Friday, March 14, 2014

Pope Francis, Social Media, and Identity

A recent online article in the hippity-happenin' Christian magazine Relevant celebrated an entire year of Papal Tweeting, as we move into year two of our collective celebrity Pope crush.

Or perhaps that should be #popecrush.

Yeah, I think a #hashtag is in order here.

What struck me in reading the long list of tweets offered up by Pope Francis over the last year were two things.  First, how simple, kind and gracious they all were.  This is how Christianity should sound.  It just is.

Second, how utterly different the tone of those tweets were than the tweets to be found on Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio's twitter feed just one year ago, back when he was George and not Frank.

Twelve months ago, I'd followed the churning social media frenzy around the selection of the new pope.  It was fascinating, particularly watching the reactions on the hyper-instant neural feed that twitter provides.

When the smoke finally puffed out of that little chimney, and the name was announced, I did the natural thing in a social media era.  I went to this new pope's twitter feed, to see what he was sharing with the world.  Who is this guy?  What does he have to say?

I found Cardinal Bergoglio's verified Twitter feed, and scanned back for a year.  I blanched, and sitting in my church office, I said to myself, "Lord have mercy, this guy is going to be the Pope?  God help us."

If what we say represents what matters to us, what mattered to Cardinal Bergoglio was stopping gays and lesbians from adopting children in Argentina.  The feed was almost monomaniacal on the subject.

That was his primary issue as a Cardinal, his defining contribution to the broader conversation on faith.  It was pretty consistent, shrill, and more than just a little bit horrible, to the point where I received the news of his ascension to the Papacy with slightly clenched teeth.

Reserve judgement, I said, a year ago.  Tempting as it was, I would not allow myself to believe that these cruel, Pharisaic tweets represented the wholeness of this person.  Let him prove that he knows what is important.  Do not yield to the desire to attack now.  Give him a chance.

Because I know that social media can do strange things to our identities as persons.  To make a name for ourselves, we need to claim a platform.  We become something other than the complex being we are.  We seek conflict, and places where we can make a name for ourselves.  We can take a stand that makes us stand out, shouting louder and louder that we are signal, dammit, not noise.

It can cause us to surface our darkness, to linger in places of conflict and brokenness, to deepen wounds and hurts.  Social media does not need to be that thing.  But we have made it so.

I'm glad, over the last year, that Pope Francis has proven that he gets that there is a better way.

That year should remind us, thems of us who spend time on social media, to listen to our tone, and know that it matters.