Thursday, October 18, 2012

ramblings and confessions of a jesus lover wresting with social media and the way(s) we idolize

Talent is God given. Be humble. 
Fame is man-given. Be grateful. 
Conceit is self-given. Be careful. 
-John Wooden

Internet marketing & social media, they are the way of the world. Ten years ago Facebook hadn't yet been launched and 'tweet' was a sound that birds made outside of our windows.  Today Facebook has over one billion active users and Twitter is one of the ten most visited websites on the Internet. Multitudes care a lot about it and pay attention to who is following and who is being followed.

I understand sharing our visions, dreams, day to day lives, and stories of those that need and deserve justice. I do. I love connecting to new like-minded friends via social media.  Even so, I question: Where does God fit in to our habits? How much of my trust is placed in His ability to provide for our family and for the work of Heartline and how much of my trust is placed in my ability to promote it. I bristle a bit as I force myself to honestly examine what part of this might be self-promotion. Was I more trusting in His provision before the dawn of social networking? Before all of this became a part of our every day communication, was I more at peace? Can I see and distinguish the line between healthy and unhealthy promotion? Is there one?

This dialogue isn't meant to put anyone on the defensive. Hear this first: It's not about judging anyone but myself. That's what I'm doing here. I don't want to fall into the trap of self importance and loving the idol of self or the idol of social media. Does social media create false gods and false celebrity and are we, as Christians, considering who we want to make famous? Should any one of us be concerned with our "Klout" score. Doesn't that idea smack of something really icky?

In an email exchange with a friend I recently shared some of things that have been bothering me.

A portion of the email:

I so dislike when people treat other more visible Christians like famous people.  I am uncomfortable when people do that to Troy and I and I don't ever want to get sucked into thinking that we are a big deal because someone says we are -- I don't know how to explain it well but I don't love the human and sinful pull of wanting man's approval and when man gives so much approval I feel so squirmy and unsure of how to stay in the right place in my head and heart. I don't want to become confused by man's approval.  So, when I watch social media and I see the way people idolize missionaries and/or big time Christian writers, speakers, bloggers and such it makes me very uncomfortable and I admit I get mad at how we Christians have imported our own little Hollywood and we play these games of "who's who" in the Christian circles. One time I heard Francis Chan say that it totally messes him up to have so many people telling him how great he is. Obviously Francis Chan hears this a dozen times a day but even on a tiny scale I think this is used by the devil to make us put our eyes on ourselves and not our Jesus.

From time to time someone will gush about this blog or elevate us to hero status based on something they made up about us. Usually those perceptions are formed from nothing more than social media interaction or seeing Troy's thousands of robot Twitter followers or something equally fake and unimportant.

Social media has a place and a purpose. I know this. I want to keep the baby from flying across the room as I throw out this bathwater.

I am cognizant that it must be used with caution. For myself, I'd like it to be about bringing honor to the One that gifted us in the first place. I'd like my words to reflect His love and my respect for the Haitian people and I'd like to keep myself in check. I recognize how much I need to look to Jesus and His example and avoid the easy trap of elevating one another and/or ourselves.

It seems to me like Christian culture just mimics regular culture but re-labels it and calls it holy and acceptable. I expect there is already a  repackaged 'Klout for Jesus' scoring system in development with which to legitimize our narcissism as unto the Lord.

We're all excited about various Christian figures that we admire or respect. In and of itself it's not all bad  -- but we're taking it to new levels. Thanking or recognizing someone for the way God has used them to speak to our hearts and souls is one thing, swooning over someone and deciding they are better, more important, deserving of fame and even glory is quite another. We're labeling people as "A list" Christians and "most influential" and we're categorizing people according to their on-line influence. That makes me uncomfortable. While we are building up the influential, we are trampling on the faceless faithful that daily go about their life and work without pining for recognition. Worse than that though, I feel like we're getting tripped up and sucked in and often times forgetting that Jesus is supposed to be the Famous One. 

photo credit: dks systems


Cami Franklin said...

This was great! I relate to your struggle. I recently attended a big Women of Faith Conference in Orlando. 8000 women in attendance. I had not been to anything like this in several years. I left encouraged and felt like the Lord used it to encourage me but I also left kind of sad. All of these "famous" Christian women giving their heart wrenching testimonies and I had to wonder how many "average" women left there feeling like they don't have a story - and therefore placing the more famous ones on some sort of pedestal. It happens so quickly in your brain - before you even realize it at times. Unfortunately Social Media is so tricky. We have to remember that there is sooooo much more behind the one or two sentence post that we see on FB or the blog post.
Thanks for sharing your heart.

Cami Franklin said...

