Monday, July 27, 2009

Can Facebook Lead to Spiritual Formation?

I'm late to Facebook. I've been on since December, but only recently have I been posting status updates regularly (still, rarely more than once a day). I hadn't really thought about the spiritual possibilities of Facebook until I read a piece in a recent Christian Century which talked about a pastor who kept up with the concerns of parishioners through Facebook--and prayed about them. I thought, what a great idea! And then I was embarrassed that I hadn't already come up with that thought.

We can also bear witness through our Facebook status updates. We had a guest pastor, Lisa Barry, yesterday as our pastor is in New Orleans with 37,000 other leaders and youth. Our guest pastor talked about how she's been keeping up with people in New Orleans as they post status updates, and so have I. We could have been watching live feeds, but in the somewhat public space of my office, a quiet Facebook status update is easier to check quickly.

Several pastors connect their own blogs or the blogs of their churches to their status feed. What a great way to keep in touch with parishioners!

But more importantly, we could invite people to church via our Facebook page. Our guest pastor talked about a young man who said he was off to church in a few hours to hear about miracles involving loaves and fishes, and he invited everyone to join him.

Your Facebook Friend collection is probably like mine: quite an assortment from far and wide, with very few local people. Still, your status update could remind your Facebook Friends that regular, normal people do go to church on a regular basis--it's not just the religious lunatics who go to church in this country. I enjoy hearing from my friend who has returned from Bible study, and I often look up the passage they've been studying. I confess that I wouldn't be reading that passage without the prompt from him.

We can talk about our struggles openly and request prayers. We could do this in a way that won't alienate whatever atheist friends we might have on our lists. On Monday, I wrote, "If you're a praying type, or a sending positive energy out into the universe type, or whatever type you are--you might pray for the 36,650+ Lutheran youth that are headed towards New Orleans for the 2009 ELCA Youth Gathering--and for their chaperones, and for the city itself, which can still use lots of prayers. At least that city is getting some youthful, energetic labor in their rebuilding efforts this week!"

We can remind people of the lives we should be living, and we can enlist their support in living those lives. I could go on and on, but you've got the idea.

I must confess, it's taken me awhile to embrace all this new technology. I've been worried about online communities sucking me away from my onground communities. But instead, I've found that these online communities serve as an additional support mechanism. I like that I've found people whom I didn't mean to lose. I like being able to keep up with people I'll see on Sunday. I like blogs that let me read in detail of the efforts to lead a Christian life--and I'm finding it easier to read blogs, articles, and web sites these days, than magazines, books, or other old media. It's easier to keep up with Facebook feeds than to make a phone call (to be honest, I've never been a fan of the phone). I spend a lot of time in the office working on the computer, and I can do these online activities as I make my way through the work day. I don't feel comfortable reading a Christian magazine in the office or making too many personal phone calls. But I can take a quick zip to Facebook, and I suspect my bosses won't mind, as long as my productivity stays the same.

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