Have you left facebook yet? Seems to be the thing to do – after a year or so of connecting with friends and family, reading status posts, commenting, posting links to one’s wall – something ugly happens and one pulls up digital stakes and leaves sulking.
There’s lots of articles out there on how to manage facebook and other social networking tools. Some of them are funny, some are useful, some are both funny and useful. But can we use a social network to be a Christian community?
I started to use facebook primarily as a way to stay in touch with my family. They asked me to get my own facebook account. I didn’t even have my own e-mail account at the time; husband and I mashed everything together. Then I found why I wasn’t so anxious to be in daily touch with some of my family – they shame the Borgias with their internecine squabbling.
By then I had connected with other friends; people who follow this blog got in touch with me. I was pretty excited that we were developing relationships outside of the usual channels of hometown, university, work and church. I started sending to and getting friend requests from many places around the world. Maybe I should have been more discerning at first; but the whole situation was so new, that there did not seem to be any rules or guidelines.
Things I learned pretty fast: Like the rest of the internet, there are a lot of nutbars trolling facebook. Oops! Some new “friends” got dumped within hours after I got a glimpse of their “wall.” Or they asked questions that creeped me out and invaded my privacy. My naivety started to fade.
I resolved to accept friends who were provably, visibly Christian. Quite a few traditional, headcovering sisters friended me. This was not always what I expected either. Many, many groups and subgroups now practice some form of covering, much to my surprise. I was expecting Mennonites, Quakers, Plain Catholics and Charity Church members. I knew some Adventists practice covering as well. What I didn’t expect were the numbers in other sects that were not traditionally headcovering. Some of those contacts have been wonderful and supportive; others attacked me. One coterie actually held that I was in imminent danger of hell, being divorced and remarried, and ordained. It took a couple of days to weed them all out of the friendly flower garden.
I have suspected that another group has actually targetted me, bombarding me with friend requests, flattering allusions to “learning” from me, but then turned my faceboook page into a battleground over Sabbath-keeping, Torah and law. Yes, I have learned to look before accepting a new request. If they do not volunteer information, if they block non-friends from viewing their information, if they don’t return a message request with an adequate answer, I block their ability to contact me. I did have one woman get very abusive and aggressive when I told her I wan’t interested in friending her; she sent me message after message, getting more and more spiteful. I had to report her to facebook as abusive and threatening.
Now I see that I have gathered a good community of supporters and Christians about me. Not every friend is Christian; but most of those who aren’t Chrstsian are spiritual seekers and respectful of my faith. While other friends report that they often get unsavory and suggestive posts from their “friends”, I do not see that at all. I see scripture quotes, quotes from Christian writers or spiritual leaders. The humour is mostly gracious and intelligent. When disputes arise, I do not enter into the fray with harsh words (I hope) or I stay out of it.
I do not tolerate heresy, hatred and bashing. I will defend our faith. I will post things I find enlightening and useful. If someone posts something I really, really don’t want to see, I will say so, or just block that post. (Tastes differ – I don’t care for sentimentality.) I have warned people that a post is inappropriate for a Christian audience. Anyone who persists in posting images of violence, who incites hatred and disdain for others, or who is disrespectful will just get de-friended.
Facebook has allowed me into the hearts and homes of so many wonderful people. Some are young Christians, others are experienced in the walk of faith. I get to share in their lives. It is a community. I had to use discernment and discretion in building it. One of the reasons is that I will not allow my friends to be subjected to bad teachings and misleadings. They are my little flock, and the Lord has asked me to feed them. Good shepherds keep their flock away from poison; we are to lead them into green pastures, not into the thorns and locoweed.
My facebook friends are starting to connect in other ways. There is a sense of trust in those who are tuned to my page; the Holy Spirit leads us to many sharings. Today, we have had a group gather around the topic of clinical depression, its causes and its treatment. It was an opportunity to hold each other as fellow sufferers and as caregivers. We pray for each other. Many feel they can post a status asking for immediate prayer; there will be enough people on facebook to start that prayer bearing. Others join in as they can.
We are beginning to connect in real, face-to-face life as well, with groups of people who know each other through facebook gathering for an afternoon of fellowship and food. We also send small gifts to each other, share patterns and materials, post recipes to try. This is beginning to feel very apostolic – some of us will be visiting in person for the first time this summer. We even have ad hoc fundraisers to help needy friends, and people who have suffered a personal disaster, and to raise money for survivors of earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes. We are functioning like a church in many ways.
Facebook has been a blessing for me, and I hope others find it a blessing, too.