the [good] news 2.0

If you’re anything like me, and I think a lot of you probably are, the way you receive the news has changed drastically over the past two or three years. Ever since the internet evolved into something called “Web 2.0” (which is just a cute-techy way of saying the web is in it’s second generation) the way we receive and consume newsworthy information has quickly moved away from the old standards of opening a newspaper or magazine / turning on the radio or tv and being told what’s happening in the world (news in a structured, edited and rehearsed fashion), and it’s quickly moved toward things like blogs, message boards and perhaps the most influential of all the immediate news sources – status updates on social networks like facebook and twitter.

I’ll be honest, I get a lot of my updates on what’s happening in the world by reading what others tell me is going on, and rarely are the people telling me what’s going on doing their job (in other words, they’re not paid to report the news). While I don’t “tweet” very often, I do visit twitter a few times a day to see what’s trending (list of most commonly discussed things, updated in real time). I also find myself frequently scouring my facebook news feed (collection of updates on the activity and updates of my 600+ “friends”) as if it were the front page of the paper…and in many ways, it is. Think about it. If you looked at any major event that happened in the past several years – from Obama being elected president, Michael Jackson’s death, swine flu, the economic recession and federal bailouts, and who could forget one of the worst events in recent memory, Brett Favre becoming a Viking – all of these events were well-documented by the media, but perhaps more than anywhere else they were discussed on facebook and twitter (to the point where both sites were nearly shut down on June 25, 2009 because so many people were trying to share their reactions to Michael Jackson’s death, at the same time).

Why do I share all this?

This morning while eating breakfast – a time of the day when previous generations would have probably been sitting at their kitchen table reading the newspaper – I was sitting at my computer desk skimming through people’s status updates on facebook. Like most people, I’m not all that close with all of my facebook friends (although I do have a few rules about this: 1) I know them in real life, 2) they are at least 18 years old and out of high school).  Due to this new reality of what it means to be “friends” with someone, I often find myself reading very personal statements written by people I don’t know very well (which is a whole different topic for another day), but I also find out about all sorts of interesting events, organizations and causes because people are constantly sharing links or inviting me to join their groups and attend events for things they are involved with. And sure, sometimes people share funny videos, express frustrations about their job, coworkers, boss, etc., or my least favorite use – shamelessly plug the stuff they sell (realtors are the worst at this), but this morning, as I was finishing my oatmeal (I know you don’t care what I ate for breakfast, but this is a blog and by it’s nature that means sometimes you get more info than you care about); so like I was saying, this morning I was checking my facebook news feed while getting ready for work and eating my Quaker Apples & Cinnamon oatmeal (which by the way is delicious!). Similar to how a friend in the 1980s might have suggested a movie to watch or a book to read, one of my facebook friends posted a link in their status to a magazine article that I otherwise never would have known about. It’s an open letter from Shane Claiborne to his “nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends” and it was published by Esquire magazine. (In case that’s not an unexpected combination to you, read Shane’s wikipedia page and then visit the Esquire website.)

Shane writes a great letter full of confession and proclamation. I’m thankful to have read it, but I’m even more thankful that so many others will read it (and to have been “told” about it by a very credible news source; a guy named Charlie who I went to seminary with, and who I apparently share 40 friends in common with).

Anyway, since I wrote all this to share the letter and link with you, possibly making me a news source for you and others, I’ll now post a portion of the letter (please check out the full article on Esquire).

What if Jesus meant all that Stuff?
by Shane Claiborne (Esquire, Nov. 18, 2009)

It starts out simple and engaging, with an apology on behalf of all people who would categorize themselves as “Christians.”

To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.

Forgive us. Forgive us for the embarrassing things we have done in the name of God.

That was the confession part. He then moves into story/observation mode, pointing out that he (as a person of faith) has experienced the same negative reaction to the behavior of a lot of “Christians” that others seem to have.

The other night I headed into downtown Philly for a stroll with some friends from out of town. We walked down to Penn’s Landing along the river, where there are street performers, artists, musicians. We passed a great magician who did some pretty sweet tricks like pour change out of his iPhone, and then there was a preacher. He wasn’t quite as captivating as the magician. He stood on a box, yelling into a microphone, and beside him was a coffin with a fake dead body inside. He talked about how we are all going to die and go to hell if we don’t know Jesus.

Some folks snickered. Some told him to shut the hell up. A couple of teenagers tried to steal the dead body in the coffin. All I could do was think to myself, I want to jump up on a box beside him and yell at the top of my lungs, “God is not a monster.” Maybe next time I will.

This is where he starts to proclaim a bit of the Gospel (aka “the good news”), but it’s also where he points out the harsh reality of how Christians are perceived in society (the bad news).

The more I have read the Bible and studied the life of Jesus, the more I have become convinced that Christianity spreads best not through force but through fascination. But over the past few decades our Christianity, at least here in the United States, has become less and less fascinating. We have given the atheists less and less to disbelieve. And the sort of Christianity many of us have seen on TV and heard on the radio looks less and less like Jesus.

At one point Gandhi was asked if he was a Christian, and he said, essentially, “I sure love Jesus, but the Christians seem so unlike their Christ.” A recent study showed that the top three perceptions of Christians in the U. S. among young non-Christians are that Christians are 1) antigay, 2) judgmental, and 3) hypocritical. So what we have here is a bit of an image crisis, and much of that reputation is well deserved. That’s the ugly stuff. And that’s why I begin by saying that I’m sorry.

Although it may not be clear, Claiborne is actually a very positive dude with a deeply rooted faith and hope in God’s love, as seen in these thoughts…

I want to invite you to consider that maybe the televangelists and street preachers are wrong — and that God really is love. Maybe the fruits of the Spirit really are beautiful things like peace, patience, kindness, joy, love, goodness, and not the ugly things that have come to characterize religion, or politics, for that matter. (If there is anything I have learned from liberals and conservatives, it’s that you can have great answers and still be mean… and that just as important as being right is being nice.)

Amen, Shane. I was in a meeting at the seminary where I work last week and we were talking to several staff members from a graduate social work program we partner with to offer a joint degree. Near the end of the meeting we were talking about the reality of working for social justice as a person of faith, and how often times that means working against the perceived understandings people have about Christianity, which is a sad situation. One of my colleagues from the seminary patiently waited as others shared their thoughts, then made the profoundly true statement that “the Christianity you see in the media is the not what Jesus lived and preached.”

Claiborne’s closing comments get at the basics of the belief conversation; namely, what does it finally mean to be a Christian, or not? And how does the distinguishing, self-selecting or labeling of “Christian” vs. “non-Christian” effect how we interact with each other, since God created us all in love and we have no choice but to live together on this earth (so we might as well get along)?

In closing, to those who have closed the door on religion — I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, “I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you.” If those of us who believe in God do not believe God’s grace is big enough to save the whole world… well, we should at least pray that it is.

Your brother,

Shane

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