by Angie Allport.
We’ve all seen it (maybe even done it ourselves): two or more are gathered together with heads bowed. Praying? No, looking at their mobile phones! We live in an age of paradox:
- Through electronic means we’re more connected than ever, but we’ve possibly never been less in relationship
- Couples obviously on first dates or in the early stages of a relationship still have their phones out
- Young women aren’t having smear tests because they’re too embarrassed, yet post intimate details of their everyday lives online
- Nearly three quarters of young adults experience FOMO (fear of missing out), leading them to be constantly checking their social media accounts, but often adding to their fear rather than relieving it
- Many use ‘selfies’ to project a particular image of themselves but end up being frustrated because they cannot be themselves
- There can be an outpouring of grief on ‘Facebook’ in the face of a national tragedy, but a complete lack of sympathy for the homeless person under our noses
This is the world we inhabit. We are not called to judge the world but to love it, so how, as Christians, can we speak into these paradoxes? Jesus came to bring freedom – the freedom to be ourselves and to find ourselves in him. If we’re not then bringing that freedom for others, we’re not sharing in God’s work of salvation. We perhaps need to lift up our own heads and notice anew the world around us, the familiar things we pass by each day, and particularly the people we pass, seeing Christ in them and asking ourselves how can we be as Christ to them? We possibly need to unplug our earphones to catch the snatches of conversations (if there is any audible conversation going on!) which tell us what others are interested in. As an activist, I could be in London nearly every Saturday marching for something or other. On the occasions when I do go, I’m always quite fascinated by those who are passionate about things like refugees and the environment but not for reasons of faith.
I’m not saying technology is a bad thing (and there’s certainly no putting the genie back in the bottle), but it touches on that old dilemma of whether Christians should engage with popular culture or stand above it. For me, it’s about engagement. Although I’m not convinced that there can be an electronic body of Christ, to be his hands and feet in the world, the church nevertheless needs to engage with the online world, just as Jesus went to the places where the people were. Like anything in life, however, there’s a need to strike a healthy balance or it will become an idol. If you are on social media or just play games on your tablet, ask yourself (and I include myself in this) are you prioritising it over the time you spend with God, either in prayer or reading the Bible? Do you need to redress the balance?
If you are on social media, you might post about that great party you went to, but do you ever say where you are on Sunday morning and what a great talk you heard? A woman at our church used Facebook to invite her cycling group to a carol service and was surprised by how many accepted the invitation and came along. Arguably, many are becoming disillusioned with materialism and individualism, and are longing for community and permanent relationships. This is the itch which the church can scratch! We need to find a way of tapping in to that sense of FOMO, for many are missing out – missing out on the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ! It is our Christian calling to be ambassadors for him. That means making friends (maybe online in the first instance) and, in time, offering our Lord’s gracious invitation.