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Cleverness and Facebook as the Public Square


By heath - Posted on 01 May 2010

I recently held back my finger from the trackpad to avoid posting a comment on someone's Facebook post. It was an old friend who made a comment on how prevalent stories of dragons are in all cultures. He asked, "What is the deal with dragons?" I was going to say, "Don't you know they are just projections of a father figure." A typical cryptic attempt to be clever.

I decided not to post because I realized that I was only posting to be clever. Being clever is one of those things I have taken on as part of my persona. I do it relatively well, and take pride in it even when my cleverness is taken for obtuseness. I was caught this time because I had never posted a comment on this friends status. And, this friend had recently had a scare with a serious illness that turned out to be unfounded. I thought, "How can I use his comment as a springboard for my own cleverness, while I completely ignored his real problems just two weeks ago." While I did say a prayer for him, I did not say anything to him. Holy Spirit had caught me prostrate before my idol.

Back in my seminary days, we once bemoaned the loss of the public square. With the privatization of all things and the complete individualization of Americans as a result of technology, selfishness, and other socio-cultural influences, America has generally lost the sense of a shared public life. One reason is the loss of a shared public space. The public square was once a level playing field where ideas of all kinds could be found.

Perhaps at one time mass media was more on the side of Christians or at least cultural conservatives, so the loss of the public square was not such a loss. However, with Christianity and religion in general increasingly alienated from public discourse, people of faith began to be keenly aware of this loss.

This is all background on some thoughts I had regarding a possible outlet for this type of discourse. Obviously, the internet with the advent of blogging and social media is a new democratized "public square." I want to particularly focus on Facebook. While blogging does give one the opportunity to "preach" in an open air environment, for the most part, I hate to tell you, no one is listening. That is at least what I expect. Facebook, however, is different. Because people are so "friendly" one ends up with many more friends than would regularly read a blog. It also provides the "air" for preaching because of the constant stream of status updates everyone who is a friend receives.

This means you have an audience, and many are listening. Almost certainly most status updates, notes, etc will be missed, but the percentages can't be much worse than open air preaching. And, the more friends you have, the more chance someone might just hear the Gospel. True, some may hide you, but that problem happens in the real public square as well.

Facebook also provides a method for interacting in ways that open air preaching does not: the hearer can more closely converse with the speaker over a longer period of time. In addition, for better or worse, a fuller picture of both the speaker and hearer are visible in "public". It could be tempting, therefore, to "tint" ones own online activities so as to appear more righteous than one really is, and while I wouldn't recommend the sharing of examples of tempting sites or photos, it is a great way to reveal that we are sinners saved by grace and witness to the power of Christ in our lives.

I am going to try to remember that I am not living on borrowed time. I am living on someone else's dime. It is for Christ's death only that I have to thank for my life. I dare not. I dare not use it to gather glory for myself. The weight of his glory outweighs me like like the sun outweighs a shadow.