At the end of December I felt the urge to step away from the sphere of social media as I entered into the new year. I needed a sabbath for my mind, and to clear out extra clutter and noise. I have mostly found social media a positive place. It can be harnessed for immense good, foster beautiful connections, opens up great entrepreneurial opportunities, and help us reach further than ever before. In fact, you're reading this on a screen right now and I may not even know who you are. That's pretty amazing. I also had an online-based business for 5 years, and was so blessed to connect with people from all over the world. There is much to be gained from our online world, and yet I confess, it is easy to put too much importance on what happens online. I have often struggled with getting on and zoning out, consciously and unconsciously comparing myself to others, or caring too much about what I see and the little numbers on posts. Even if it is mostly positive, those positive things can still negatively affect my heart. I'm no psychologist, but I think a lot of people see themselves negatively affected by so much "connection" via screens and social media. For me personally, it was so refreshing to unplug. I reached for books, instead of scrolling on my phone. I had to ask friends what is going on in their lives, because I didn’t read about it online. I allowed myself to experience a lull during downtime, and found my mind quickly filled the space productively. I went about my life without knowing what everyone else was up to, and it helped me find deeper contentment in my ordinary. It was like a cloud lifted from my mind and my thoughts found more clarity. But even when I stepped back I knew I wouldn't stay away for very long. The nature of our world has changed, and it's all online. For better or worse.
As nice as it was to step back and take a breather, I do not feel like totally removing myself from our online world is the right path to take for me personally. We're not supposed to be holier than thou hermits. Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16 that we are to be the "light of the world," and that "a city set on a hill cannot be hidden." You don't turn on a lamp only to throw a blanket over it. That would be silly. Light is meant to shine. Light helps us see in the dark. It illuminates the shadows. It helps us know what to do and how to walk. Jesus goes on to say "In the same way, let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." Jesus didn't give me his light so I can hide away from the pressure of the world. He is building up His church, like a city on a hill, to show the way to Himself - the Light of the World.
We know He sent us into the world to spread His light. We're called to be in the world but not of it. We're not supposed to hide, but shine instead. We are to live our lives brightly for fame of Jesus, refusing to be dulled or fooled into promoting our own fame instead. Got it. But our world has changed. It is truly a new era of history. How am I supposed to be a light here and now? What does it look like? How do I harness this culture, and the positive aspects of our online world for Jesus without succumbing to its negative affects? This is precisely what I aim to find out. And I want you to come with me friends.
Enter, the Renaissance.
In my questioning and turning to books lately, I started reading about a pivotal era of history: The Renaissance. What does a history lesson have to do with social media? I know, I can hear you wondering. As it turns out, there is much to be gleaned from the past.
Before the dawn of the Renaissance, the light of truth had been dimmed by the dust of neglect. It was hidden under a pile of excess regulations, poverty and confusion. The era preceding the Renaissance was aptly named “The Dark Ages.” No one made much progress in faith or culture. Without truth it is hard to see the right way forward. But then people started searching, thinking and questioning. A new motto came on the scene: ad fontes, which means "back to the sources" or "back to the fountains." Brave souls dusted off the classics and a fountain of fresh water from old cisterns erupted. In fact the word renaissance means "rebirth." People started creating, thinking, and promoting freedom of thought. Vibrant color emerged from the gray mindless submission to what was "normal." It was this new search for truth that also birthed the questions of a monk named Martin Luther, and thus the Reformation. As the artist and thinkers returned to the classics, the Reformers returned to Christ and His Word as the ultimate source from which everything else should flow. When you see things in the Light of Truth, everything finds clarity. Once the truth of God’s grace was dusted off, the reformers saw how much darkness had crept into the Church of God, and sought to bring people back to the Light of the Gospel. Reform, renew, restore, revive - these were the words that shaped a new awakening to ancient truths. “Ad fontes” was at first only intended for secular thought, but became much more in the hearts of the grace-changed followers of Christ. In looking back to find truth, they also found a new spiritual frontier. The truth became their road map as they forged ahead. The result was a bright light that brought liberation in many forms onto the pages of history.
I believe we are in need of a new kind of Renaissance in our world. We need to look back and gain wisdom, so that we understand where the stream of our culture is taking us instead of mindlessly floating along. Back to the Source. Back to the Fountain of Life. Back to the Light. Not back to my phone. If I’m honest, I have reached for screens much more than I should. It's easy. Addictive. My eyes were opened to just how much I was trained to reach for it during my break, and it disgusted me. Too often, I looked at my phone before I looked to the Word. It got me thinking: what if the norm of our social world has become something that distracts and dulls our hearts to the truth of the Word of God? What would happen if we all chose to go back to the sources, the Word and to Christ first? What might happen if we chose to let Jesus, His word and the lessons from great men and women of faith inform our choices, instead of anything else we take in? What if the vast quantity of our media consumption is directly associated with the quality of our lives and effectiveness for Christ?
Maybe the light God has given us has a blanket thrown over it and we don't even really know it. Maybe we've grown dull in looking at the world too long, instead of staring at the Source - the blazing glory of Jesus Christ. If we look at Jesus first, the truths that need dusting off will be illuminated by the Light of Christ. If we dust off the truth and clear out the clutter, we will find the clarity we've been missing. If we find more clarity, we will be able to see each other better. Then light will join light, and suddenly a new awakening has begun. Maybe in looking back we'll find the way forward together. If we go back to the Source - Jesus - above all else, I believe we will start a new renaissance and remake our world.
For me, my social media fast has set into motion a new awakening in my heart, and a desire to go back to the root of it all - Jesus, first and foremost, whatever the cost. I'm waking up. And I don't ever want to go back. I don't know the how, but I don't care anymore. Now that I’m back online, I struggle daily with the how. I’m asking, how much time is too much? What should I post? What should I cut out? What is the balance between sharing sweet and normal things in life and pointing to Christ? What does it look like to promote a business venture, and glorify Jesus in all you do and say? I don’t know the answer to any of these things, apart from my need to look at Jesus first. What I do know is the why. I want the way I use social media to be reborn and reformed for Christ. Actually, I want the truth of God to remake all of me entirely. I want to look back and go forward. I'm digging back down to the source of it all. Dig with me.