[This post is part of a roundtable conversation on the new book Follow You Follow Me: Why Social Networking is Essential to Ministry by John Voelz, now featured at the Patheos Book Club.]
I must affirm that I like many aspects of social networking. It has broadened my world, enabled me to make new friends (not just casual Facebook “friends” but something deeper), reclaim old friendships, keep in touch with good friends, grieve and celebrate, and share the good news of my books, talks, and projects. Although I spend a lot of my time in public – teaching, lecturing, preaching, and leading seminars – I am introverted by disposition. Social networking, especially Facebook, has enabled me to communicate personally and generically in indirect and creative ways that suit my off-the-job personality.
I see social networking as an opportunity to bring more beauty and goodness into the world. I believe that it can be healing, reconciling, supporting, and transforming. My own approach is to see social networking as an opportunity to give – and receive – blessings. To bless is to wish another well and to convey God’s loving energy to them. It is to see the unity of love that joins all things at their depths – the unity we have with one another – and to affirm that another’s well-being is essential to our own prosperity and health. Blessing breaks down barriers and joins us with others despite geographical distance. Like intercessory prayer, it can overcome distances of space, time, culture, and ethnicity. Blessing expands our own spirits to embrace the variety of this good Earth. In fact, I call my social networking a form of prayerful awareness.
Pastor Joel Voelz, is his new book Follow You Follow Me, asserts “social networking is essential to ministry.” Whether our networking focus is personal, congregational, or institutional, the what and the how are intimately connected. For example, does your website share who you are in an authentic way? Does it express your spiritual, professional, and communal values? Does it tell your story creatively? Is it hospitable and welcoming to visitors? Does it invite others to share the journey?
Perhaps, just as important is the how. Do your comments bless or alienate? Are they good news even when you protest injustice? Does your partisanship – if you publically take sides on issues and candidates – affirm your cause without demeaning your opposition? If my primary goal is to bless, then that shapes the how even when I choose to differentiate myself from others.
At the end of the day, the blessing approach to social networking sees your readers as persons, with goals, values, hopes, and dreams, rather than objects to manipulate or impress. This approach inspires us to see our posts as part of cycle of giving and receiving in which we are as interested in hearing others’ stories and entrepreneurial outreach as sharing our own daily narratives and outreach.
Though we begin with “me,” it’s ultimately about “us.” About serving, blessing, sharing – and listening and responding.
A practice I try to take seriously is to enter cyberspace with a spirit of prayer. Forgetful as I sometimes am – and often too eager to share my story or promote a book – I find that my sharing and entrepreneurial work (promoting talks, books, and projects) gains stature and authenticity when I see it as part of something larger than myself, our mutual vocation to heal the Earth. I take a moment to center myself as I log on, and then as I look at messages and read posts I say “bless you.” We all need a blessing, and in that intentionality to bless we consecrate social networking, making it a holy space for transformation, healing, and growth. Like the web, prayer and blessing are forms of distant intentionality, whose impact does not depend on distance, simply the love we share with others.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary, Ponderings on a Faith Journey, and, Patheos. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.