Online dating concept. Hand & Wine Glass Through Laptop ScreenI just achieved the milestone of collecting 500 followers on Twitter. Not really sure what this means, but I’m certainly impressed with myself. Apparently either this many people are interested in seeing my daily collection of random quotations, observations, and links to someone else’s hard work and good thinking, or I have attracted a herd of Multi-Level Marketing scammers. Either way, I was just a tad puffed up at my new-found “popularity”.

I know getting more and more connections is important because people offer me “sure-fire” ways to accomplish it. I regularly receive offers to share the “secret” of how to achieve follower levels in the forty thousand-plus range. I also regularly receive requests to follow someone else to help them reach some arbitrary number of people following their every electronic musing on some networking site.  Apparently this will make them happy.

After all, Ashton Kutcher and Ellen DeGeneris have more Twitter followers than the combined populations of several countries (Ireland, Panama, and Norway, if you’re interested) (source: “Socionomics” blog). If piling up numbers is good enough for them, isn’t it good enough for me? has a similar thing going with numbers of “friends”, enhanced by the ease of connecting on this gigantic social networking site. Little effort is involved in racking up a respectable list of 200 or more friends.

Even the primay business networking site,, supposedly more serious and results oriented, includes a great number of folks that proudly proclaim their status as “LIONs” (Linked In Open Networkers) with thousands of links to other people. They achieve this by accepting any invitations to connect from anyone who asks. I have linked to a number of LIONs and had no meaningful contact with them after connecting, which left me feeling a little like highMPj04331250000[1] school, when I thought I had a friendship with one of the cool kids, only to find out differently in a very hurtful way. While some LIONs actively “work” their large networks, many apparently are just engaging in a game for bragging rights.

So, when does the idea of “enough is enough” kick in here?

I have enough trouble just keeping up with everyone in my nuclear family, which includes my wife and brother, four children, three lovely spouses, and five spectacularly perfect grandchildren, let alone all my online connections.

Well, according to a study by Robin Dunbar, a maximum number for effective relationships does exist and that number is 150.

Mentioned in The Tipping Point , this concept has been applied to military units, employee group sizes, and even church congregations. Maybe this is why so many Disciples congregations of my acquaintance seem to hover around this number.

Tobias Escher expands on this fascinating theory, stating that “. . . to put it simply: Your brain can just deal with about 150 meaningful relationships.” Meaningful relationships are those with people who you trust, can go to in times of distress, and who occupy a specific position in our social network. So we can have those other relationships, but there does appear to be an upper limit on those which really count.

This whole discussion brings up some interesting questions about our use of social media.

Why am I doing this? Am I connecting with others online for bragging rights or am I interested in more meaningful connections?

Do I really need accounts and profiles on all these networking sites or is it time to focus?  Is the time I spend on The Intersection more valuable than other sites (the answer is “yes” to this question:).

CB048713Have I identified my true Circle of Influence? Not those I can sell something to, but those who I would contact if I needed help. Many people are struggling with employment issues these days. How many of those 500 followers on Twitter would I feel comfortable sending an IM that I need some gigs to make the rent next month?

Am I spending enough time nurturing those relationships that really matter, both online and face-to-face, or am I just lost in a blur of online living?  I may be able to handle more than 150, but when do the numbers get in the way of what I am trying to do?

After all, Jesus only had 12 primary connections and look at what he was able to do.

. . . . Just some things to consider as we all develop our social networking strategies on this crisp and beautiful fall day here in the heartland.


John E. Smith lives in Maryland Heights, Missouri and is a member of Webster Groves Christian Church.   He  blogs at both A Matter of Strategy and  The Strategic Learner.  You can follow his  tweets as @Stratlearner on Twitter.

The Buddy System,” an article in the Oct. 2009 issue of Wired looks at “the infectious power of social networks.” In the middle of recent H1N1 outbreaks, that’s an ominous-sounding phrase, but what the article’s author, Jonah Lehrer, shares instead is the theory that the people in our social networks may have more influence on us than we realize — especially on things like happiness.

albumBack in 2003, researchers Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler began an extensive review of the Framingham Heart Study – but they weren’t looking at vital statistics and cholesterol numbers. Instead, they looked at subjects’ social networks.

Graphically mapping out these networks, they looked at certain characteristics (such as obesity) and behaviors (like quitting smoking) over time. What they discovered is that changes occurred in clusters. For example, as smoking rates dropped between 1971 and 2001, the network patterns showed that people were far more likely to quit if those linked to them had quit.  Quitting didn’t happen evenly or randomly across the network.

