Tag Archives: social media

Facebook’s “On This Day” as a Spiritual Practice

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I don’t know exactly when Facebook rolled out its On This Day feature, but it’s become more and more a part of my daily social media routine. It’s been (mostly) a gift to read what was important to me one, two, three or more years ago.

Reactions to On This Day are mixed. Many friends and colleagues have expressed concern that the feature can cause unnecessary pain, especially if people aren’t prepared to be confronted by updates about a marriage that’s now over, or about the life of a beloved person who has died. Also, Facebook updates are non-linear, haphazard even. Dismay over terrorist attacks mingle with reports on our pets. Grief visits us, but it can be nestled between Buzzfeed videos and a recipe for brussels sprouts gratin. Which is part of the beauty of the thing–profound moments mingled with the sacred ordinary. But it can also create emotional whiplash.

For people who simply don’t want to go there, Facebook makes it easy to ignore On This Day. The feature can remind you every day to take a peek at what’s there, but you can turn the notifications off. You can also block updates involving certain people and mute certain dates… though I suspect that’s not foolproof at muting the sad stuff. I miss my dad, not just on his birthday or the day he died, but random days throughout the year.

I suspect many people use social media as a de facto journal to chronicle daily life. In that respect, it’s good to have a way to go back and read… although I wish there were a way to skip easily to any date in your timeline, not just the current one. I also wish you could allow select people to view your On This Day–my husband posts rarely to Facebook but has wished he could easily access mine, especially for the posts about our family.

I believe On This Day is not just a reminder of past events. It can also be a spiritual practice, a way of “listening to your life.” One of the most important practices for our family and for me is the examen, in which we talk about points of gratitude in our day. On This Day is a way of living the examen on a larger scale. Patterns emerge. Situations ripen over a series of days and months, and it can be illuminating to see a snapshot in time when we know the end of the story.

It seems to me there’s a balance to be found between detachment and engagement. On This Day works best for me as a reflective practice when I’ve gotten into the right mental space. I might take a deep breath and spiritually prepare myself for what I’ll see there, and it’s mostly a delightful surprise. But if there are sad things waiting for me there, I want to be detached enough so I don’t replay the heartache–I can acknowledge it and feel whatever new thing I need to feel about it.

But we don’t want to be too detached either, examining our experiences as if we were a historian researching the past. Jesuit theologian Walter Burghardt talks about contemplation as a “long, loving look at the real.” Loving means not holding our experiences at arms’ length.

There’s also something to be said for the what we might call holy amnesia. I’m struck by how many annoyances and indignities I was very exercised about at the time, that I not only don’t care about any more, but don’t even remember. That’s such important perspective–and it also impacts what I write today. Will the future me want to read this? Will the future me even care? Those can be helpful questions to keep things in proper proportion.

Do you read On This Day? How do you engage with it?

Building a Bike Shed Out of Starbucks Cups: Beyond the #WarOnChristmas

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The other day I vented on Facebook,

November 8 and I’m already tired of the War on Christmas. No, not the people who are upset by Starbucks cups and Happy Holidays. The people who are upset with those people and compelled to post about it. I’m declaring war on the war on the War on Christmas.

My tongue was firmly in cheek (that last sentence! Come on!), but still, there have been a number of of blogs and FB posts, reposted and shared widely, decrying the outrage over Starbucks’s red cups and companies that say “Happy Holidays.” For the record, I agree with my colleagues that cries of persecution are juvenile and beside the point of Christianity. Most of them are clever, thoughtful and well written.

The problem is–and granted I am in a lefty Christian bubble too much–the reaction to the so-called War on Christmas seems way outsized to the controversy itself. Thus far the “War” seems to amount to a handful of articles, most of which mention the same 3-4 Christian leaders or groups, then sprinkle in quotes from various cranks with Twitter accounts.

I don’t doubt there are people who are offended by what they see as the secularization of the Christmas season. What I question is my tribe’s tendency to go straight to smackdown. Especially since this happens like clockwork every year. Must we do this?

I include myself in this question. Yeah, I didn’t jump on this particular bandwagon, but I’ve jumped on plenty in my day, and I have the limp and the hearing loss to prove it.

The critiques of the War on Christmas (what I called the war on the War on Christmas) legitimize a perspective that frankly doesn’t deserve legitimacy. (Telling your barista your name is Merry Christmas to force them to say those words? Really?!?) But more important, it amounts to building a bike shed. Which is what this post is really about.

