Civic discourse is far from civil these days. And there is so much more of it, thanks to social media. Everywhere people are drawing lines, choosing sides, treating even issues with little moral importance as if they were lines drawn in the sands of eternity. It is as if the whole of society was pushing to a precipice – we will fight to the death!
I read Ezekiel 21 this morning, the song of the sword of Yahweh. The sword is pointed directly at Yahweh’s own people. This is not a chorus of triumph, but a siren call that judgement is at hand and it is inevitable.
It is easy to point fingers at others, to flush out the speck in my brother’s eye instead of dealing first with the log in my own. But otherizing our focus tends to create unbridgeable divides between us and them. Judgement begins, in contrast, at the house of the Lord. We are called to deal with our own mess first.
This is the challenge for the people of God. If we are to learn to speak prophetically to our culture, we must first learn to hear the word of the Lord for ourselves. “What is God saying to me” comes before “What is God saying to thee.”
The amplification of social media is extremely draining to the soul. It tears down. It destroys. It thrives on pillaging. The adage we used to apply to traditional media about bad news selling better than good news also applies to the new media of the masses. Just as the occasional cute kid or cat video will go viral, so too will the conspiracy theory, the shame tweet, the maligning meme. But these spread like wildfire consuming the very souls of those who spawn them.
In this season of Lent, we are called to learn to do without, to let go, to abstain, if only for forty days. But a fast, even a partial one, from the harangues of fellow citizens – including fellow believers – is of more eternal edification than a fast of chocolate. I will be much more inclined to love my social media friends if I stop listening to them for a while. Silence just might make the heart grow fonder.
However, I do find my heart drawn to look for those in distress, who are expressing the agonies of suffering. They are all around me, connected by an invisible net. In this, social media is at its best. It allows me to express very simple, yet edifying gestures – a care emoji or a comment of “lifting you up!” As I breathe a prayer for those in need, I also reassure them they are not alone. This makes social media a very good thing. That and blessing friends on some milestone achieved.
In this time when we are isolated by pandemic, social media becomes a way of connecting. But we must learn to use it with discipline and skill, to understand that our words that can heal can also destroy. What the first century writer James had to say about the power of the tongue applies as well to the tongue expressed through modern thumb.
I weary this week of the constant elevation of battle, the incessant screaming, the unending polarization. It is all so unedifying and gets us no closer to the primary goals of righteousness, peace, and joy.
All this noise adds dark to the darkness when flicker of light is what is needed. We are called to be light even as we are called to the Light. In this Lenten season of suffering and reflection, I commit to a fast of light spreading.