And Christakis and Fowler found that while the greatest influence was exerted by friends, there was significant influence among friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends.

While the Framingham data was based on traditional social networks, Christakis and Fowler applied the same thinking to Facebook. They discovered that, while people still maintain about the same number of really close friendships as before, the extended networks of acquaintances still exert influence. Last month, they published their findings in Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How they Shape Our Lives.

This is fascinating, but it raises ethical questions too. So we discover that one of the ways to pursue and assure our own happiness is to be connected to positive, happy people. What if we gravitate toward them and away from those who are depressed, ailing, poor, unattractive, introverted, and socially undesirable, and less tech-savvy?  Should we de-friend (or ignore) those grouchy people who complain too much? And as those who are less desirable become more socially isolated and disaffected (and in theory, less happy), then what?

Scott Stosssel, in his NY Times review of Christakis and Fowler’s book, does an excellent job of getting at those questions toward the end of his (mostly positive) review. If you don’t want to read the whole review, you can skip to the last few paragraphs.

What do you think?

Photo: Shahram Sharif (Creative Commons license)

Photo: Shahram Sharif (Creative Commons license)

If you’ve ever passed someone on the street and said “hello,” but the other person didn’t acknowledge your greeting, you’ve experienced something called disconfirmation. According to Julia T. Wood, in Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters, we “confirm” someone with both non-verbal (a nod, a smile) and verbal (a return greeting, or even a friendly grunt) communication. “We disconfirm others at a fundamental level when we don’t acknowledge their existence,” Wood writes.

Most of us have a tolerance, perhaps even an acceptance, of a certain level of disconfirmation in life. We probably don’t give that passing stranger another thought. On the other end of the spectrum, the church member or family member who repeatedly snubs us with the silent treatment might cause us greater angst.

Each advance in communication has brought with it the potential for all of us to be the recipients of more disconfirmation, as well as to add to it. The unreturned phone call … the email that went unacknowledged … and now, the requests to connect and be “Friends” and follow someone back. There are more ways to connect, but there are also more ways to miss each other and to miss opportunities to confirm and affirm each other.

Furthermore, as followers of Christ, who went out of his way to “confirm” those who were disconfirmed by many, I believe there’s a faith dimension to the issue.

Some, like social media expert Chris Brogan, treat social media as legitimate items on the “To Do” list, and schedule them in daily or weekly. I like this idea, because I’m the kind of person who needs structure, methods, and tools to get things done. Still, I’m not as good at managing my communications as I’d like to be, and if I’ve disconfirmed you, I apologize.

What do you think? How do you keep up with social media? And are Christians called to attend to the problem of disconfirmation, at least in our own lives, if not in the world?

trust agents If you are anywhere near Orange County, California tonight you should make every attempt to go hear Chris Brogan speak at Disciples-related Chapman University. Chris is well known in the world of social media and blogging. I read his blog every morning, because I appreciate his short, actionable posts and his analogies. The comments are always a good read too. If you’re interested in going to hear him, you can get a ticket through EventBrite. P.S. It’s FREE!

Chris and Julien Smith just released a book called Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust. I’m about halfway through – it’s interesting. I’m reading it with an eye toward what DisciplesWorld might learn and employ, but also with the Church, churches, and Christians in mind.

Anyone out there going? If so, come back and post your thoughts after the presentation. I’ll be watching the comment stream on Twitter (type #broganoc into the Search box to see Tweets from the event.)

Last week, I wrote about Starbucks’ Green Apron Book and asked whether the 5 Principles that Starbucks’ employees are trained to follow might guide the church in its efforts to establish and maintain a presence on social networking platforms. That post prompted some great discussion, not only about social media (in fact, mostly NOT about social media) but about broader topics such as the art of creating experiences, whether other comparisons between Starbucks and the church are valid, and even whether or not they have good coffee. I agree, the jury’s out on that last one, but I’d also argue that people aren’t paying $4 for coffee (a product) – they’re paying for coffee PLUS the experience (or at least, in the case of drive-thru customers, the emotional connection with the brand).

Photo: Randy OHC (Creative Commons license)

Photo: Randy OHC (Creative Commons license)

But it was Jerry’s comment that sparked today’s post: “Let me know when you figure out how to celebrate the Eucharist on the social media.”

