A few years ago my daughter gave me a T shirt that says “May your life be as awesome as you pretend it is on facebook”. It is one of my favorite everyday shirts because it’s black (doesn’t show dirt very much), the knit is tight and well-made, and I enjoy teasing people about their relationship—and mine—to the social media. I don’t mind being the recipient of other punny, wearable shirts.
More than shirts, I like to observe people’s postings. In spite of terrible grammar in both Portuguese and English, in spite of pathetic or pithy statements to which I can agree or disagree, there’s a lot to learn about people on facebook. My facebook friends are of all stripes and colors, and they communicate accordingly. Some use facebook to share family news and achievements, as a sort of cybernetic brag book. The grandmas and grandpas post their grandchildren’s antics and pictures, smart takes and cute sayings. Besides grandmas, young mothers are notorious for doing the same, I love learning about those adorable kids and how they relate to their pets, siblings, people at church and potty training.
Other friends of mine are childless, but have awesome pets that are pampered to death, with pics of the poor beasts wearing frufrus and double ribboned pony tails in lieu of ears: the smartest animals in the world, and the “mommies”and “daddies” of canine, feline and anyline animals act as if their loved ones won hors concours all the best dog shows in America, North or South.
Some of my facefriends are so needy they post “Will you please say ‘hi” to me, pleeease!|” and if I don´t take the time to type “Hi, So and So, you are my friend. How´s the weather today?” they are offended if I breeze through their inanities without “liking” what they wrote--they take it as a personal offense.
Then there are those who post photos of beheaded and crucified Christians in Iraq and Syria, or cancer patients with horrendous tumors or deformities, and the instruction: “Say amen if you feel sorry for them, or believe God can heal them, or whatever”. I confess that though I believe in prayer and pray for many situ ations of which I am aware through facebook, I am loath to write “amen” or share horror stories.
Yes, sometimes I share tales of persecution of Christians or lopsided politics or even of friend in need of prayer, but I do not share things lightly.
When I started with facebook, I figured it would be an effective instrument for communicating the gospel, giving updates and news about our publications in a non-commercial, non-threatening way, and so I added almost every pastor or missionary friend I knew of—these would be my feedback for our books. But many of the pastors I added see facebook as a fighting ring in which to point out their particular doctrines and why their faith is better than So-and-So´s. Never imagined there would be so much name-calling and “cutting off” friendships in those who lead the body of Christ!
I was delighted to re-discover old friends and some of these speak my language and feel as I feel. Friends from thirty years ago surfaced and renewed sharing. A few who were best friends are no longer “best”, but we do get along fine and I´m always learning from them. Though changed, the friendship still stands.
I have an old friend who shares the “flower of the day” each day, but doesn´t tell e much about what she thinks or does, except as a clinician. Another sends “a kiss of light” to me in everything I say, and still another copies and pastes every thing her friends have shared that day, without discerning whether the sentiment is true or false.  If I fail to comment on some of those posts, she get offended.
A dear person writes mini-sermons on well-known Bible verses and shares good songs, but never reveals what is really going on with her life. The descriptions could go on to each of the almost three thousand “friends” I´ve accumulated or renewed in the three or four years I´ve had internet.
Someone calls them “followers”, but I don´t dare think of my friends as my children, students or disciples! I´ve got a lot of following to do, and they have so much more to teach me! Yes, I want to post truthful, uplifting, thought-provoking ideas, but only as one beggar tells another beggar where to find good free food! In some sense, whatever we do or say should be for God’s glory—but my postings are not a means of evangelism or changing even the world around me.
That takes me to those friends who march to a different drum. I had one friend I loved, who was an extremely religious Roman Catholic and was offended by some other friends, Protestant and Reformed who wrote making fun of her beliefs. If I find a person ridiculing others for their beliefs, I end up considering eliminating them, even if I partially agree with them, because I believe God’s love requires that we love our neighbor as ourselves. I miss my Catholic friend who wanted to love Jesus. Several others post sayings like “May Mary, Joseph and Jesus bless you” or May Mother Earth bless you, and I do not comment. Appreciating that the Lord Jesus does bless, and certain that the mother of Jesus and his earthly father are in heaven, as one day I will be, I don´t have to “set my friend straight”, but just appreciate her good wishes. Things get more complex when a muslim prays that Allah bless, or my anti-religious friend makes fun of some Bible verse I posted. When it comes to gender issues, things get tougher still. As a Christian who believes the Bible, I do not agree with same sex attraction, but have several people in the family who have trouble with, or have embraced, their homossexuality. I love them and respect them as persons—I decry their lifestyle, the same as I also don´t agree with heterosexual fornication or adultery. Or robbing or cheating. As one sinner to another, I have to say: God loves us, but does not love our twistedness. And he can transform us!
Okay, twistedness is a very strong word, and some people tell me they don´t want to be transformed. I don´t shove the Good News down anyone´s throat, but pray that they may be found by Jesus´ righteousness! God is the one who makes straight in the desert a highway for Himself. If it depended on my artistry, I couldn´t draw a straight line for the life of me!
Back to my T-shirt, the wish is “May your life be as awesome as you pretend on facebook”. My life is full of contentment, graced with unexpected blessings and truly at peace with God and with my self. But I wouldn´t say it´s awesome. Though by some estimates, we “deserve” to be treated royally, we—you, I, my dearest and best friends, as well as those I´d just as soon forget—are all quite common. Actually, my life is quite ordinary— even when I experience some extraordinary miracles, it is not spectacular or worthy of note, but by the grace and goodness of an awesome God. He is worthy of awe, the one who surprises me each day with faithfulness and love. And I cannot pretend otherwise! Because He is awesome, my commonness contributes to God’s glory and humankinds good! That is truly and extraordinary privilege, available to all who trust in Him!
There are many questions I´d love to ask my facebook friends about the gaps between when I last saw them and when we re-met on facebook. I´ve discovered they are beautiful and strong, remarkable and worthy men and women whom I admire.Some are the children of my old friends. Sure, I wish I could warn some about avoiding telling it all—they will get hurt in the end.
Admittedly, many people use the social media to pretend what they aren´t—photoshopping their portraits to perfection, copying other people’s good ideas and achievements. The idea is posting selfies,  and sometimes our friends project sexy selves, intellectual provocations and super-heroic deeds. Or do that with their children, boyfriends, grandchildren, spouses, pets, or even great meals! Instead of intending well-being, they pretend what no-one really can deliver. I´d rather take a picture with my beloved in a garden, with wrinkles on my face and shadows all around, showing off that common reality of an eternal soul clothed in humanness.
When Jesus´s disciples saw the transfiguration, all they could think about was building a tabernacle to contain the glory of Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Jesus immediately set their feet on the ground and invited them to deal with a desperate father and demonized son. That put the fear of the Lord back where it belonged!
For me, facebook is a privilege, but not a ministry. I can learn a lot through computer information, but my character  must be formed by the Word of God which filters data that is shared. Many new friends were made through social media, but that cannot substitute real relationships. May my life be real, as I serve an awesome God and my fellow human beings in great and small ways, for each minute of my day, whether on my facebook mural or my fractured, re-made life.

Elizabeth Gomes

1 comment:

  1. Delightful, Beth. I am encouraged hearing you SO you! We share so much, though so far apart.