Social Media, Lent and Literary Citizenship

social media citizenship

For the second year in a row, as of this writing, I’m fasting from social media for Lent. When I told one friend that I was abstaining from Facebook again this year, she snorted.

“Giving up chocolate has been a stretch,” she explained, “but Facebook? I’d be glad for an excuse to get rid of it.”

Honestly, I understand her sentiment. Some years Lent sneaks up on me, but this year, I was counting down the days until Ash Wednesday. Hoorah! Taking a Facebook break felt like God was lifting a burden off my shoulders. 

The first few weeks of Lent this year were lovely. Like last year, I made more time to reach out to individual friends, arranging coffees with local ladies and phone calls with those in other places. God reminded me to pay attention to where I focus my attention, especially regarding my prayer life. 

Yet God has also surprised me with heartwarming memories where social media previously enriched my life. Without Facebook, I wouldn’t have stayed in touch with several women I now consider close friends because of our common call to cross-cultural ministry. Some were my acquaintances in seminary several years ago. Mutual “likes” of each other’s posts motivated private messages, which led to phone calls and even in-person prayer when we found ourselves in the same town. 

God also used Facebook to provide housing for my husband Brian and me after we moved back to the US from China in 2016. A friend advertised that a colleague was starting an intentional community in a church’s parsonage, and they were looking for people to apply to be community members. 

Brian and I had been praying for Kingdom-focused ways to return to the US. I still remember the jolt of excitement I felt when I read that Facebook post. The Lord was giving us a safe and affordable landing pad with likeminded housemates! Given how rocky our re-entry was, I continually give thanks for my friend who cared enough to share that post. 

In hindsight, I see how my ad-posting friend was practicing a certain form of citizenship. God taught me new delights and duties of denizenship after my five years in China. Many Christians, including Amy Young here on Velvet Ashes, have also explored what it means to be a good citizen. What should our proper posture be to citizenship in God’s Kingdom, and to the countries of our passports, postal addresses, and passions? As Bayta Schwarz observed after she took part in a volunteer day planting flowers in a local park, “beyond passports and visas, I realized I started to feel like a citizen of this place when I began to be invested beyond my little niche.”

We firstly have citizenship in God’s Kingdom, and then citizenship in earthly nations. But social media also presents us with a third citizenship opportunity:  Literary Citizenship. Talya Tate Boerner defines being a literary citizen simply as “supporting the literary community” through activities such as shopping at local bookstores, promoting other authors, and writing helpful book reviews online. 

While the term primarily applies to writers and readers, the concept speaks to other ways we engage social media: do we see social media primarily in terms of what it can do for our own needs of entertainment and connection? Or do we see social media as another Kingdom where we can invest, support others, and exercise the duties and delights of good citizenship? 

If I’m honest (again!), God has shown me that I’ve often treated social media more as a consumer and less as a citizen. As I’ve devoured other people’s pictures, posts and “likes,” I’ve expected social media to give me something only God can provide—a sense of belonging and place. Not surprisingly, I’ve often hungered to belong even as the FOMO devoured me. Can I instead ground myself first in God’s Kingdom, and then practice citizenship in online spaces?  

As I approach the end of my social media fast after Easter, I’m considering the following ways of engaging as an online citizen:

1. Being honest about my intentions.

When I get online and scroll my newsfeed, what is my goal? Am I trying to stay up-to-date with loved ones, to find nourishing resources to empower me as a citizen of God’s Kingdom, or to seek a false sense of rest through mindless media consumption? 

2. Praying over my online presence.

How does what I post glorify God and reflect God’s character? Is my social media presence true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable (Philippians 4:8)? 

3. Learning the rights and responsibilities of online citizenship.

In the upcoming months and years, decisions regarding online privacy, regulation, censorship, and security will have enormous impact on people across the globe. While we seek to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves (Matthew 10:16), how will we actively engage in these conversations, praying over them and even advocating for just practices, for the sake of God’s Kingdom?  

Though I longed for self-imposed social media exile this Lent, I am now looking forward to returning after Easter. But this time, I’ll no longer engage as an exile, but as a citizen. 

How is God calling you to engage social media from the posture of citizenship? 

Photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash

4 Comments

  1. Amy Young May 8, 2019

    Well Melanie, my (very, HA) thoughtful comment has been lost on the interwebs. Suffice it to say, I am grateful for this post and your thoughts! 🙂

    1. Mealnie Weldon-Soiset May 8, 2019

      Thank you, Amy! I was so happy to read your original thoughts on citizenship, and am still percolating on what they mean for online spaces (and if you ever find that originally thoughtful comment, I’d love to read it sometime! :)). I also loved your book Looming Transitions–it was so helpful to me when I moved back to the US from China in 2016 :).

  2. Bayta Schwarz May 8, 2019

    That’s a really interesting perspective, Melanie! Thanks for sharing! Also fun o be reminded of my thoughts from almost a year ago 🙂

    1. Melanie Weldon-Soiset May 8, 2019

      Thank you, Bayta! I loved your words about serving in your local setting, and what that meant for citizenship. Would love to hear what you discover about how that sentiment may apply to online spaces–I’m still playing with the idea myself! I will say it’s helped me feel more confident as I engage online post-Easter. And it’s also helped me feel okay that sometimes some of us are in a season of more active engagement as citizens, and sometimes we need to retreat/rest.

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