My journey with social media started almost by accident. I joined Facebook only because I wanted to see some photos of a recent trip posted by a friend. I joined Twitter because my publisher suggested it would be good for my new book. I joined Pinterest so I could organize the links I wanted to save and reduce the number of bookmarks in my browser,
But then I stayed with all three social media platforms, and needed to figure out why. Was engaging on Facebook an effective way to do pastoral care as some pastors claimed? Could Twitter be a form of outreach, Pinterest a place to find new ideas for worship? Was social media a fun way to connect with others, or a distraction from the things that really mattered in life? Was it a helpful way of keeping informed, or a breeding ground for misinformation and polarization? How best could I use social media without letting it use me?
As social media keeps changing, I still keep asking myself, why am I there, and is it time well spent? So I was eager to read Posting Peace: Why Social Media Divides Us and What We Can Do About It by Douglas S. Bursch (InterVarsity Press, 2021). After getting to know Doug—you guessed it, on Twitter—as a pastor and writer, I reviewed his first book, The Community of God: A Theology of the Church from a Reluctant Pastor, and was honoured to contribute this endorsement for his new book:
Doug Bursch recognizes both the power of social media to shape us and the potential for us to shape our online engagement thoughtfully, deliberately, and well. In Posting Peace, he offers a vision for what social media can be as part of our God-given ministry of reconciliation—to be peacemakers in our face-to-face interactions and online. As he seeks to live this out, Doug invites readers to join him, and I gladly accept!
Douglas S. Bursch co-pastors Evergreen Foursquare Church in Auburn, Washington, and produces and hosts The Fairly Spiritual Show podcast. He received his Doctor of Ministry with an emphasis on social media at the Portland Seminary of George Fox University. For more on Doug, please see his website, Fairly Spiritual, and below is an excerpt from Posting Peace, Chapter 11, “The Power of One Peacemaker,” pages 166-169, used with permission.
Intentionality in an Instanteous World
by Douglas S. Bursch
Our ability to respond instantaneously to anyone at any time with the possibility of profoundly negative relational consequences makes social media ripe for contentiousness. Nicholas Carr writes, “By choice or necessity, we’ve embraced the Net’s uniquely rapid-fire mode of collecting and dispensing information.” The internet’s capacity to provide people with unlimited information and a platform to communicate it immediately leads society to an almost addictive intoxication with rapid-fire social media engagement. Carr points out,
The Net’s interactivity gives us powerful new tools for finding information, expressing ourselves, and conversing with others. It also turns us into lab rats constantly pressing levers to get tiny pellets of social or intellectual nourishment.
This perpetual hunger for interactivity weakens our resolve for intentional, thoughtful contemplation and in-depth processing when facing relational conflicts. The immediacy of social media detrimentally impacts peacemaking when our responses to conflict lack thoughtfulness and intentionality.
Our ability to instantly respond or comment about anything and everything makes social media a highly charged, emotionally visceral environment. Wisdom and thoughtfulness thrive in contemplation, meditation, prayer, and introspection over time. However, the internet rarely encourages contemplative processing. Technology theorist Kevin Kelly points out that the way humans process ideas is being radically changed as we move from being “People of the Book” to “People of the Screen.” Kelly describes a present and future where “People of the Screen” are increasingly influenced by the ever-present reality of electronic screen culture:
Screen culture is a world of constant flux, of endless sound bites, quick cuts, and half-baked ideas. It is a flow of tweets, headlines, instagrams, casual texts, and floating first impressions. Notions don’t stand alone but are massively interlinked to everything else; truth is not delivered by authors and authorities but is assembled in real time piece by piece by the audience themselves. People of the Screen make their own content and construct their own truth. . . . Screen culture is fast, like a 30-second movie trailer, and as liquid and open-ended as a Wikipedia page.
This instantaneous screen culture keeps us from the deeper contemplation that occurs when we engage in what Kelly refers to as our “literature space,” or the conceptual place of imaginative processing. When people engage their literature space, they don’t screen, “skipping around distractedly gathering bits,” but they read deeply, becoming “transported, focused, immersed.” Kelly argues that much of humanity’s internet activity is void of this literature space:
One can spend hours reading on the web and never encounter this literature space. One gets fragments, threads, glimpses. That is the web’s great attraction: miscellaneous pieces loosely joined. But without some kind of containment, these loosely joined pieces spin away, nudging a reader’s attention outward, wandering from the central narrative or argument.
The absence of literature space and our ability to immediately respond to conflicts without thoughtful contemplation hinder the insightful, contemplative work of peacemaking.
To facilitate online reconciliation, we need increased awareness of the dangers of immediately responding to conflict without appropriate consideration. We should be cognizant of the problem of screening information without truly engaging the deeper meaning of what we read or write. To promote online peacemaking, we need to behave with measured, thoughtful, genuine intentionality.
Ultimately, to implement the ministry of reconciliation in our social media communication, we must embrace a counterculture intentionality in our online communication that develops and maintains stronger relational ties. We must root our online interactions in a desire to foster meaningful connections with diverse peoples, through intentional reconciling, peacemaking behaviors. We must respond to the instantaneous, polarizing individualism of social media with the thoughtful, self-giving, other-focused reconciling example of Christ.
Theologian Miroslav Volf writes that every believer should ultimately reflect Christ’s self-giving, non-reactionary focus:
I want to spell out the social significance of the theme of divine self-giving: as God does not abandon the godless to their evil but gives the divine self for them in order to receive them into divine communion through atonement, so also should we—whoever our enemies and whoever we may be.
Applied to the context of social media, Volf ’s admonition calls each of us to express the self-giving nature of Christ through communicating in self-giving ways. This means we daily surrender the goal of using social media purely or even primarily for immediate self-centered purposes. We no longer see online platforms as networks to serve our instantaneous self-interests but as opportunities to serve the long-term reconciling purposes of Christ. When we fully embrace our calling to be reconciling agents of change in a profoundly troubled world, we abandon selfish motivations for the purpose of engaging in the intentional, thoughtful, life-giving ministry of Christ-motivated peacemaking.
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