Saturated from Birth; Disciples in a Digital Age
“How’s your spiritual life?”
“How are you doing in your Christian walk?”
At some point we’ve all been asked at least one of these questions;
Most likely by a keen house-group leader or youth pastor with on-trend hair or a questionable choice of t-shirt. These questions aren’t bad questions – they show us that someone cares for our well-being and wants to encourage and equip us. The problem is that these questions point to a glaring gap in our theology; we are compartmentalising segments of our lives as Christian and spiritual and parts that aren’t.
Here are just a few everyday examples of our conveniently arranged lives in 2016. Church is Christian, as is our Bible and prayer time, obviously. Sports aren’t, together with our jobs (apart from exceptionally “spiritual” jobs such as “ministry” which generations before us redefined as anything involved with the leadership of a Church). Political persuasion tends to fall into the Christian box if we’re in any way interested. Internet history is about a 60:40 split and our sex lives, just don’t ask. Overall, we are exceptionally effective at separating our lives into boxes labelled ‘Christian’ and ‘Other’.
When we box portions of our lives together or separate them we’re guilty of prioritising, and conversely neglecting areas of our life. When we read Jesus speaking to the Jewish Pharisees and answering them with “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” in Matthew’s Gospel, we see that everything in a life of Faith is interwoven. Jesus was in fact quoting a foundation of Judaism found in the Jewish Torah, and later employed as part of the Biblical Pentateuch. As Moses gave his three TED Talks on the plains of Moab found in Deuteronomy on Israelite history, identity and lifestyle, he paid great attention to faith as omnipresent and ubiquitous;
“Hear, oh Israel: The Lord our God, The Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-9).
Ask Jesus or Moses just how their spiritual life is and they might just have stared at you blankly.
Moses, and later Jesus, in their own eloquent and relevant ways were sharing with their contemporaries ‘whole-life’ Faith. Jesus came to disrupt the status quo and change people’s perceptions of what it meant to know God and be known by Him. They both go all-out; instructing their followers in a holistic life of God-ness. Both the Pharisees (imagine a theosophical group not too dissimilar to text-suggestion on an iPhone) and the Israelites (who, by the way, would be known today as illegal immigrants) had begun to separate many parts of their lives from God, much like we do today. The Pharisees were known in first century Israel as sticklers for theological detail and strict liturgical scholars who challenged Jesus in their most prized arena; religious observance with a historical twist. Alternatively, Moses spoke on the very identity of Israel, their God and the relationship that bounds them after years of directionless wandering in the desert.
Similarly to our categorisation of all things Godly, there are few ways that we excel at compartmentalising our life like our use of social media. Each post, snap, tweet, comment and like paints a carefully-restricted picture of our lives for our social-media connections to view and engage with. For large-scale sporting events and demonstrations, the police in the UK use police horses in order to guide the supporters along set-routes to maintain order and reduce the threat of large-scale disruption. The horses wear specially tailored eye-wear called blinkers or tacks to limit their view and prevent them looking backwards or to the side.
How we use Social Media dictates that the picture of ourselves that we present intentionally blinkers our friends, family and online acquaintances. From the rise of internet trolling to the applying sepia-coloured filters to some images whilst hiding others, from non-permanent services such as Snapchat to employers researching potential employee’s profiles, Social Media lavishes privacy and immersive choice to the user in ways we could only have dreamt of during the infancy of the internet. As millenials or Generation Y, we were the first generation to really have to decipher Social Media and map the everyday digital integration. This author's first memory of Social Media was of evenings spent ordering and re-ordering his ‘Top 8’ Friends on MySpace whilst trying to convince his parents that the MSN Messenger pop-ups were research for homework. If we fast forward 10 years, social media has evolved hand in hand with our relationship with it. Whilst our lives are ever more digitally saturated, we can learn lessons living as a whole-life follower of Jesus from our interaction with Social Media.
Social media presents us with opportunities for connection we’ve never experienced before but despite the streams of selfies, mealtime snaps and ability to reach people around the world, the need for genuine social interaction minus the media is crucial. Imagine the effect on our lives and those around us if our faith impacted on our thoughts and behaviour as much as we allow the apps on our smart-phones. What if instead of double-tapping on that photo of our friends, we took them for coffee and asked about them instead? Sharing a meal with our families might suddenly feel important, supportive and enjoyable if conversation was the method of interaction rather than hashtags.
When we admit that our need for vulnerability, intimacy, belonging and honesty can’t be met by likes, tweets and the pursuit of digital connection, we’re freed to focus our lives on the discovering the value of closeness and relationship with God. We’re compartmentalising God and we’ve grown to let Social Media soak through our lives. It’s time to allow God to do the same.
Over the next 8 weeks, LogosPost will explore the current state of Masculinity and how we can equip ourselves and the men in our lives to thrive within today’s cultures.
Next week, Will looks at modern masculinity and the role of the Church.