Writer Bianca Vivion Brooks posted an Op-Ed in the NYTIMES on Friday. Titled I USED TO FEAR BEING A NOBODY, THEN I LEFT SOCIAL MEDIA. In it, she shared how her identity and wellbeing were tied up in the world wide web. She wrote:
“For years I poured my opinions, musings and outrage onto my timeline, believing I held an indispensable place in a vital sociopolitical experiment.
But these passionate, public observations were born of more than just a desire to speak my mind — I was measuring my individual worth in constant visibility.
“After all, a private life boasts no location markers or story updates. The idea that the happenings of our lives would be constrained to our immediate families, friends and real-life communities is akin to social death in a world measured by followers, views, likes and shares.
“I grow weary when I think of this as the new normal for what is considered to be a fruitful personal life. Social media is no longer a mere public extension of our private socialization; it has become a replacement for it. What happens to our humanity when we relegate our real lives to props for the performance of our virtual ones?”
Ms. Brooks was right. That is the message we get from our culture because culture often addressed our most basic human instincts: it is so very human to crave affirmation from strangers, to desire blessed assurances of our worth. Everyone wants to feel valued by others beyond our immediate circle of family and friends, certainly everyone needs to feel that we certainly are more valuable than our bank accounts. Still, to live with constant expectation that somehow, somewhere we will be acknowledged, that we will be awarded, we will achieve recognition—these are the burdens society thrusts upon us. We must remember these do not comprise the yoke of Christ, the blessed burdens of Christianity.
Sure, it is disappointing to write a book that nobody reads or organize community outreach on important issues –spiritual or social– and nobody shows up. But that’s not the same things as centering our lives on social acceptance, praise and success.
Jesus walked the way of the humble, rejected by his hometown natives, he made the Lord God his foundation–nurturing disciples to be sure–but not dependent on their adulation or even their solidarity, Indeed, they often misunderstood him, they could not comprehend all that he taught. nor did they exquisitely follow his example. What kept him going? His honesty, his willingness to sigh, trusting that all will come to pass in God’s time. Jesus was content to plant seeds, finding comfort in life’s basic pleasures while offering hope, insisting on a better future but not manipulating people into it. Critical of all established institutions –He called the tetrarch Herod “that fox” and many religious leaders “you hypocrites!” –all the while witnessing to the Great Commandments and not despairing when his followers didn’t or couldn’t live up to them.
When disappointments plague us, we may recall the prophet Habakkuk as Jesus must have recalled him:
For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
The rash one has no integrity;
but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.
Meanwhile, Jesus was content to praise God for life’s little pleasures, close friends and family, however imperfect, yet still sharing meals with disciples and strangers alike, engaging with people of wealth and of little or no means, always seeing the inner soul of whoever sat beside him; observing nature’s beauty and challenges –the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, pastures of sheep and farms cultivating wheat, and, like Abraham before him, the stars of the skies, the sands on the shores of the ocean.
Simplicity doesn’t mean not to try writing the great American novel — if that is your ambition. It doesn’t mean not bringing your ideas to your boss or high school principal or your local Congress person. In fact, we are obliged to live, to be engaged, to share insights and experiences with those who make decisions for us and for others. And, should we be the ones who are making the decisions, it is vitally important that after expressing our ideas, our preferences, we listen to others who think differently, live differently without needing their adulation –or even their votes!
In all this, Jesus insists we keep the bigger picture whether we are heard or not, our ideas are accepted or not, whether our dignity is acknowledged or not. Truth, Goodness, Justice, Mercy are not rooted in imperfect society, or culture of meritocracy but in Faith, Hope and Love. There is no better foundation, no great truth.
Emily Dickenson grounded herself in spiritual realities and knew the distinction between integrity and popularity when she wrote:
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us?
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!
But today is SUNDAY and we must let Jesus have the last words: Are we feeling dejected, bereft of camaraderie, devoid of success and affirmation? Recall Jesus speaking from his own experience: “No prophet is ever accepted in his own native place. ” And, like Jesus, we must move on. Yes, we can dream, yes, we still can share. We can give and forgive. We must do all these things FREED from our drives for self-importance so we may give thanks to God and say: ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'”