Back in the 1950s, C. Northcote Parkinson identified the bike-shed problem, which has come to be known as Parkinson’s Law of Triviality. In a nutshell:

A management committee decides to approve a nuclear power plant, which it does with little argument or deliberation.  Then comes the decision on the color of the bike shed at the plant, during which the management gets into a nit-picking debate and expends far more time and energy than on the nuclear power plant decision.

Or put another way, the amount of discussion is inversely proportional to the complexity of the topic.

Anyone who’s ever served on a church council will recognize this, though it goes way beyond the church. This is the discussion about the color of the carpet in the parlor instead of why the church is dying, or the color of the corporate logo instead of the toxic office culture.

Red cups are easy. #Blacklivesmatter is complex. Westboro Church is easy. Syria is complex. We don’t always have to tackle complex issues on social media. But nor should we be seduced by stuff that really, really doesn’t matter. Again, I am writing to myself as much as anyone else. Please hold me to this.

Hopefully by now the red cup kerfuffle is waning. But other potential “battles” will come–it’s only November 10. I’d personally like to see us not jump into critiques of the War on Christmas. Not because there’s nothing to critique–there is. But because it’s too easy. I also suspect there are powers out there that benefit from our outrage and our division. If nothing else, this has been free publicity for Starbucks, whose coffee and red cups I enjoy–but it’s a multinational corporation that frankly doesn’t need our signal boost.

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Image courtesy of my friend Meredith Kemp-Pappan. 

Shepherding the Family through Social Media

Shepherding the Family through Social Media

“Mommy, can I have an Instagram account?” my daughter asked from the back seat of the van. We were on our way home from a retreat I’d led for a church in South Carolina. I’d decided to bring the family with me—the retreat was in Myrtle Beach; enough said—and they’d had a great time. The kids met all kinds of new friends and made plans to keep in touch. Apparently Instagram was the preferred method.

Unfortunately, my daughter is 11, and the Instagram terms of service specify a minimum age of 13.

What’s a rule-following mother to do? I don’t want to give her the impression that it’s OK to bend the rules, even in a trivial matter. And maybe this matter isn’t so trivial. Does an 11 year old need an Instagram account yet? I’d love to nurture these fledgling friendships, but can’t I keep her young and social-media sheltered for just a little while longer? Whom is she likely to encounter on these sites? Friends, of course, just like I happily do. But what about people who might do her harm?

I am confronted with these questions even as I work on my next book, Spirituality in the Smartphone Age, which is an attempt to examine this digital culture we all swim in. As I write, I’m trying to discern some spiritually faithful patterns and practices for engaging with technology. How much is too much? What does it mean to be “authentic” online? How can we be mindful of personal boundaries? What does meaningful community look like?

One of the challenges in writing the book is defining what I mean by spirituality, as opposed to the psychology or sociology of digital culture. Other authors have explored quite thoroughly the ways the Internet has changed the way we work, play, and relate with one another. What I’m after is something simultaneously deeper and broader: a holistic approach that integrates body, mind, spirit, and community.

But the other challenge in writing the book is that I’m so very confused and ambivalent myself about our technological age and how it is changing us.

READ THE REST at the Practicing Families website.

Photo credit: MikaelWiman via photopin cc

Our Online Habits—Survey Results

Our Online Habits

As I work on my next book (working title Spirituality in the Smartphone Age), I’ve gotten curious about the online/social media habits of different Enneagram types, and put together a survey to that effect. (Survey is now closed.)

The Enneagram stuff won’t be in the book—I’m thinking a free PDF in advance of the book—but here are some preliminary findings.

(Today’s post is general and will not delve into the Enneagram at all, but if you want to learn more about what it and figure out your type, here is a place to begin.)

Disclaimers:

  • This was not a scientific study. I did not apply any statistical jiujitsu to this work, because I have none. For example, although Enneagram 6s supposedly make up half the world’s population, they comprised the smallest number of respondents. That’s going to skew things. Nothing to be done about that.
  • For this reason, although I will be making some guesses and drawing some conclusions, they should all be taken with a grain of salt. My guesses are based on the data I collected, nothing more. So if I report that Facebook is the most popular social media site, you should hear an unspoken “among respondents” after that claim. (Though that’s a bad example because Facebook IS the most popular social media site by most metrics.)

