Let me begin by saying this: I use social media on a regular basis. Facebook, Twitter, and sometimes Instagram – I use and enjoy each one. My relationship with Instagram is far less invested, simply because sometimes the picture is best lived and experienced, rather than shared.
In my journeys through statuses, retweets, and posts I notice a common theme. It’s a theme that I hoped to capture, albeit sarcastically, in the title to this post.
Many people love social media. They also hate it at the same time.
Posts that suggest “Social media is killing us” or “This platform has become a cesspool” are posted, without irony, on the very medium being described as a cesspool of lethal force. We don’t often think about the fact that without social media our astute critique would reach only those in earshot (or text-shot, if that’s even a word).
Of course there is truth to the assessment. While I have benefitted greatly from social media when it comes to promoting speaking and writing that I have done, there is also an undercurrent of hate and a lack of civility throughout each platform.
Links are retweeted, not as information (as which they barely qualify) but as ammunition.
Opinions are shared, but disagreement with that opinion is met with generalizing and stereotyping meant not to deal with the statement but with the speaker.
Social media helps us avoid the contract of relationship.
So much so that when see civil, thoughtful dialogues between people on Twitter we think “See, that was helpful.”
Hidden there is the strange reality that A) we feel compelled to have an opinion on that conversation and B) Civility is such a strange and unusual spectre to see floating around. It seems far more likely to get an iPhone snap of a Yeti than to have two people disagree respectfully on Twitter.
But I don’t delete the apps or my accounts. I log on in the morning and find the same ranting and generalizing and I feel the same bile rising in my throat.
Which leads to this thought: Social media is a place where we take our true soul out to play. So what is the soul’s longing – and in turn, what is the Divine thread – in what’s happening in our love/hate relationship with social media?
Driving to work yesterday I took two age old theological concepts for a test drive within the context of the social media paradox. The words immanence and transcendence came to mind.
The origin of these two words is to try and describe the twin mysteries of God’s “with-ness,” (both in the Temple and in the incarnational reality of Jesus), and God’s “other-ness” or the way the Divine transcends categories and limitations.
I wonder if our paradoxical relationship with social media is simply an echo of our longing to participate in that immanence and transcendence?
Let me back up a bit: our formation journey is based on, as Franciscan and Celtic theology believe, an “original blessing.” Many theological discussions start with original sin, but beginning with God’s tov me’od (“very good”) rather than banishment names the goodness at the root of our personhood.
There is a transcendent quality evident in the creation story of Genesis 1. Created in the image and likeness of the Divine is language of something that most of us can’t get our hands around.
At the same time, there is a rootedness as well. The name (or title?) adamah, which we often translate “Adam” names a kind of humanity rooted in concrete things. The naming of animals, the cultivating of plants, the stewarding of creation – these are all immanent kinds of things.
It is in the intersection of immanence and transcendence where innocence and trust come from. The Divine and humanity are tightly linked at the crossroads of God’s image/likeness and the rootedness in created things.
When the transcendent is traded for the immanent, innocence and trust are cracked (though not shattered, as some might say). The result is a constant struggle to reclaim the immanence and transcendence of God both outside and within ourselves.
In other words our work, sex, relationships, inner world are simultaneously involved in a quest to recover that intersection.
What if social media offers us a moment where we say “I want to share in this content, this discussion, this gift” (immanence) “but at the same time I need to remind myself I’m above it” (transcendence).
To be honest, every time I’ve thought about giving up social media the reasons leaned heavily in one direction. I wanted to portray the idea “I’m above all of this.” I’m far too spiritual for social media, I don’t really need it. Which, no one needs social media but the impulse of heart exhibited here has zero integrity. I didn’t want to leave for the sake of the good, but for the sake of my own persona.
In fact when I see tweets or posts about the dangers of social media, I wonder to myself “Why distance yourself (transcendence) from something you are clearly involved in (immanence)?”
In that sense, to truly quit social media is done without warning or fanfare. It would be a disappearance.
There is a downside of course. Social media is the place where many isolated souls are encouraged on their journey. Many writers (like myself) are able to speak to people on a daily basis because of platform, audience, followers, and friends.
Again, social media is not the devil. That is unless we lose the plot.
The plot is this: spiritual formation is the life lived at the crossroads of immanence and transcendence. The Spirit of Jesus speaks to us in our guts as we wince over the our uncle’s racist tweet. Exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit in patience and kindness is necessary when dialoguing between theological traditions.
The tradition of the prophets whispers in our ears as we speak up for “alien, fatherless, orphans, and widows” in response to those who do not see “the other” as we do.
All of the rancor of social media reminds us that we are, to a person, missing our home at the intersection of immanence and transcendence. We find our value in “Likes” and “RT’s” and that can be destructive, but we may also find our calling to write and speak in those same “Likes” and “RT’s.”
Often we swim in the misinformation of links too quickly shared or too heavily biased. We also learn that we are not the only humans on earth. Therefore to “love our neighbor as ourselves” is far bigger a task than we ever imagined.
Social media is a therefore a tool for spiritual formation. Sometimes.
It is the non-dualistic guide back to the intersection of transcendence and immanence, the place where the Divine lives. When we begin to embrace the love/hate relationship, we begin to embrace a journey back home. A home we faintly remember, like a mist.
Oh, that last line is good. I’m going to tweet that for sure.
What are you learning from your love (immanence) and hate (transcendent) relationship with social media? Where can your angst about the people who don’t “get it” reveal our own limitations? What gift is God calling out of you as you scroll, like, share, etc.?
May we realize that the whole of our spiritual journey isn’t what we find in our feeds. Also, may we find that the journey through our feeds can be helpful. May we see that social media can provide raw material for the our formation.
If we live, graciously and wisely, at the intersection of love and hate.