Just to add - I think you guys do a really great job at showing us the good and the bad. Your blogs/FB posts are real. You allow us to see the struggles as well as the awesome. Not just with Heartline and the women there - but within your family. It enables me to know that you are no different than the rest of us - Haiti is your calling and you are walking in that and ALL that it entails. I am so appreciative of your honesty as it has allowed me to walk into my introduction to Haiti (via Apparent Project) with an open mind and a balance. God is good.

Okay - I've been a stalker all this time and now I will go back into hiding. :-)

Mama D’s Dozen said...

Powerful Words! Thanks for sharing.

:) :) :)

Missy at Its Almost Naptime said...

Oh, yes, yes, yes. You just verbalized a lot of why my stomach has been aching lately.

I avoid twitter exactly for the reasons you mention. It takes me back instantly to junior high. I got on there for the debates and I was so grossed out by all the butt kissing of 'important' twitter people - yes, all Christians. And even more grossed out that I get SUCKED INTO IT so quickly!

Sarah Bessey said...

Marry me. We'd be excellent sister wives. Promise.

Kelly J. Youngblood said...

I've been sort of thinking along these lines a little bit lately, for various reasons. One was that I got to meet and have a conversation with someone who is definitely a famous Christian, and I definitely felt a little star-struck. But as I have been connecting with people online and in person, I am starting to see them less as a famous person and more as...just a person.

T & T Livesay said...

Kelly - I get that. I met Sara Groves a few years back and she has touched my life with her music and I was star struck -- but it's all silliness, isn't it?!?! We're all the same mess of humanity with our without the "famous" label.

brooke r. said...

Yeah, we are just the same mess of humanity.. even though I have to admit to being star struck that the amazing Palestinian-American poet Suheir Hammad re-Tumbld a post I'd put up for my friend Abu Sufyan because he wanted to thank her for her words and what she does in talking about Palestine in English to western audiences. I shouldn't be, because I know she's just as human as I am, as the dear Abu Sufyan is, but.. I don't know, I just know it made my day to know she'd read what I said, and she heard about the sweet Abu Sufyan, the shopkeeper in the souk in Baqa'a Refugee Camp that has become my best friend in Jordan.

I'm rambling because I can't figure out how NOT to be star struck that Suheir Hammad read my words and knows about the blessed and amazing Abu Sufyan.

Rosa said...

Your post is convicting and thoughtprovoking. I am struck in Scripture how Paul names the "little people" like Epapahroditus and completely leaves out the name of "the brother whose fame in the things of the Gospel has spread throughout the whole world".

Regarding "success": I think as we get praise we should of course reflect it to Him, but also be aware and even appreciative of criticism. It reminds me of something I read - I think it was Frances Frangipane - that Beth Moore quoted as key to God preparing her for a "platform":

To innoculate me from the praise of man
God baptized me in the criticism of man
Until I died to the control of man

Keep fighting the good fight!

Roger and Ginger said...

I appreciate your honesty. When Roger and I began our itineration with the International Pentecostal Holiness Church so we could come to Haiti, we kept hearing over and over again how special we were. It made me sick at my stomach. Social media or just plain word of mouth we nor any other Christian is more special than another. We are just children of God being obedient to our Father.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of this has to do with something as simple as the Church structure that most of us grow up in. We see the separation of Clergy and Laity and this one simple dynamic creates the "us & them" mentality. Those on the platform are the professionals, which leads to the unhealthy admiration and then the exaltation...

The staff, the worship teams, the missionaries are the ones who get all the attention and adulation, while the nursery workers, janitors and sound men go without honor. Seems a little backwards doesn't it...?

I don't think anyone in full time ministry actually pursues this (I'm a Pastor myself), we just haven't had the guts to change the culture, to challenge the system...

stephanie garcia said...

This weekend my husband and I were introduced to the band "Big Daddy Weave." I loved the lyrics to one of their songs so much: "When I wake up in the land of glory, and with the saints I will share my story, there will be one name that I proclaim ... JESUS, JESUS, JESUS!" Yes, JESUS is the supposed to be the Famous One! Thank you for the great reminder.

T & T Livesay said...

Pastor Anonymous -
I think you're onto something there ... all our little g gods need to go.

Karen said...

Someone in full time ministry just pursued it.

Thank-you for this Tara. Appreciate your willingness to share these thoughts.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

I feel like I was inoculated against this a little, since I grew up a PK. My Dad was revered by many, and because the world of Christian ministry is small, he knew many "famous" people. But to me, he was just my Dad, and his friends were just other men and women. I never saw this distinction between clergy and everyone else.

Maybe that's why I've become convinced in recent years that when we get to heaven, we will find the most rewarded people are not the Beth Moores and the Billy Grahams, as wonderful as they are. I bet they will be a shopkeeper in Guatemala and a seamstress in India who loved God with all their beings and let that love flow from every cell and they were faithful with every day. God sees the heart.

