein says, “We’ve become so accustomed to boasting that we don’t even realize what we’re doing.”  Yup.

We need to think about material like this.  Let’s just admit it: social media makes it difficult not to boast.  It’s set up to help us broadcast ourselves.  This doesn’t mean that we have to brag or present ourselves as living flawless and perfectly happy lives.  But it does mean that it’s pretty easy to behave in these ways, and to dishonor God by making much of ourselves, not him (contra texts like John 3:30).

I’ll be honest with you: I struggle to know where the boundaries are in this modern world.  I’ve made the choice to be on social media.  I do try in my use of it to be focused on, well, God, and beyond him on ideas.  But I promote my content–following most of the top new media, I post links to my blogs on Facebook and Twitter.  Is the self-promotion?  Or is it self-promotion when an author plugs their book on Twitter?  It can be easy to answer this kind of question reflexively–of course not! or absolutely!  Many Christians, after all, do black and white great, but ethical complexity?  Not so much.

For my part, I want to do my best to keep the focus on God, his gospel, and meaningful ideas.  I know I don’t do that perfectly.  But I want to avoid bragging and self-promoting.  And it’s not attractive at all when people present a kind of “best image now” on social media.  It’s good to celebrate God’s goodness to us–one of the reasons I’m on new media and not holed up in a cabin in Vermont!–but when you make every trip and drink and beach outing and church service and family photo seem like it’s the apex of human culture and the ideal of human flourishing, maybe you’re over the line.

My tentative, personally driven recommendation: make your life about big things, as best you can.  Pray regularly to be humble and not promote yourself.  Invite feedback from family, friends, and fellow church members on “best practices.”  Here’s a controversial one: if you do use social media, strive to keep your “private life” (the very term sounds ancient) private.  Forget what the gurus say–if you’re going to use Facebook, make sure you prize privacy.  An inner life, whether personal, familial, or congregational, is in my view very healthy.

Share ideas, connect, encourage, edify, sharpen on social media–but don’t “live online.”  That’s unhealthy.

Some things should be private.  And some things–like bragging or presenting your best image now–just shouldn’t be done.  You don’t need to be perfect; you’re not.  I’m not.  Not everything goes stupendously.  You don’t have to “win” at all times, to quote that great modern philosopher, Charlie Sheen.  Jesus is your sufficiency, your perfection, and your identity.

And you and I desperately need his church, and its laser focus not on ourselves but on him, to puncture our natural egotism, our overweening pride, and to lock us in on nothing other than his sheer magnificence and love.

(Image: MK Perker/WSJ)

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