On Monday I begin the next 'chapter in my life' (though I'm not fond of that phrase) as I take a position at Florida Southern College as the Associate Chaplain. Florida Southern is my undergraduate alma mater and I couldn't be happier to be beginning work at such an institution. I'm even happier still that I'll finally be with my wife again after a long hard year living separately.
Attending seminary at Duke was a mind opening experience. I've written about it previously on this site, you can browse below to find it. What most seminarians will tell you but you might not realize is that the power behind the learning doesn't really happen in the classroom. The learning happens in the conversations, the study sessions, and the field education placements, in which you and those around you discuss communally and practically those things which are so important to the faith.
I've become infamous over the last three years for living out those conversations very publicly online. I've said things I still, to this day, agree with. I've also said things that, after going back and reading them, I have no idea how I logically arrived at the conclusion I did. Whatever the case and my feelings toward my statements now, they officially live in the permanence that is the Internet.
Many who see the Internet as a dangerous place will tell you that this new pervasive permanence is a bad thing. While the degree of pervasiveness is likely higher than at any other point in history, the idea of publication being permanent is not new at all. In fact, since the printing press, ideas could be easily distributed among the masses. These ideas came from people whose, say, Board of Ordained Ministries were watching and reading them. Conveniently, when the time was right, the Board would be able to pull up their latest published book and say, "In your last book, you said ________. We think that's foolish." Though the American criminal system allows one to keep words they say from being used against them in court, our extrajudicial bodies have no such ties. Since publication was a possibility for humans, the idea that their words could come back to haunt them has been in strong force.
What the Internet HAS done is this: make it so that every single person on the planet can publish themselves. There is no overseeing publishing company saying things like, "Should you really say that?" Or even, "Should you say that in that way?" Now, because of the gift of Facebook, we are all treated to an abundance of knowledge and record of what everyone in our lives had for dinner last night and what their position is on gun control. And now every word and picture can come back to haunt them later in life.
Back to me. I've chosen to use the road of Facebook to engage in what I consider to be worthwhile conversations regarding real things that affect us day in and day out. As someone who has scoured Internet forums for years, I see Facebook as a far more accountable tool for conversing. Facebook has my daily activities, places of employment, pictures, name, and other useful information attached to it. If I say something that is unfair, unkind, or egregious (and I do), my name is attached to it. Anyone who took considerable time to read online forums and compared them to my Facebook wall would quickly realize that the conversations are far less vindictive and quite a bit tamer on my wall. Facebook, because of its nature, allows that.
Now, I've found the conversations on my Facebook wall to be eye opening. They're a lot like the lunch conversations in seminary. Some of the highlights include my recent tirades on why guns are fundamentally bad for us, Beyonce's Super Bowl performance, and my constant avoidance of difficult topics like abortion. Many have characterized these threads as hateful and rude, but I don't see them that way. I don't approach anger in disagreement as a negative thing; I approach it with excitement. The chance to learn, to see differently, and ponder anew is right around the corner. What fun!
The Internet, more specifically the Facebook News Feed feature, brings a new dynamic to Internet publication and response though: it forces it into the faces of your thousands of friends whether they wanted to read it or not. The anger in some of these threads is perceived by many as a a negative way for a Christian to interact with the world. Many many many have brought this to my attention, even calling into question my character because of the threads. Their point is this: I publish a status, I get a response, I respond, the thread goes down a dark way, and it feeds my ego that people comment on the status. While this isn't how I've perceived it at all, the point is well taken. Their argument often follows that no real conversing is done here. Instead, we have fighting for the sake of fighting.
Those who tell me such things have their own opponents in this regard too. I can't describe how many people have privately contacted me or commented in the thread itself letting me know that they're glad that I say the things I do. They're glad that I have the courage to be as outspoken on issues that normal Christians won't touch. Their comments often fill me with confidence and joy; being in the heat of arguments like those that occur on my wall can be depressing.
Both sides have a point and up until this point I've shown little regard for trying to walk the balance beam that exists between these two sides. Like a free agent, I've kind of done whatever I want, whatever I feel is right, with little regard for the political or social implications of my actions.
While this ignorant world that I've been living in is incredibly fun and freeing, I'm also keenly aware that this is not the real world. As a Christian and pastor I know that my words have meaning. My words speak. My words matter. And not only that, my words are accompanied by the manner in which I speak. This is where those Internet haters have a point. The way that I say things matters more, often, than the things that I actually say. This is perhaps where I have been loosest in walking that balance beam.
And so, with this, because of the pervasive permanence of the Internet, my new role in representing institutions, the dynamic differences in Facebook publishing, and the constant bombardment of threats on my character, I'd like to announce a rebranding of my Facebook. From now on, I plan to keep most controversial things that I feel like need to be said to places like this blog where I can be more thorough in my approaches, I can think through more, and where the blatant information and conversations are not thrust into the faces of every Facebook friend I have. Knowing me, some of it will creep in and out of my statuses from now and then, but I fully intend on those updates being a lot more trivial than they've been in the past. The old material will, for now, remain on my wall. However, I'm not going to go back to engage in conversations like I did before. Facebook will, hopefully, not play that role in my life anymore.
These conversations are worth having, but the context of them will continually need to be rethought. If I feel like something is missing here, I'll reevaluate, but I think it'll work.
Keep up with me. I greatly enjoy it.