Some topics I touch are ones I should probably stay away from. “Vulnerability” might be one of those. Inimitably and famously, Brené Brown has given talks on this topic, touching something deep within many of us. Surely no one like me could add anything worthwhile to her research and insights on this topic. On the other hand, it might just be that I can note and transmit something very important, being an under-informed but sincere, sometimes-earnest observer of people and culture. I’m betting many of you will agree that the following material about vulnerability and the pressure of social media is on track.
A book by Donna Freitas is titled The Happiness Effect: How Social Media Is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost (Oxford University Press). Freitas, also the author of Sex and the Soul, “comes from an epicenter of sociological research on adolescents and young adults, Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Religion and Society.” She conducted 200 interviews of university students.
The Happiness Effect is organized around the topics covered in these conversations. Each chapter overflows with personal stories, making the book an enjoyable read. But on a deeper level, Freitas has a theory to test. She contends that headline-grabbing abuses like bullying, stalking, and sexting are not the greatest dangers that social media poses for young adults. Rather, they distract from a more insidious phenomenon: the drive to look perfectly happy, all the time. (emph. mine -bc)
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As Freitas puts it, Facebook and Twitter are, in a way, the anti-confession, the places we pretend that we have it all together as though we were the gods of our own future. The gospel challenges the assumption that confessing weakness and need makes you a failure. . . .
– Andrew Root, Reviews, Christianity Today, March 2017
“Church” has for decades (centuries?) been a place for facades, for hiding. The age-old story of the stereotypical, churchgoing family yelling at each other, slamming doors, stewing in silence all the way to the church building, then putting on fake smiles and acting as though “God is good all the time” is anything but humorous. Despite encroaching reports of the likes of emotional illnesses, divorce, pain from LGBTQ concerns, human trafficking, and more, some Christians are still fixated on the need to “celebrate Jesus.” This celebration sensibility comes from reasonably good, yet partly shallow theology and from good-hearted people. I, on the other hand, resonate more with the need to be communicative, “real,” and vulnerable, sharing every emotion and experience, not only the nice ones. I’d go further, too: lament and other negatives need some affirmative action in churches. In other words, there’s already enough celebration and praise, way too much slap-happy trivia and hype, and not nearly enough honesty.¹ Let the vulnerability emerge.
Facebook is not the only venue through which anti-confession (falsely presenting oneself and one’s situation as marvelously in control and persistently happy, as though there is no weakness and need) rears its head, but it’s a nearly omnipresent one. Most of those I know are both well acclimated to FB and/or aware of its limitations and potential fallout. Let us use it well (and not too much). Let us share the great pics of our kids and our food creations, and maybe an interesting selfie or two (up to two, not two hundred, thank you very much). Let us share our inspiring thoughts for the day and our scriptures. But let us also share² our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, and even our griefs.
¹ Our chosen, local church takes as its moniker “Historic Faith – Honest Fellowship – Humble Service.” It makes quite a nice triumvirate, I think, and here, I would call every reader to the “honest fellowship” part—honest both with God and with other believing journey partners.
² Facebook allows one to share selectively, i.e., via private message and to specific individuals or groups.