There are the mechanics of ‘figuring it out,’ but what I think Jerry was getting at are the bigger questions and issues. Before we launch into a big discussion or debate, what I’d like for you (reader) to help me do is identify the important questions. Let’s start there. Then I think we’ll have a better discussion.

One place to look for the questions is online. Some churches are already celebrating Communion there – evangelicals in multi-site mega-churches experimenting with online church and Communion, yes; but also Methodists and Anglicans, and probably some Presbyterians. Maybe even Disciples!

In reading around  (see the list at the end of this post), here are some of the issues and questions that come up. Some of these don’t apply to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), but they’re worth knowing about. These are specifically about Communion, not the broader topic of online church.

  • The need for participation to happen in the context of a physical community (I’m deliberately staying away from using the word ‘real’ here) such as a Sunday morning worship service in a church.
  • The amount of need for control over who can participate (members of that particular church or denomination only? any baptized believer? anyone?)
  • The role of the clergy or celebrants with regard to the sacraments (Do celebrants have to consecrate the elemants? Online, is BYObread-and-juice ok? What about a ‘virtual’ sacrament, like in Second Life?)
  • What is Communion all about in the first place? Is it a ‘love feast’? A memorial? Is Christ present, and if so, how? Is it a means of receiving grace and forgiveness?

Some practical considerations:

  • People who can’t get to church (i.e. homebound, institutionalized, incarcerated, those with disabilities, etc)
  • What happens when public health concerns or natural disasters force people to stay home? My experience with online Communion was with a Disciples congregation dispersed across several states in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
  • Might participating in online church (and Communion) lead someone who otherwise would not go to church to eventually connect with a local congregation? Or does it keep people from coming to a brick-and-mortar church by aiming to replace it?
  • What about those whom the church has hurt? Or those from whom the church has distanced itself?

Theological considerations (beyond those surrounding Communion):

  • In most of the discussions I’ve seen, the predominant theological question seems to be “What is church?”
  • A less-discussed theological topic is “Where is God in this?”

Help me out here….what other questions should be in the mix?

I hope you’ll follow some of these links and read what others have written, and then come back and add your questions:

Rev. Thomas Madron’s site (click on the PDF link to read his paper in favor on online Communion…written from a Methodist perspective but still fairly relevant for Disciples) – a multi-site evangelical church that also offers an online worship experience, with Communion.

Newsweek’s Belief Watch: “Click in Remembrance of Me?

This post by John Saddington on Church Crunch, about Online Church, which includes several helpful links.

An interesting discussion in ChurchCrunch’s Forums

Not long ago, I posted my interview with Disciples theologian and author Rita Nakashima Brock, founder of Faith Voices for the Common Good and a member of the Axis of Friendship — a coalition of individuals and groups reaching out in solidarity with the people of Iran.

With the visit of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the U.N. this week and the ongoing concerns about its nuclear aims, the spotlight is once again on Iran, as it has been off and on since the highly-contested elections of this summer.

On Wednesday,  Brock and fellow Axis of Friendship member Amir Soltani had an opinion piece, “An Empty Roar from the Lion of Islam,” published as an op-ed in The Boston Globe.

In another article, published the same day on the Dog Canyon blog, Brock asks “What has Christianity to do with Iran?” and answers “A lot, it turns out.”   Her article there, “Iran and our Axis of Friendship,” is a fascinating look at the role of Persia (now Iran) in the world at the time of Jesus’ birth.

What are your thoughts on Iran, and on Ahmadinejad’s visit and speech?

Photo: darkensiva (Creative Commons license)

Photo: darkensiva (Creative Commons license)

There have been several humorous comparisons between church and Starbucks. If you haven’t seen the YouTube video, “What if the Starbucks Marketed Like the Church?” come back to this link after reading this post and check it out.

Now let’s turn it around. What if the church behaved more like Starbucks? What I’m suggesting has nothing to do with coffee…and everything to do with something called The Green Apron Book.

The Green Apron Book is a booklet that Starbucks gives its baristas. My stepdaughter worked at Starbucks for a while, and passed along the booklet. It outlines Starbucks mission: “To provide an uplifting experience that enriches people’s daily lives,” along with 5 Principles for doing exactly that:

1. Be Welcoming: Offer everyone a sense of belonging
2. Be Genuine: Connect, discover, respond
3. Be Knowledgeable: Love what you do. Share it with others.
4. Be Considerate: Take care of yourself, each other, and the environment.
5. Be Involved: In the store, in the company, and in the community.