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General Online Habits:
50% of respondents report spending 1-3 hours a day online, whether engaged in social media or reading and writing blogs or other sites. 28% spend 3-5 hours online. 15% spend more than 5 hours per day.

Reasons for Using Social Media:
People could check multiple options here. The top responses by far were “my friends and family are there” and “it’s entertaining/informative”; each commanding almost 70%.

“A sense of habit” was at the bottom of the list, but it was still chosen by more than a third of respondents. That seems significant to me. Habits aren’t necessarily bad—brushing one’s teeth twice a day would poll pretty high, eh? But I talk to more and more folks who find it hard to unplug from online activities, and who find that fact concerning.

Preferred/Favorite Social Media Sites:
Upon reflection, I essentially threw these questions out as useless. Facebook and Twitter were the big winners, which seems plausible, but people were coming to the survey from those sites, so that’s going to skew the result. I did note that reading and writing blogs performed very favorably—better than Twitter, actually—and Pinterest was the most beloved site among what I’d call second-tier sites such as Goodreads, Google+ or Instagram. (I know that Instagram and Tumblr are big among millenials. That’s another caveat to my survey, which was advertised through my friends and friends-of-friends: I’m sure it skewed older.)

Engagement with Social Media:
These questions had to do with how people use social media and other sites.

Reading v. posting: A clear majority of people felt they read and posted in a more or less balanced way. The second most popular response, with 42%, was “I mainly read and only occasionally post or comment.” So the vast majority of us are actively engaging, as opposed to lurking, or posting without reading others’ posts (1% each). This is a question where we saw interesting variation among the different Enneagram types. That’ll be in my next post.

Content: As for what people post, a majority selected “I carefully consider what I post, thinking about how I portray myself on social media” (53%).

Only a third of respondents chose “I post what I’m thinking or feeling. I value authenticity and want my online and ‘real-life’ personas to be congruent.” This was followed closely by “I mainly post informational stuff, such as links to news articles or political content, and not as much stuff about me personally.” Only 14% of respondents reported using lists or filters to control who sees what. This is another question that had some interesting variations depending on Enneagram type.

Comments: More than half of respondents will occasionally read comments on news articles or other sites, depending on the site. But a third responded, “When/If I read the comments, I’m always sorry afterwards and feel like I need a shower.” (I feel ya!)

In the comment portion of this question, people clarified their answers. For example, some folks will always read comments if it’s an online community they feel a part of (e.g. RevGalBlogPals), as opposed to say, USA Today. Other comments were almost confessional in nature. One respondent said, “I often read articles, like about Michael Sam’s coming out, and think ‘I definitely don’t want to know what the commenters are saying about this’…and then I look, because I can’t stop the rubbernecking…and then I am immediately sorry.” Again: I feel ya.

What We Would Change:
The final question asked what we would like to change about our online/social media habits. This is really the heart of what I’m interested in, and were I to do this again, I’d focus more questions on it, but I have emails from numerous kind people who are willing to talk further.

A few people (mostly of a certain type—tune in next time) questioned why all of of the choices were phrased negatively: Social media is a positive in my life! I want more! one person commented. I had to laugh—I guess the choices reveal where I am, or where I was when I wrote the question! I get overwhelmed sometimes.

Anyway, here are the results. People could choose more than one:

51% I’m on these sites more than I should be or would like to be. I find it hard to disengage.

33% I feel like these new technologies have negatively affected my attention span.

24% I would like to do more on social media but lack time, expertise, etc.

13% Other people’s postings can leave me feeling down or dissatisfied with my own life. [I find it interesting that it’s so law. It’s become conventional wisdom that other people’s bragbooking and ‘perfectly curated’ personas lead to feelings of dissatisfaction. Thirteen percent isn’t nothing, but this result suggests the problem isn’t at all widespread.

11% I feel overwhelmed having to keep up with so many people’s lives.

9% I feel burdened by the desire to present a “persona” online that doesn’t always match me.

9% I get embroiled in conflict/comment wars online that I find it hard to extricate from (including emotionally).

What do you see in these results? What do you wonder about further?

In my next post, I’ll share a few tidbits about each of the nine Enneagram type.

“But Can I Watch Football on the Sabbath?” With a Nod to Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly

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Sabbathing or numbing out?

