By Steven Norris

      “I just want to see to see pictures of cute babies, dog videos, and funny cat memes. Is that too much to ask?” An exasperated friend shared this along with her lament that she felt forced to remove herself from social media altogether because of the negative affect it had on her emotional well being. Is it possible to reclaim social media as a place of sacred interaction?

      The first social media platform emerged in 1997. These services promised increased social connections — a way to reconnect with old friends or share photos, news, and updates with family members who lived at a distance.

      Since 2008, social media has become an increasingly integral part of political campaigns, marketing companies, and news organizations seeking to leverage the information gleaned from the behaviors of users to their advantage. The sacred space for divine social connection has been desecrated – monetized and weaponized at the expense of true connection.

      In the last year, I have been grieved to see countless examples of church-going men and women using social media to attack others in the most un-Christian way imaginable. I’ve seen countless examples of “keyboard courage” — lashing out with an intensity and zeal online that would never be used in a face-to-face encounter.

      To reclaim such space in our lives we must first begin with a commitment to live integrated lives. Jesus said that the greatest command was to love God with everything that we are — heart, soul, body, and strength — and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

      In other words, we must move away from hypocrisy — the temptation to “put on a mask” and to be completely different people from one context to the next. After all, our primary commitment to the way of Christ must be embodied in every interaction, word, post, and comment.

      People of faith who still want to maintain a presence social media should be intentional about the kind of digital space you are cultivating. Maybe Paul’s encouragement to the church in Rome could be applied as guidelines for our use of social media as well.

      “Dont just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When Gods people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

      “Bless those who persecute you. Dont curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Dont be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And dont think you know it all!

      “Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:9-18, New Living Translation)