_ Best practices : During February, March, and April, 2012 the New Media Project bloggers are looking intentionally at new media “best practices.” Join the conversation : What are the new media best practices in your church or organization? What are some other examples of how communities engage in new media well?_
At dinner last night a friend asked what worries me about the increasing use of social media in the world today. I shared this conversation from The Young Clergy Women Project (TYCWP) case study I wrote for the New Media Project:
Susie Shaefer, a former co-chair of TYCWP, works with young people. She sees the value in the honesty teenagers exhibit online. She says, “They are just who they are online. They’re still learning bits and pieces about themselves.” The challenge for young people being so honest is that they may mature and change over the course of their lives, but their honest teenage selves will still exist online. They can’t create a new avatar for a new job or a new friend. “God’s grace does not extend to your future employers,” Susie says, “avatars aren’t as effective as baptism.” “If we could just baptize our computers,” I quip. Susie replies, “I tried that once. It broke."
I worry that we cannot yet fully understand the potential consequences of our “honest teenage selves” or our “experimental young adult selves” (or even our “self-discovering adult selves” for that matter) existing online forever because social media hasn’t been around that long yet. It will take a generation or two for us to appreciate the impact. Will our self-exploration be scrutinized as closely as our transcripts and resumes? Could a minor infraction on the road of life do irreparable damage? It’s already happening to some extent. More and more employers routinely check the Facebook profiles of job candidates. What will it be like twenty years from now?
But I’m a believer in the God of second chances; we are never outside the realm of God’s grace. Through the gift of grace in Christ, God has declared us loved and blessed, forgiven and reconciled. Our slate is wiped clean before God. We are freed from a deterministic worldview that has us traveling paths from which we cannot veer. We are a new creation, and will continue to be so, over and over again.
What does it mean to tell this story of God’s grace in a time when nothing digital can be fully wiped clean? I don’t think it means we obsess about controlling the digital record of our lives. While caution in the face of unknown consequences is wise, we should not run in fear from living a life exposed.
Perhaps the fact that our humanity is more fully on display in the digital age is a gift to embrace. Perhaps we come to appreciate anew how circuitous and complicated most of our lives really are. Isn’t that what grace enables us to do, to assess a life not for its faults but for the grace of God that overwhelms those faults? This can engender humility for one thing, which helps us become more forgiving of ourselves and of others.
Computers and mobile devices may break when baptized, but a life fully exposed to the grace of God surely will not.
Verity A. Jones is the project director of the New Media Project, and a Research Fellow at Union Theological Seminary.
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