When I speak to groups about Sabbath, I almost always start at the same place:

Turn to the person next to you and tell them one thing that brings you delight. It can’t be work-related (though I hope you are delighted by your work!), and ideally, it isn’t something that requires costly equipment or an exotic locale. This is something you can potentially do without much effort or expense.

After folks have shared with their neighbors, I suggest that their delightful activity might be a place where they’re already practicing Sabbath without calling it that.. and/or it’s an entry point to think about incorporating Sabbath into their lives. Sabbath, as Isaiah reminds us in the Old Testament, is to be kept as a delight, not a chore. The creation story in Genesis has this relentless refrain: it’s good, it’s good, it’s good. This world is good. Our bodies are good, and made for pleasure. In my own tradition, the Westminster Statement of Faith says our primary purpose is to glorify and enjoy God.

That doesn’t mean that every enjoyable activity brings us closer to the Holy, I suppose. And sometimes in my retreats and discussions, people look at me skeptically when I talk about the delight stuff. Shouldn’t we be doing “holy” things on that day? Isn’t Sabbath about prayer and Bible reading and all those religious practices? Can we really do whatever we want?

What about watching football on TV?

I’m never quite sure how to answer. For one thing, I’m not the Sabbath police.

For another thing, while I do find prayer and Bible study to be meaningful and important activities for Christians, and lovely things to do on Sabbath, I’m more of a Barbara Brown Taylor Christian, which means I do not see a big division between sacred and secular activities.

But does that mean anything can be a Sabbath activity?

I’m reading Brené Brown’s latest book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, and she’s helped me finally get more concrete with my answer to the football question.

[If you’re not familiar with her work, the best introduction is her crazy-viral TED talk. By the way, she wants to be my big sister, doesn’t she? Of course she does. She can do this, because there aren’t thousands of other recovering perfectionists AND aspiring writers also clamoring to be her kid sister. No siree. Cough.]

Anyway, Brené Brown helps me answer the “football on Sabbath” question when she talks about numbing. She writes:

I believe we all numb our feelings. We may not do it compulsively or chronically, which is addiction, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t numb our sense of vulnerability. And numbing vulnerability is especially debilitating because it doesn’t just deaden the pain of our difficult experiences; numbing vulnerability also dulls our experiences of love, joy, belonging, creativity, and empathy. We can’t selectively numb emotion.

There aren’t any checklists or norms to help you identify shadow comforts or other destructive numbing behavior. This requires self-examination and reflection… Are my choices comforting and nourishing my spirit, or are they temporary reprieves from vulnerability and difficult emotions that ultimately diminish my spirit?

For me, sitting down to a wonderful meal is nourishment and pleasure. Eating while I’m standing, be it in front of the refrigerator or inside the pantry, is always a red flag.Sitting down to watch one of my favorite shows on television is pleasure. Flipping through channels for an hour is numbing.

This is the key to Sabbath as well. Really, it comes down to intention. I can imagine times when watching football feels immersive and enlivening. Can such an activity also feed us spiritually? Don’t know; I don’t have the spectator sports gene myself. But I can see how getting caught up in a thrilling contest, in which athletes are performing to the best of their abilities and using their “fearfully and wonderfully made” bodies to their utmost, would be grounding and inspiring… and maybe even bring us closer to God. But I can imagine other times in which watching sports on TV feels mindless, when we watch out of habit or boredom, when we’re not really there.

I think that’s why some people see Facebook as such a source of unhappiness. In my opinion, there’s nothing inherently numbing about social media. Used in an intentional and mindful way, it’s a great source of fun and connection.

What makes Facebook a challenge is that, unlike a football game, there’s no end to it. We can start out enjoying the relationships we cultivate there, but when we spend too much time scrolling through people, we start to numb out. I’m a big fan of technology, and as FB friends know, I’m a chatty FBer. I’ve also thought a lot about how to use it in a way that’s good for me. So I’ve put all kinds of boundaries around it, whether it’s using lists or only signing on a couple of times a day (and not at all on most weekends).

What do you think about this numbing stuff? Have you read Daring Greatly?

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I haven’t said this recently: thank you to everyone who has read Sabbath in the Suburbs and recommended it to friends. If you haven’t already, I’d be most thankful for an Amazon review.

photo credit: laverrue via photopin cc