So I have this Facebook account.
I have friends, and “friends,” and followers- some intentional and some who I strongly suspect just got lost. It’s a place where I speak the words that are on my heart, or I share the words of others, and people respond.
Pretty simple, right? My Facebook works like yours does?
This feels net-neutral, no pun intended, most of the time. FB is a container, holding the good and the bad. And the things it holds include the transcendent and the funny and the nearly magical and the appalling and the annoying and, occasionally, the tragic.
I’m an external processor, and have been writing for an audience for my entire literate life. I share real stuff, and I hear often that it matters to people. Thank you for what you said. For what you shared. For what you wrote.
I myself found beauty and hope, connectedness and pieces of information that I need to survive in this moment and in whatever this era may be, on Facebook just this morning. It’s where so much of the good stuff lives.
And yet we have a problem, Facebook and I. And I don’t know how to solve it.
Can I have an online ministry, the question goes, and hold onto something that feels like myself?
My people, I do not know.
This year I have done some things I’ve never tried before, in the pursuit of balance. I’ve begun to filter content, and to use the “block” feature selectively. I think I used to feel, in an unexamined way, that cutting anyone off was against my religion. Then I realized that self-care is also part of my faith, and that you don’t get to be intimately involved in my life just because you want to be. That discovery been uneventful and surprisingly great, and so has this other thing: taking one-week breaks once a quarter and disabling my Facebook account entirely. Literally disappearing, and having it disappear from my life. It sounds scorched-earth, and in the moment I first tried it, I think it probably was– and yet, I’ve found it restorative and astonishingly easy, and the weird thing is, I don’t miss FB.
Truly. Not right away, and not later either; it’s more like waking up from having been hypnotized than taking a vacation away from beloved people and things. In fact, I have discovered that I always dread coming back.
But I do miss you, many of you, and I miss conversation and I also miss sharing what’s happening in my world. And then there’s the reality that FB feels fairly necessary for my work in the world, even the “real life” and brick and mortar pieces of that life–the online threads run deep.
And yet I still haven’t found a way to go halves on Facebook.
I need a workable middle rather than a freefall off the addiction cliff, and I’ll be honest: I’m no longer sure that such a space exists, at least not for someone like me, or for the work I do here.
This realization reminds me of a cartoon I once saw—on Facebook, of course– about the experience of shopping at Target.
Like, how a person would reasonably expect that excursion to go, and what happens to your brain and hands and wallet instead.
It was this: http://crappypictures.com/shopping-at-target/
And lately, that’s exactly how I feel on Facebook.
I sign on because I just need to do this one thing. It’s usually something specific and work related; a question about worship or a response about pastoral care- a task on my to-do list that I intend to cross off by logging on.
And then twenty minutes later I sign off, and it’s in that second, staring at the login screen, that I realize that I didn’t do that one thing. I suddenly realize, in fact, that I haven’t even thought about that thing from the moment that the virtual-world-a-la-Zuckerberg, the one with the urgent red numerals and the picture-filled news feed, first opened before me.
My people, I have repeated this cycle—identify task; log on to complete it; log out and suddenly remember what task, still uncompleted, was– as many as three times. Consecutively.
This makes me worry about my brain.
And I feel certain that it’s not accidental. Facebook now hijacks our brains because it’s good at doing that, and it’s good at it because a policy decision was made somewhere along the line to become effective hijackers of our daily lives.
And friends, I know that “hijack” is a strong word. I’m using it intentionally, and in the brain science way; this post is not, at least not yet, to say that I am having a theological born-again moment, or renouncing technology altogether and resolving to pastor in a more traditionally-pastoral way.
But as Facebook, so goes life. The thing is, Can’t turn it off, can’t look away feels like a pretty good synopsis of my first year ministry experience—the real-life portion– and I know something about this deep in my bones: it’s unsustainable.
Having a public persona on Facebook, or probably anywhere, makes some pretty big asks. Accordingly, I’ve had many conversations about authenticity with colleagues and leaders over the past few years. What to reveal, and how real do we keep things, and how do we hold ourselves or move in the face of the relentless projections of ministry and the pastor/congregant relationship.
Often we speak of these things normatively, as if there is an “answer” to be had, when the reality is that there is simply a spectrum of options. Increased and decreased transparency. Greater and lesser self-awareness. More and less consistency of contact with our own internal touchstones and our larger value systems. Times to be very vocal and times to fall largely silent.
These are things each minister must consider in her public work, and my Facebook meta-conversation is no exception. What is driving me to distraction, however, has turned out to be none of this.
It is instead distraction itself: the loss and sorrow and ultimate opportunity cost of fractured attention.
And again, it’s not just Facebook. FB has become what it is because our society is what it is, our lives are what they are, our willingness and need to be constantly other-occupied lies where it does.
And maybe that’s not your story; a lot of people seem to make life online and offline cohere.
But my reality isn’t this simple. I find Facebook addictive, and I also feel sure that this is deliberate. And that in my case, this addiction- its processes and its inputs and deliverables– it fits right into all the fractured spaces of a larger and equally-frenetic lifestyle.
And in the meantime, I have these kids.
Ren is wise beyond his years, savvy, wry and well-read. And he is also dealing with emergent Aspergers, working on social skills and where his body is in space and figuring out how to love and flourish as who he is while meeting others where they are. It’s a big job, and while he doesn’t want to hold my hand, he appreciates my standing close.
Si, meanwhile, is a tornado of boy energy, sharp and focused, exquisitely sensitive, quick to snuggle and equally quick to seek retribution when all is not right in his kingdom. He used to beg me to color with him. I think I did that once, while composing in my head most of an essay about how hard that was. The next year, this past one, struggling for roots himself in a vastly different landscape, he pleaded for plants. I promised to take him after school, on the weekend, sometime soon. I never did; the pots sit empty in our garage.
Now my younger son wants to build, wants me to watch and learn and copilot. And I discovered that I am so used to saying no to my child that I had to find not just time but unused muscles, unaccessed vocabularies, to say yes.
I am a work in progress.
But untenable is not too strong a word for this lack of attending.
Fortunately, these two have other loving adults in their lives, the ones who were present when first teeth fell out and each boy learned to ride a bike and they celebrated three consecutive birthdays, all without me present. (Literally; I was away at seminary in every single one of those cases. Three years. An irreplaceable chunk of two childhoods.)
The kids are alright, but I might not be.
The costs, these days, are more than I’m willing to pay. And so, this is the year that we lurch our way into something else. And it has begun with this summer because when you realize that something really isn’t working, the reasonable thing is to stop doing that thing, and to try something else.
The thing is, I’m hearing a call again these days.
It’s to come home.
Because you know what (and this is magical): it’s not too late not to miss it.
So this is me, figuring this out, and who knows how it’s going to look. Maybe there’s a middle space as yet undiscovered. Maybe it’s called Facebook-with-limits, or maybe it’s that we begin to meet each other somewhere else.
But I do know, in the meantime, where my own middle space is going to be.
We’ll wave to you from the kitchen window.