16 June 2009

Online Catharsis

Purging My Emotions Regarding Online Absence

I don't know why it's been so difficult to maintain my blog. Of course, life is busy, but I used to find the time to sit down and type out my thoughts and experiences, and keep people relatively up to date with what was going on with the McKenzie Clan.

I have had so many things I've wanted to share on this blog, from... blogging to facebook; from family sickness (I have a throat infection and both girls have chicken pox in varied stages) to pub theology; from books I've read, to ministering in a pluralistic society; from missional community to intimacy with Jesus; from homosexual ministers to dialoguing with Mormons.
The thing about blogging though, is that if you don't do it in a timely manner, the potency of the moment is kind of lost, and then it's just a process of recapturing the moment and manufacturing an appropriate level of passion for whatever that particular subject or experience was. I suppose a blog could be a simple report on what's going on... but seriously (and I'm not being cynical), very few people's lives are really interesting enough to chronicle daily, or even weekly, accounts of what's happening in, to or around them.

Which brings me to my next point. I've begun to see blogging, like facebook, MySpace, online journaling and personal profiles, as another extension of the social networking phenomena that is sweeping... nay... has swept the planet, that really amounts to nothing more than a serious case of global narcissism. We create entire online personas of ourselves - profile pictures, interests and activities, friends lists, favorites lists - all carefully and strategically thought out to showcase to the world the very best version of ourselves; the best looking; the most spiritual; the most interesting.
I was reading in Adbusters Magazine a few months ago about a person who decided to commit 'facebook suicide' (delete their account). Ironically, the decision came about as they were trying to enhance their profile. They were looking for a new, clever quote that would show depth and introspection, when they came across a quote from Aristotle on a quotes website:

"We are what we repeatedly do."

What then are we? If all of our time is spent changing our profile pictures on facebook, thinking of clever status updates for facebook, checking our profile pages multiple times in a day to see if anyone has commented or responded to our most recent posts, is this what we are? People who revisit their own thoughts and images for hours each day? Have we become the most narcissistic people the world has ever known? The most voyeuristic? The most egotistic?
(click on link to examine this question further)

Now consider this cultural trend of self-obsession in light of missionaries. A big part of a missionary's ministry is "donor relations," the job of keeping up with and maintaining communication with one's support base. But I've discovered that my recent view of online personas has permeated my view of missionary personas, as well. On our websites, blogs and in newsletters, we too can create the best versions of ourselves. Missionaries are often compelled to sensationalize their ministry experiences or random encounters with people in their neighborhoods or in coffee shops - making them sound more dynamic than the lives of the 'normal' people that support our ministries. We may feel the need to create context or share statistics such as, "Glasgow is the most violent city in western Europe," and "Two of Europe's 10 worst neighborhoods are in Glasgow." These are true statements, but I don't know many people other than missionaries who discuss that kind of data... in newsletters and on blogs.
I guess what I'm saying is that, in the same way that I grew tired of constantly enhancing the online version of myself, I grew tired of enhancing the missionary version of myself, too. Yes, I'm one of the pastors of a church-plant, but to be honest with you, I really don't feel much like a missionary at all. I feel kind of like a guy that has been blessed with enough time during the week to reach out and share God with as many people as I can; to meet people where they're at and when they're available to talk about their spiritual journey; to process through pain and loss with folks at any given time of day or night.
I guess I just got tired of sensationalizing those encounters and exploiting the people involved. So I kind of stopped writing newsletters or blogging about daily life encounters. I'm certainly not saying that was the answer. I feel I've done a grave injustice to my donors and a disservice to my family by not communicating more regularly with supporters. I guess I'm just recognizing how the self-obsessed online culture has affected me over time and how I'm trying to gain proper perspective in how to balance the good with the bad
...because there is good...

For all the pitfalls and delusions of connection that accompanies facebook, there is, indeed, a positive side to all of it, too. Facebook is a remarkable tool for reconnecting you with people you may have otherwise lost touch with forever... especially those people you lost touch with before the days of email and the internet. I have found or been found by friends I lost touch with 20+ years ago when I moved from Munich, Germany to California. I may never have rekindled those friendships if not for facebook. Now I may have the opportunity to visit some of those old friends in Munich this summer when I'm scheduled to attend a conference in Muenster.
Being a third-culture kid living away from friends and family in the U.S., I'm also able to stay connected with people better through facebook than if I relied on the telephone or email. And thankfully, I haven't had any of those awkward or inappropriate online reunions with girlfriends-past. Probably the worst thing I do on facebook is brag about my kids through pictures. I love posting picture updates of my girls. I think they're beautiful and so naturally, I assume that everyone else will, too. It's sort of like, "Look what I made!!!"

To be honest, I expected to do a mini-rundown on what's gone on with us these last few months, and what's going on with us for the next few (how funny is that?), but it sort of turned into this cathartic process of understanding and describing why I've struggled to write newsletters or blog posts for the past six months.

I'll keep trying to do better... while maintaining journalistic integrity and respect for the people I encounter every day.

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