Others, like Jeff Myers of the Slumdog Disciple blog, have already picked up on the notion that The Green Apron Book might have something to teach us about the experience we create for people (whether we claim that aspect of ‘church’ or ignore it). Darrin at the Hands and Feet 2.0 blog wrote a series of posts. Both Darrin and Jeff also mention the book, The Starbucks Experience by Joseph A. Michelli (McGraw Hill, 2006) for a more in-depth look at the 5 principles. But if you don’t want to go into that much depth, Jeff says The Green Apron Book is yours for the asking at Starbucks.

Here’s what I’d like to add. These 5 principles are a good guideline for Christians and churches when it comes to social media. Think about it. As Will Boyd of 3StoryChurch has pointed out in past posts like this one, there’s a lot more you can do on Twitter, Facebook, and other networks than just promote your programs, classes, sermons, and worship services.

We live in a world with abundant information. What people seem to be looking for are authentic, positive experiences. If your presence online and in the realm of social media is about creating that for them, even in small ways, they’ll be more likely to come to your website to see what else you have to offer.

And of course, follow through is important. If someone who connected with you or your church via social media shows up on Sunday morning, they should expect an in-person experience that matches the online presence. [For more on that, click the link to the YouTube video at the beginning of this post].

So how about it? Would you take a copy of The Green Apron Book to your next church board meeting, elder’s meeting, or small group discussion?

generationsI get a lot of questions about how churches can use social media.  Almost 100% of the time, the person basically wants to be taught a new technique that will help them use a tool like Facebook to attract new people to their church.  Generally, I bristle a bit at the idea that social media’s usefulness for churches is all about attraction.  Thus, I tend to not give out many how-to’s.  Instead, I try to focus on getting churches to re-engage with their story and help them use things like social media to tell that story.  However, I have a simple idea that I want to share in hopes that some church will give it a try and let me know how it goes.

If your church is like most churches, you probably have a significant number of people that barely use email and will most likely never use anything like Facebook.  Does that mean that those folks have no role in social media for your church?  I don’t think so.  They will just need a little help.  “Where will that help come from,” you ask?  I’d be willing to bet that your church is also very likely to have a social-media-engaged population that is right under your nose.  Maybe it is the youth group or some young adults?  Whoever it is, I’m certain their are at least a few people in your congregation that are using things like Facebook.  Your job, should you choose to accept it, is to get those folks together.

I’m certainly not suggesting that the youth group teach the elders how to blog or set up a Facebook profile.  That will go nowhere quick.  However, what if, on a couple of Sundays, a time was set up for story-sharing and faith-listening.  What if the young people were given an assignment to ask some of the older folks in the congregation about meaningful moments in their faith life?  Those youth or young adults would then be responsible for sharing what they learned on the church’s Facebook page or blog.  The older folks could, in return, listen to the faith stories of the younger folks and provide their reflections of what they learned to someone who could post them to the social media space as well.  With just a Sunday or two’s worth of work, enough stories could be gathered that the church could post one a week for a few months.

Sure, this idea is not completely fleshed out, but maybe that’s okay?  What I like about it is that it encourages different generations to really listen and engage with each other’s faith stories.  I also love the fact that, by sharing them on sites like Facebook or the church’s website, it invites the world to participate in that “faith listening”.  To me there is no more powerful way to introduce your church to the world than through the stories of your faith.  How much better is it when you can also more deeply introduce yourselves to each other?

Could your church do something like this?  What ideas does this post give you about ways to engage multiple generations through social media?  Am I way off?

will_squareWill Boyd is owner of 3 Story Church, a church web and social media firm that is focused on helping churches tell their stories. He has worked with Sojourners Magazine, the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, Goddard College, the Disciples Divinity House at Vanderbilt, and others. Will also recently finished a bachelor of arts degree from Goddard College that focused on the role of new media and social technologies in the world of sustainable marketing. Will lives in Seattle with his wife, a Disciples pastor.

Photo: kkalyan (Creative Commons license)

Photo: kkalyan (Creative Commons license)

On September 12, 2001, thousands of people around the world lit candles in solidarity with the United States following the terrorist attacks of September 11.
Recently, the 2009 General Assembly adopted a resolution supporting the Axis of Friendship initiative encouraging Disciples to light a candle on September 12, and to hold services of candle-lighting and peacemaking in local churches. Disciples of Christ theologian, scholar and activist Rita Nakashima Brock, of Faith Voices for the Common Good, was a catalyst behind launching the Axis of Friendship in 2008. Brock is in London, but had an email conversation with Rebecca Bowman Woods, DisciplesWorld news and website editor, this week.

