August 26, 2012
My husband Rhye signed up for a Facebook account long before I did. I remember asking him what he was spending so much time looking at, and he told me “It’s like reading a newspaper, except the newspaper is all about people you know and the things that matter to them.” This was kind of interesting, but I had a full-time job, was a full-time student, and had a full-time baby. I had no room in my life for something that was extraneous.
About a year later it became inevitable. The teenagers in the church where I served would not respond to E-mails or phone calls. They told me Facebook was the only good way to get in touch with them. Fine, I signed up for Facebook. I had no idea what I was getting into.
Facebook can be a huge time suck, and honestly it can be more than a little silly. Imagine if our real life interactions worked like Facebook interactions do. Watch this video. Many people experience a great loss of productivity because of the amount of time spent on Facebook. Some learn things about their “friends” that they really do not want to know. Others are embarrassed by things that their friends reveal, and some have even lost their jobs or custody cases. According to Kate Dailey in Newsweek, Facebook comes up in 1 out of 5 divorce cases and 20% of employers say they check employee applicants on Facebook before hiring them. Social media has been criticized as being selfish and egotistical. It’s all about what “I” am doing, what “I” am thinking, what “I” like. Me, me, me. Some people fear that social media encourages us to focus on all the wrong things and limits real social interaction.
But there are so many positive possibilities. Both of the readings I shared earlier (The Tao of I-pod and The Spirituality of Social Media) pointed out some excellent benefits we gain from social media - connection, community, and social change. In addition to being a place where people talk about their own lives, it is a platform for many to champion their various causes. Some attempts are completely ineffective – no one is going to cure breast cancer because a bunch of women posted about their bra color. But several social action movements have galvanized through Facebook. According to Nancy Scola, “Facebook is revolutionizing the way collective political and social actions are organized today, blowing the doors off old models of how volunteer lists are amassed, funds raised, and messages honed and delivered.” From supporting orphans in China to revolutions in Colombia, some groups are using Facebook to make a real difference in the world.
This is my Facebook page. I have 405 Facebook “friends.” Of course, “Friend” on Facebook may mean “a person I met once in some place I can hardly remember.” Or it could mean the people who I love dearly but now live far away. Or people I interact with every day. Or even, people I have never met IRL (in real life) but with whom I connect on a deep and personal level. My Facebook friends include my family, my close friends in many states, congregants from both of the congregations where I have served, people I knew in high school and haven’t seen since, and acquaintances from my many other affiliations.
My Facebook friends include UUs, Pagans, Buddhists, Protestants and Catholics, atheists and agnostics, Jews, Mormons, and a few Hindus. It includes mostly people from the United States, but also some from Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, India, Brazil, Russia, and Israel. It includes liberals, conservatives, and everyone in between. Straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, polyamorous. Teenagers and elders. Those I look up to as mentors, and those who look up to me.
I try to think carefully about my audience when I decide what to “share” on Facebook. Yes, I post personal status updates about my family – especially silly things Ariana says or does. My favorite status update in the past two weeks was when she said “I don’t know when I am going to fly again. I used to fly.” And I post family photos. It’s exciting to share good news, and I also know I will get outreach and support when I am faced with challenges. I’m glad to be able to share my life with so many people who love me. My dad says the primary reason he is on Facebook is to keep up with his adult children. When I post something personal, he almost always brings it up in a text or phone call.
But I have also found Facebook to be an incredibly valuable part of my ministry. I want to use this platform to share inspiration and make a difference in the world. I may not be curing cancer or organizing revolutions. But for the person who needs a lift on any given day, maybe I can give that. I know that I receive so many inspirational messages, and this is a small way I can have an impact on others. When I was asked for my sermon topic for this final summer service, the most inspirational thing that came to my mind was something I saw and shared on Facebook earlier that day:
“Weird is just a side effect of being awesome.” Fifty-three of my friends liked this post enough that they shared it on their pages. Talk about a pay-it-forward. The message of this simple picture says it’s okay to be different and unique. It reinforces the first UU principle of inherent worth and dignity. It shows there is freedom and joy, wonder and awe, in just being ourselves. It does not matter if others think we are “weird.” Who needs to be normal anyway? But as I began working on the sermon, I realized that I wanted to share so much more than this message. These are just a few of the messages I’ve shared on Facebook just this summer.
Sometimes it’s a quote from a movie. I post a lot of things about movies and other stories that I love. There’s a high percentage of posts about Harry Potter on my Facebook – I’m sure that’s a big surprise. But I am careful in what messages I send. Will this message uplift my audience? Or will it harm?
Sometimes I do cross into controversial territory, at least a little bit. I love to share messages that encourage equality and uphold my values as a Unitarian Universalist, especially when they are expressed in a creative way. I avoid messages that tear others down or denigrate those with different opinions from my own. And sometimes I am surprised at controversy. When I shared this picture of a rainbow Oreo cookie in support of GLBTQ pride, I was surprised to get negative responses from some of my more conservative friends and family. Apparently the Oreo company got a flood of protests. But they stood behind their message.
When another user adapted the ad after the controversy, I had to share it, too.
But mostly I choose to use my social media to build bridges rather than create divisions. We are each part of the interconnected web of all existence. Things are not really black and white. The lines between groups are not true divisions.
Our religious tradition teaches us to accept all people. To love unconditionally, without exceptions. Whoever you are, wherever you are on your life journey. Love is so much bigger than any one group.
And sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference. The sacred can be found anywhere that we are. We find the sacred in the cosmos. We find the sacred in nature. We find the sacred in each other. In the song we heard earlier “Holy Now,” UU Peter Mayer sings: “I remember feeling sad that miracles don’t happen still, but now I can’t keep track ‘cause everything’s a miracle.” Everything’s a miracle. Each moment. Each breath. Each child. Each person in this room. Each person in the great, wide world. Even if you have never logged onto Facebook, I hope that you will take some encouragement from today. You are valued. You are a miracle. And you are part of something so much more.
And everything is so much bigger than we are – this interconnected web of all existence of which we are a part. I see a small mirror of this in the World Wide Web – in the web of connections that is social media. Facebook won’t last forever. It’s probably already on its way out of fashion. There will always be some new thing, some new way of communicating.
What you say, what you do - these things have a great impact on other people. So I offer you a challenge. Will you take the time to THINK when you say something – whether you say it on Facebook, twitter, text, skype, or any other method? Will you use your opportunities to make the world a better place, one person at a time? I surely hope you will. Together, we can build a better world, starting here. Starting now.
Close your eyes. Visualize yourself as a single point of light on a vast interconnected web. The world wide web is a small part of this great web of light. Your light affects all those you touch. Open your eyes and leave this place lifted up, knowing your power. Amen and Blessed Be.