What does it mean to minister others in contemporary society? This question is raised by many who want to be of service, and has always led to familiar ways—crumbling and being stripped of traditional protections in a world where virtuality offers a sense of community, important for a creative life.
Social media is a vital cog of our times exposing us to divergent ideas, religious convictions, and lifestyles. We live by the hour, creating our lives on the spot. Our art is a creative collage of divergent pieces, a short impression of our feelings at the moment. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the 140-character Twitter world, where poetic expressions of feelings are communicated and, at times, responded to, but which do not attempt to oblige anyone. People are searching for a sense of value; they will hesitate to listen at length to a rabbi, an imam, a minister, or a priest, but willingly seek meaningful experiences in the fragmentary world of social media via tweeting.
As a Christian author with graduate-level seminary training, Twitter account holder, and frequent poster on matters of spirituality, I cannot help asking if there is a way to use social media as a means to minister to a hurting world. In these forums, I see humans paralyzed by fragmentation, caught in their own prisons of loneliness and despair. I also see tales of living where people unshackle themselves of their predicament, seek to reach beyond themselves, and thrive on a relatively new source of creativity. My tryst with the spasms and pains of life makes me suspect that social media provides three ways to break out of our cocoons: the contemplative, the active and the Christian way. Let me describe these three, and then, suggest how identification of the suffering in our own hearts can be used as a springboard for connecting with individuals who with the same wounds can unite, and experience healing in virtual community.
To begin, the contemplative way is the inner way. People find in such forums a ‘center’ where they can embrace others in shared interests. Many report tweeting and blogging as a way of breaking through alienation, feeling intimately close to a creative power that unites them all. There they rejoice in a place of non-judgmental expression: finding strength to refuse passive succumbence to circumstances, not feeling isolated or caught in the diabolic chain of cause and effect, but transcending fences of their predicaments and reaching far beyond personal concerns. In many ways, this is about being over doing, and reflecting over acting, while remaining in the presence of other human souls.
The active way, in contrast, is the revolutionary way of transcending our human predicament. These bloggers/tweeters are tired of pruning trees and clipping branches the traditional way; they want to rip the roots out from under a sick society. They no longer believe that peace talks and antipoverty programs will alleviate our plight. Motivated by the desire to make a difference, they use social media as a means of reaching the world in ways yet unexplored but that elevate hidden human potentials. Their lives are not dependent on force, but are ruled by love and supported by creative ways of interpersonal communication.
In Jesus, we see the both the active and contemplative at work. Christ never used his authority to avoid social evils of his time, but rather, stirred up complacency, shocking his milieu to the point of being executed as a rebel. From his sacrifice, we draw strength to move ever forward in advancing the kingdom as the only hope for humanity. People tend to see themselves as either active or contemplative in their spiritual pursuits, but as Christians, we see ourselves as both, for our vision is manifest in Christ. He is the source that enables us to transcend our limitations. He is the exact representation of God, and God is love. Love by its very nature reaches outward—outward unto a hurting world.
The Twitter world has allowed me, at great risk, to reach outward. I first joined with one intent: to improve my writing skills and build a platform for marketing an upcoming release. I would have to be blind not to observe some common threads—namely, the need for non-judgmental acceptance. This is a place where poetry runs deep with the blood of wounds. Were it not for the odd bright voice, hopeful comment, and listening ear, I first feared some would surely bleed to death. I met people with real hurts and with real needs—the kind of people Jesus would have hung out with—people like you and I.
In my recent release, Escaping the Smoke and Rain: Moving Beyond and Through the Jehovah’s Witness Community, I pen my own journey toward liberation and healing: liberation from pains incurred from leaving my faith of origin and enduring loss of community, family and friends. Writing through various mediums of journaling, blogging, tweeting, and otherwise, allowed me to face my own suffering, and while this was unpleasant for a time, it made possible the turning of weakness into strength. That need for release, for acceptance, for strength still drives my Twitter activity—but ironically, has supported my faith. I have been prayed for as much as I have prayed with followers, and with each occurrence, have tasted God’s goodness in abundance.
Thomas Merton made the point that “God speaks to us in scripture, in our deepest selves, and in the voice of a stranger.” In sum, social media presents many ways to give, but graciousness asks that we receive. To do this we must be willing to offer a lucid voice, and then, be willing to listen deeply and alertly to the voice of the other. It is then we give God the opportunity to work through us to attend to the needs of a hurting society. And what a blessed thing is that.
Shauna May is an award-winning speaker, writer, artist and teacher. She is a frequent contributor to Women’s Journey of Faith magazine, and is currently completing graduate studies in the spiritual sciences. As a Spiritual Wellness Worker in southern Alberta, May provides support in the areas of love and loss, forgiveness and healing. Her first book, She warmly welcomes reader’s comments.