7.13.2010

Living Epistles in a Socially Connected World


Picking up on something I linked to yesterday, I found this recent post from Penelope Trunk on Gen Y to be thought-provoking: "Privacy is the New Celebrity." Reared on a world in which reality TV can help you find a spouse, fix your house, and pimp your ride, is it any wonder that social media has taken off like it has? Unless you're really shy, and even if you are, attention can be irresistible. Who wouldn't want to be at the center of your own multi-media empire, video and text and witty banter, all about you and all swirling around you?

Elder generations look at Gen Y and tsk-tsk: what's gotten into these attention hogs, how can they be so self-absorbed to not realize how self-absorbed they are, and what's all the hoo-hey about this Twitter thing? Whatever happened to one-on-one phone calls, personal letter, heck even a private email? Why does every detail need to be announced, every snarky message made available for all the world to see, every social event captured in vivid detail in photo and video?

The elders have a point, to a degree. Attention for attention's sake is neutral at best and soul-atrophying at worst. Just because you can say something doesn't mean you should. And discretion is still a relevant art, even in a 24/7/365, cameras-everywhere world.

However, speaking now as a Christian, consider the benefits of a life lived under the white hot light of constant scrutiny. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have made the world smaller, faster, and more transparent. This can seem awfully threatening and discombobulating. Or it can be a fabulous opportunity to live a publicly viewable life that points to Someone who actually warrants idolization and adoration and fascination.

Is this not the great fork in the road in the mind of the Christian? In our worldview, mankind lives for itself, its own glory and attention and publicity and celebrity status. And it is, if one is honest, both innate and yet unfulfilling. With effort and by grace, the Christian endeavors instead to be subsumed within a greater story and a grander God.

If this is the purpose of the believer, we live in an unprecedented time to do just that. It can seem scary that there is the possibility that every thought, every image, every action is out there for all the world to see. And it can be an incredible opportunity to be, as the apostle Paul coined it, "living epistles."

When Paul wrote that - "being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" - he wrote within a Corinthian community not much less secular and profane than ours. And the church there was to live out its newfound faith in the public arena, so that others might "read" them and be intrigued, informed, and influenced.

So are we to live out our faith in the public arena. But, that arena has widened to include countless connections, and what can be "read" is limited only by our imagination and our diligence.

Gen Y may have it half-right after all. We all are celebs, in that the world is watching us with voyeuristic interest, waiting to see if there is anything about us worth a second look. But, what they should see should not glorify ourselves, but rather One greater than us whose name and reputation we endeavor to advance ahead of our own.

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