By their posts ye shall know them.

This is a guest post by my good friend Nathan Jones. Nathan is a husband and father of three. He teaches High School Bible and is a 1LT in the NCNG. His competing interests include”battling” his kids (swords, shields, masks, damsel etc.), drinking coffee with his beloved, reading, and DIY projects and chores. 

Your social media post is a road to nowhere. By broadcasting contextless queries, accusations, statements etc. you have only shouted blurbs that you intend to have meaning and impact. They do not. At least, not as you might intend. Fact is, we’re in an ever-polarizing environment plagued by identity politics. Therefore, when you say one thing, it is almost always seen as a piece to the puzzle that makes up a picture with which we’re already familiar.

What makes it worse, is that these social media “desk pops” ensure that the conversations become and remain between only two sides. Where there could be nuance, creativity, perspectives, there are only one-liners and contextless hard bargains (should, need, have-to). Social media desk pops ensure that there are only two sides. It is dodgeball.

Think for a moment, the type of influence your fast-flying-rubber-ball-to-the-face statements actually have. Your team winning or losing isn’t dependent on getting angrier and throwing harder. Like red-rover, you have to win people over.

Fortune cookie fortunes are meaningless, whoever decided those messages do not know me or my circumstances, nor is it likely we interpret reality the same way. Fortunately for fortune cookies, no one is expected to take them seriously. Unfortunately for your contextless soundbites, we are supposed to take them seriously.

 When I see posts, instinctually I have to provide the context to make sense of it, interpret it, and then form an opinion about it. That is not what you want! You must craft the context, not those whom you wish to influence.

Note. You may say the context is supplied, see the unrest/turmoil/division/goings on in society. That is not what I mean by context. I mean literally, the typographic content that lends specific meaning to one or a few sentences that comprise a typical post.

Photo by dole777 on Unsplash

I’m convinced that the significance of context in interpretation has been promoted the past several years, but it appears a new front has opened up -production. As much as context has become important and normal in the interpretation and application of texts, it appears is lacks any of the same influence in our typographical productions. How can our production be any more liberated from context then our pursuit to understanding? Nevertheless, we can produce textual meaning without context, thank you, social media! But that isn’t so, there will always be context. It will simply be created by those reading it.

So what? Stop posting. Want to have voice? Talk to people -in person! Perhaps your posts make you feel better, maybe it is cathartic or giving you a sense of purposeful changing influence, or maybe you feel good about aligning yourself with identities or causes… OK, go on then. But your feelings that lead to posting or the feelings you get afterward have a flailing impact if any and they arguably hurt human relations more than foster them.

You may object. I’m angry (about injustice and immorality) and our shared world view and/or beliefs require this outrage be expressed and joined. That’s correct, I’m with that. Social Media posts (at least the messaging as of late) is a flawed means for that end. Hammer’s don’t screw, spray-paint doesn’t write essays; fortune cookies are meaningless.

Context is omnipresent. It is either already there (identity politics) or it is created by the writer (rarely) or reader (often). We must be cognizant of the context into-which we situate and convey our message if the intended meaning and its influence is to be communicated.

I promise, I have had good and excellent conversations with folks of opposing ideologies and interpretations of society. Fueling those conversations is faith, books and ideas, narratives and stats. Progress happens: hearts are endeared to people, suffering is seen, justice is promoted, and humility realized. The progress of humble in-person-conversations is the Wrights brothers, whereas a contextless posts is Dunder Mifflin’s Jumping-photo Christmas Card, “is it worth it? Don’t answer that!”[1]


[1]NBC “The Office” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eo0uu4oC3f0

Take Up and Read

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about “isms” and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said…

This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.

~C.S. Lewis, Introduction to On the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius

Missing Practices

I led my first small group at my church nearly ten years ago. After assuming the title of Assistant Pastor of Discipleship and Small Groups (helpfully abbreviated APOD&SG), I started reading everything I could on small group ministry. I rarely found what I was looking for.

There was plenty to read and consider: recruiting and training leaders, practicing hospitality, writing discussion material, and easing through small group dynamics. I also learned how to develop our small groups without cannibalizing the church itself.

But the most popular materials never seemed to mention the practices of writing or prayer- practices that became necessary to do my pastoral work at all. I’m sure no one would say these practices were unimportant. They were apparently assumed. I suspected they weren’t mentioned because they weren’t practiced.

If we assume a ministry is attending to prayer without consistent instruction and practice we can create a kind of ecclesiastical Ponzi scheme. No real work is really being done in prayer. Why else don’t we have more to say about how these practices should shape our small group ministries? Pastoral work without prayer and writing is as useful as carpentry without tools.

Limited experience taught me that prayer opens my eyes to the presence and work of God. How else could I learn repentance and petition, confession and blessing? Prayer taught me that God had taken the initiative in every situation I entered. Rather than asking “what do I need to do to get things going,” I began to ask, “what is God doing here that I need to be aware of?”

“I can be a pastor who prays,” wrote Eugene Peterson in The Contemplative Pastor. Peterson was a lone voice in my wilderness:

I want to cultivate my relationship with God. I want all of life to be intimate—sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously—with the God who made, directs, and loves me. And I want to waken others to the nature and centrality of prayer. I want to be a person in this community to whom others can come without hesitation, without wondering if it is appropriate, to get direction in prayer and praying.

The Contemplative Pastor Page 29

In time, writing became a physical expression of my praying. Like prayer (at its best), writing clarifies and reflects meditation. “As I mused, the fire burned.”* Pen and paper now take on new energy as I consider the normal difficulties of ministry. We need more leaders in our church. How can I train the leaders we have? How will I handle this difficult conversation?

Small groups have great potential for helping the church in her task of spiritual formation. We all have a lot of work to do. As for me, I will write and pray.

BL

*Psalm 39:3, ESV