John Carroll said...


This post is absolutely great.

Fantastic thoughts that we all need to seriously consider .

Kembe fem, mon cher!

John Carroll

LLH Designs said...

Came here thanks to a friend sharing. I'm refreshed by your honest look at your own heart as you use social media. I've had many of the same thoughts go through my head. I just keep asking the Lord, "Really, Lord? You want me to keep blogging?" I've wanted to quit a hundred times, but all of my reasons to stop are for my own comfort. So right now, I keep writing. I don't know what He's up to, but I pray every time I write and share beauty that He will use it to bring glory to Himself. As for all the other social media, not so into it. not because I think it's all bad, but because the Lord hasn't directed my steps in that way. I think he wants me to write and share beauty {his love language on earth!}, and so I do in the best way my human self can.

PS - I just moved to Franklin and have met so many families with adopted children from Haiti. I'm betting our circles intersect somehow! Blessings to you!

Lisa said...

I agree with you and other commenters - I am so sick of the Christian Culture games. As for your blog, I read because you're real, and you point towards Jesus' love, not because you're "famous." The obnoxiously perfect writers get skipped over or dropped because I'm sick of the false veneer.
I work in the medical field with some of the most underprivileged/marginalized people in Canada, and so much of what you write really resonates with me and/or challenges me to consider the questions you raise and stories you share.

Anonymous said...

thank you for this post and for making me think about my own habits. i do think your love for Haiti and God comes through in how you write

Jess said...

Uh huh.
Everything about this pedestal thing has changed for me in the last year. Becoming more "attached" to God has made me feel way less obsessed about being "in" with "important" people. Having felt so unseen all my life no wonder I wanted to have people affirm me and tell me I had worth! My Christian culture had taught me to find that in other Christians...bonus points if it's from the "important" ones.

"Whatever you can't get enough of, that's your God."
For me that has been is still being uprooted in me. O so painful...but hella good.

Love you Tara

T & T Livesay said...

I love you back Jess.

n'ap kenbe fo - pa janm lage

Marla Taviano said...

This is so hard. So thankful for the Spirit nudging me. I can almost always tell when I've crossed the line of honestly sharing (or whatever) to "look at me, look at me!" I just feel yuck inside.

Lesley said...

Hi there. A friend directed me to your post because I wrote a similar essay this week for Christianity Today's blog for women. I don't usually like to leave comments that specifically promote my own stuff, but it seems too relevant not too.

Additionally, another post I saw this week on a similar topic:

I guess I just want you to know that you make SUCH great points, and I appreciate your thoughtfulness and honesty. Thank you!

Wendi said...

Want you to know you're writings keep Haiti and it's struggles at the forefront of my daily life. In case you are do a great job relaying your flaws and frustrations that keep you off the pedestal. I think you have been blessed with an ability to communicate, and with a means to share. So please don't stop, you're a voice for many whom I would have never known.

Anonymous said...

I so agree with what you're saying here. It is very easy to make this something not good or healthy or God-honoring. Thank you for putting it out there to help make us all think.

Chapter Two said...

Hi there,
I worked in the Christian industry and with some of the biggest names in it (thanks to their books). The celebrity status given and even sometimes the persona/attitude of the famous ones...well, in all of my work, I met only one who literally told every star-struck person getting their book signed that, "It's not me, it's Jesus" and "It's all about Jesus, not me." That was Nicky Cruz (Cross and Switchblade).
Anyway, I follow you online and so I pray for you, pray for your listed needs, helps as we can, etc. It's how I even "met" you. I could care less if you are or are not considered famous or A-List in the missionary echalon or beyond. Truth, zanmi'm!

John Meadth said...

Great blog Tara – and look at all those comments! I feel like I know someone famous! Just kidding.  Those who know your heart hear what you are saying and it’s all so true. It’s not new though. For the past thirty or so years I’ve gone along to countless conferences and almost without exception certain ones are almost deified by the organisers - and when sometimes you been counted among this “elite” you know “this can’t be right”. I think all that social media has done is to extend the number of those who we want to call “famous” and “special”. There is an issue of honour mixed in with this issue. Biblically it relates to parents, Christian leaders and then everybody. And what is honour but a singly out of someone for regard and appreciation. Where it all goes wrong is when it feeds the sinful tendency we all have to exalt ourselves, to seek the appreciation of others so that we might feel valued – something that should have its foundation in simply God’s love for us. Getting back to your blogs, fundamentally I see them – and all those I follow - to just be revelations of some of the tough stuff of the world and what God is doing to heal it through the service of His children. I’m informed, challenged, uplifted and sometimes humoured by what I read. I’d hope that mature people could read these accounts - even clever and witty ones like you are able to put across - and just enjoy it without feeling the need to elevate the author above their words. And for the authors – every scrap of their talent came from God in the first place and they should be quick to return to Him praise and glory.