Rebecca Bowman Woods: How did the Axis of Friendship begin?

Rita Nakashima Brock: Last July, Rev. Pat DeJong [senior minister] at First Congregational Church in Berkeley, Calif. (FCCB) and I met to discuss what we could do about the demonization of Iran, and HR 362 making its way through the House, which included a naval blockade against Iran, an act of war under international law. It was clear the US military was in trouble in Iraq, so starting a war with a country 3 times its size whose legally elected government the US overthrew in 1953 was of great concern to us.

We decided to meet with others in the East Bay we had worked with previously in trying to stop the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. At that meeting, I suggested that another war protest would not be news and we needed to include some Iranian Americans to create a strategy they could support. We invited leaders of the Iranian Student Association at Cal Berkeley, an organizer for Iranian voters in the South Bay, and a friend of mine, Amir Soltani, with whom I’d shared a Harvard connection and with whom begun to work on poverty in Oakland.

The Iranian Americans said no one from their communities would show up for a political protest (because of danger to their families and themselves, and disillusionment with such protests), but they love festivals. We decided to hold a US-Iran friendship festival in San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza with food, music, art, and speakers, ending with taking children’s peace art to Nancy Pelosi’s office near the Plaza. We had the speakers first (nine leaders from various faiths and communities, plus a middle school group, which read peace poetry) and called a press conference (excerpts from the event are at

Faith Voices for the Common Good [which Brock founded] is the fiscal home for the Axis of Friendship, but a number of churches and organizations are part of the network that supports the work of it that joined together last summer.

RW: How did you settle on September 12 as the date?

RB: The first feasible date for the event last year, given all the political conventions that summer, was September 12, a Friday afternoon. Amir, who had worked as a journalist, pointed out that on that day in 2001, 10,000 people had stood with candles in the streets of Tehran in solidarity and sorrow with the tragedy of 9/11. So, our choice of date seemed ideal to point to the global friendship that emerged that day all over the world. After discussing what to call it, we settled on the Axis of Friendship. A Festival of Friendship seemed to vague and general and needed explaining. Whereas Axis of Friendship directly linked the festival to the aftermath of 9/11 and the invention of an “axis of evil” in January of 2002, which was used to launch “preemptive” wars of aggression.

We decided to hold a candle lighting vigil as the conclusion of our festival and invited other communities to do so. Both Chapman University’s church relations office and the community at Pilgrim Place in Claremont, Calif., decided to hold vigils, and our festival in San Francisco was very successful.

RW: Who was involved in writing and submitting resolutions to the Disciples’ General Assembly and the UCC’s General Synod in support of Axis of Friendship Day?

RB: In its aftermath, Pat, Amir, and I thought we needed to do further work on education about the people and country of Iran (Pat had visited Iran with the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Iran program). Amir and I had written an op ed, published Sept 11 in the Boston Globe, about the Axis of Friendship, and Pat and I used it as a basis for creating a resolution to go to the United Church of Christ General Synod. She invited other churches to get involved.

I approached the Oakland congregation to see if we might do something similar with the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). They jumped on board with enthusiasm, so I invited DJAN [Disciples Justice Action Network] to provide some support. I also knew that Park Avenue Christian Church [in New York City] had a strong peace program, and they too supported the initiative and joined as another church sponsor of the resolution.

Amir, in the meantime, both became a member of our Faith Voices board and was recruited to become the operations director for Omid for Iran. We continue to work on ways to further the work of the Axis of Friendship.

We are pleased that both the UCC and Disciples passed resolutions in support of Axis of Friendship Day and will continue with ways to promote it in the future, including adding more organizational members. While we are currently focused on Iran, the Axis is not limited to friendship with Iran.

RW: Things have changed in Iran, and here in the US, since last year. Do you feel more hopeful that we can foster diplomatic relations with Iran, and avoid the alternative of conflict or war? And with Iran’s recent elections and the accusations over the outcome, what role can friendships and an Axis of Friendship play in making the voices of the people of Iran heard and in learning what’s happening there?

RB: One of our objectives last summer was to put a human face on Iran and to de-demonize its people (who were demonized during the hostage crisis under Carter). The aftermath of the June election fraud in Iran this summer did this. I think many Americans could identify with their struggle, after our own difficult elections. But the courage of the Iranian people who continue to work for democracy has its own amazing and inspiring power.

