Saturday, December 14, 2013

The narcissism of social media

Well now, here's an interesting thing!

Selfie Syndrome

You don't have to be a social scientist or psychology student to notice how self-centred social media can be. Just think about the number of times you see a " post this" message on Facebook. Even worse are those messages that suggest you somehow don't care about an issue because you choose not to repost some bit of social media chain mail.

There is sometimes also a run of people posting something along the lines of a request to write something on their timeline just to let them know you've read their status update. It's as if they are seeking assurance that they still exist and the only affirmation of that comes through being noticed on the internet.

I often refrain from commenting on status updates, sometimes because the only comment I want to make is grammatical! The other reason is more subtle in some ways. While I like to know what people are doing, what they've discovered or what they are reading, even sometimes what they've found funny or inspiring, it should be enough that they share that with me. It ought not to need my response in order to validate the worth of their sharing. I blog, for example, as a process of thinking out loud about stuff. If I did only on the basis that people read what I write, then I'd have stopped long ago. I don't stop thinking because you don't read or comment on what I write. I am at least not that preoccupied with self.

It also has to be said that when someone shares that they are looking forward to taking part in the donkey procession, I'm tempted to ask them which donkey they will be the said procession!

I think social media has real value in connecting us and sharing stories and news, but if we treat it as a way to validate ourselves, then we truly will become increasingly narcissistic. And where, I wonder, might that lead us?

Just to let you know: I haven't checked this for typing errors or grammatical mistakes and I don't really want to know if I've made any unless they substantially alter the intended meaning! Just in case you were struggling to sleep wondering if I knew about the misplaced comma or dropped capitalisation!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Light in the darkness

It's advent. At some point in the next few weeks the opening prologue of John's gospel will be read in churches up and down the country. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the word was God." It's a great opening to the unfolding story of the gospel narrative.

I was talking to some friends the other and they were lamenting the state of the world as usual. Big business avoiding tax and destroying the local traders; pay rates for MPs (it may be deserved but is it appropriate to do it now?); the unsustainable nature of first world economic models; does greed mitigate against the emergence of an equitable society? The usual list of things. Add to that the drugs issues, the crime rates, the lack of opportunity, falling pension rates, higher retirement ages and you might be tempted to despair of the situation. Is this really the world as it should be?

Even as a follower of Jesus Christ it is hard sometimes to remain hopeful in the face of what we around us. But that's where John's prologue comes to life. It's not just about the eternal nature of the Son and the Father or the opportunity we have to become children of God, or even the incarnation, important as these things are to our faith. No, here's a crucial phrase from those opening verses:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Whether you prefer overcome or understood doesn't really matter. What matters is that light drives out darkness.  Darkness is, as I'm sure you know, simply the lack of light. While there is light there is hope.  Paul reminds us that hope has two partners, faith and love, and together these three can change the world. Hope may not be the greatest according to the apostle, but hope breaks into our present reality and points us to a better future. Much of that may only be realised in the future kingdom, but that doesn't mean we do not have hope in the present and for the present. If one who advocated violence can a way of peace and reconciliation, then although the world may be lost it is not doomed and the gospel can and does change everything.

Light truly does drive out darkness.

Exploring a book idea

I know there are plenty of books out there, and adding to their numbers might not be the best idea I've ever had, but I have something in mind and thought I should at the very least explore the idea.

My plan is to write a short guide about funerals. Planning funeral is difficult enough without the added effects of grief and loss. I've met well organised people and I've met people who are so stunned that they can hardly think straight. Grief is such an individual journey and I'd like to see if I can do something to help.

The idea is to write something that can read in an hour or less and that sets out some thoughts about the things to consider. I thought I'd look at including something about how to celebrate someone's life away from the funeral. In church life we have thanksgiving services, but what might you do if you don't want to gather in that way?

So that's my idea. I thought if I went a little more public with the idea, then that might encourage me to get disciplined about the task and see where I get in the next few months. At the very least it might help me improve my service to those families I have the privilege to serve at times of loss.

Monday, December 09, 2013

What happens to the surplus stock?

Anne and I were wandering around our local shopping centre on Saturday looking for a few Christmas gifts. What struck me, as I stood in the dedicated Christmas section of a large, well-know, high street retailer, was what happens to all the stuff that doesn't get sold? Once the sales come to and end, there's bound to still be stock left-over, where does it all go? My guess was landfill.

So there I was. Surrounded by all the retailing razzmatazz of tinsel and glitter and I'm suddenly struck by the wastefulness of it all. A bah-humbug moment if ever I saw one coming. But then, this morning on the breakfast news a ray of hope. A new supermarket selling remaindered stack to low income families. What a great idea.

The article is here if you missed the news item live, but how long it will be at this link I don't know, so a few details might help. It's called a "social supermarket" and is the first of its kind in the UK. I think it compliments Foodbanks and looks like a great way to keep unsold stock out of landfill. The supermarket is run by an organisation called the Company Shop, a business that has been dealing with surplus stock for over 20 years according to their corporate website. They run staff shops across the country, but the social supermarket is the first foray into something new.

It makes a whole lot of sense in so many ways. Enabling families facing economic challenges to have access to affordable products; protecting the environment by keeping unnecessary waste out of landfill; offering a longer-term solution to food poverty than food banks can, to name three that come to mind. Let's hope it proves a great success.