John and Perla said...

First, I hope face-swapping didn't have anything to do with this.

Second, I think that a certain amount of 'celebrity' or in your case, the netglow, lends itself to fruitful fundraising. It's why politicians (and Charities, to a degree) use Hollywood whenever they can.

I shared the video that was recently posted about Run for Life with some friends who have an interest in maternal health, first, because of their interest, and second, because I think that you guys and the McHouls are genuinely great people doing great things.

The Word says that it is God who has given us power to get wealth. Sometimes that power is simply our attractiveness to others. For myself, I am more likely to give to a cause when I love, admire and find honor in the people involved in that cause.

Social media helps people to know you better; it gives them the opportunity to be attracted. God isn't using this attraction solely for the purpose of getting something from them, but also to get things to you. And, as we know, that's not always funds.

If it makes you feel better, you guys totally don't rock. I am not impressed at all. OK. That was hard.

The Sweeneys love the Livesays!

L said...

I agree with everything you said, but I still think you're awesome :)

mbs said...

I agree that it is a fine balance. I think Missy is bang on when she says it turns us all middle school.

However, everytime you write something like this I start to panic. What if she drops off the web completely?! GASP. I have really appreciated your glimpses into life in the field. They are honest, un-sanitized and real. Please don't stop writing.

Sandy @ The Scoop on Balance said...

This is such a struggle for me. As a Christian writer who truly feels called to write (and publish real books), I've been told by traditional publishers, "We love your writing, we love your book ideas, now go build a platform. We won't publish you until you do."

I hate spending my days on social media trying to get people to "follow" me. I've spent more time in the last month trying to learn Twitter and Pinterest than I have on the computer the entire summer. It sucks the life out of me.

Yet, as a writer, I don't know what the alternative is. Because "followers" translate to "book sales" usually. And book publishing is a business. So, as much as I'd like to just write for God and reach my little circle of immediate friends, I believe God is leading me to reach more people than that.

I go back and forth.
Back and forth.
Back and forth.

Brazenlilly said...

Good stuff. I really resonated with this and maybe had a little ouchie moment about my relationship with Beth Moore. (kind of kidding, kind of not) As a blog follower and FB "friend" who's never met you in person, I appreciate your presence in those arenas very much. I feel like your honesty and transparency about life in Haiti LETS US IN to see God moving in a very difficult place, where hope can be hard to locate. A place where many of us keep a piece of our hearts, but can't be there in person. I get why it can feel self-promoting, but please rest assured that (in my humble opinion) if any "fame" comes to the Livesay name, it's b/c of how God has used you. And also your son Isaac is the future husband we all want for our daughters. So, there's that too. --Jen T.

T & T Livesay said...

Posting further thoughts in response to a kind email we got about this post ...

Truly I had no particular person in mind when I wrote what I wrote -- it came about at this time for a couple reasons. A (popular) well-followed group of American/Canadian bloggers visited and lots of us here in Haiti and in the USA gushed about their coming (because they are so important with all their readers!) - I was just sort of processing the way we (myself included) elevate one another.

Additionally I was struggling with finding myself caring too much what other people think of me. Nobody caused that .... it's my sinful nature that cares for and wants people to give me affirmation. I shouldn't care and I shouldn't seek affirmation from anyone but God.

I just wanted to say (write) that I am normal and sinful and even as I do what *appears* to be a big thing for Jesus - that I don't think Jesus is less impressed with people doing day to day things in their lives and developed world locations and I'm not more impressive or important than anyone.

I also want to carefully balance and watch that what I write isn't attention seeking but is pure in motive. I'm sorry if it came across to anyone that I was pointing at them - it was more about me wanting to watch my own attitude toward people "looking up to me" - I want to remain indifferent to that attention that comes as a result of living here.

I had added that sentence about it being super appropriate to thank someone for the way their life has challenged or changed you (I have lots of people like that in my life - people I think are strong and courageous that spur me on) because I didn't want people to think I was saying it is wrong to acknowledge or thank someone - not at all - I was just thinking and expressing my opinion that it is not good for anyone (the idolizers or the idolized) if we inappropriately elevate one another.


tooomanywhatifs said...

"There's nothing new under the sun."

In Acts 3:11-12 and 10:25 Peter ran into this sort of thing. Both cases he redirects the misplaced reverence to it's rightful place and makes the most of the opportunity presented. I've never imagined Peter soul searching to see weather he had somehow 'self-promoted,' but now I wonder?! It's always good to soul search and check your motivations, but, don't let fear of getting it wrong sometimes stop you from making the most of your opportunities.

I've been reading your blog since the quake, I've never sensed self-promotion.