We hope via the Axis of Friendship to keep Iran in the U.S. public consciousness and to create new ways to develop people-to-people exchanges to other countries where people struggle for human rights and dignity, especially as opportunities develop via Global Ministries’ work in many such places.

RW: What else is important for people to know?

RB: I think there are many ways for Christians to promote peace. The work of overseas ministries is an underappreciated and underutilized avenue for positive work for peace. At the same time, we have an increasingly diverse society and amazing opportunities to strengthen the Axis of Friendship with people in our own regions. We need to be reaching out to Iraqis, Afghanis, and Iranians who are our neighbors, and befriending them.

I first came to appreciate Iran in college because of work I did in Biblical studies and the impact of Persia on Isaiah and on Christianity. Then over a decade ago I met an Iranian Muslim feminist in London, Roxanne Zand, who introduced me to feminist writings she translated and to modern Iranian artists she was supporting as an art curator. And, of course, I have learned a great deal from Amir and the Iranian Americans I have come to know in the East Bay.

Diane Butler Bass is a researcher and writer who looks at the realm of spirituality and religion.  Her work of late has partially focused of late on what constitutes and drives mainstream Christian congregations.  “ Christianity For The Rest of Us” is a fascinating book in which she examines the type of church that many of us experienced as we grew up and what currently makes for a thriving and vibrant worshipping community. 

In her research, which included both “numbers crunching” and a long series of in-depth ethnographic activities with members of different congregations, Bass identified ten elements usually present in these thriving congregations.    One of these elements is Testimony. 

Bass and her interviewees have a lot to say about this venerable and changing Christian tradition.  From the early church’s need for oral history to preserve and grow, to the Puritan practice of public statements about how God had already changed us to make us eligible for church membership and finally to the current practice of sharing our spiritual journey with others in varied places and situations, this is a well-written and interesting look at one of the components of being a Christian in a faith community that many of us are not all that comfortable with.

Testimony is on my mind today for two reasons:  1) because I am using the Bass book in an adult Christian education class right now and we just discussed this chapter, and  2)  because of what happened on last week.

There among all the Mafia Wars, Farming, Bingo, pictures of the kids and someone’s summer vacation, and the seemingly endless polls about everything under the sun was this status update from a dear friend:

“No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day.”

I have no idea where this post originated because I started to see it in other people’s posts almost immediately.  In true viral fashion, I immediately copied and pasted as my status because I was struck by the simple truthfulness of the statement.  Apparently I was not being very creative because this same message started to appear from many of my connections.  Since my connections include a range that includes childhood friends, college buddies, colleagues from every job I have ever had, members and staff from all my church homes, business partners, relatives from across town and the other side of the world, along with an eclectic collection of friends from various and sundry times of my life, this was significant.  Watching a statement take hold in so many varied minds was impressive to me.

But what really got my attention was what happened next.

Variations of this message from the “loyal opposition” began to appear.  Not really unexpected, since health care reform has been such a divisive and engaging topic all summer.  Our television and computer screens have been dominated by pictures of shouting groups from all sides of the argument and the charges and counter-charges of not letting the other side speak have flown.  Elected officials have been shouted down and good citizens ignored.  The whole affair has not been characterized as “civil discourse”.

So I braced myself for more of the same in this online venue.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by what started to happen.  As you might imagine, people started responding to each other. On Facebook, when you connect to someone you know, you also become witness to their interactions with other people that they know, but you do not.  You can see some of their online conversations with their friends.  Some people find this disconcerting.  I’m a little more of a voyeur, so I don’t mind, although I always remain mindful of the public nature of what we post.

So in some cases, people were reacting to what a “friend of a friend” stated as their public testimony of their position on health care.

 However, in my corner of the virtual world, the discussions were polite, respectful, and with a definite air of “We can disagree and still remain connected.”  I was pleasantly amazed by the general air of open communication that unfolded on my computer screen.  This was not what I have come to expect.

As I pondered all this, several questions came to me.  I’ll leave them with you . . .

Can social networking media provide new ways of enabling us to provide testimony to our beliefs and our faith?

Is it possible that establishing connections before having the “hard conversations” is a key to changing how we communicate when we disagree?

Can social networking media actually support healthy discussion as well as the more-publicized ranting and raging that often characterizes the public impression of how issues are treated in online forums?



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April 2021