Young Evangelism in the Digital Age
(Note: I wrote this using bolded text because to me, it is the quickest way to retain attention of younger audiences, and I know that that is certainly how I would like to read things like this. As per usual, it isn’t perfect.)
Sometimes when you hear something really upsetting, there is this negotiating moment (or series of moments) between whether you talk about it and potentially kick someone or a group of someone’s “when they’re down” or address it because it needs addressed.
Addressing conflict and making a difference usually contain the very good and the very awful. From what I have seen, there is generally the most to be gained by breaking the worst of silences. If you slowly get in the habit of doing so, several things may happen.
One thing is that people hate you. That is to be expected if you want to make any amount of serious waves (and thus, change). Another thing is that some people will tell you to just shut up. These are probably the people who like conflict infinitely less and don’t believe that the risk of talking about things that are pervasive and terrible in society is worth the benefit of having changed someone’s reality. That isn’t fair. If you have the ability to be complacent, remember, someone else surely doesn’t. There are people who think it is all stupid to begin with. Why should there be a discussion if you could just fix it? From what I have seen, often these are most likely to be the people either living it or with some fraction of caring. Finally, there are people who have been consistently complaining about all of it at this point, who can somehow navigate from all three other angles, who can sweet talk the hell out of a plaster wall, and who come in all sorts.
They come in kindness. They come in racist. They come in bigotry and genocide and hatred that would (and does) make anything decidedly rainbow look like a raging joke. They come in all different kinds, and as with anything, only some of them are worth listening to.
Every person has their own criteria for what makes something worthy or not worthy to listen to. In my country in this day and age, we absolutely have to. My mother just turned on NPR (National Public Radio), which is stereotyped as somewhat liberal, in order to try to figure out the weather for today. A quicker bet would have been to check an app using her phone. She briefly paused and asked if it would be quicker to turn on the TV to the weather channel. She looked at me and asked if I could google it with my laptop. Cutting me off, she decided to just use her phone.
What?? I miss being younger! It may be a little too soon to say “I miss the days when…”, but I miss the days when I didn’t have a cell phone with 1000+ features attached to my hip and the coolest thing was hit clips, which was this bizarre gadget that used a microchip to play exactly one song. I had Aaron Carter’s terrible single “I want candy”, something by Avril Lavigne, and probably another something by Michelle Branch ($5 says it was “Everywhere”).
So, while I already am somewhat too-old-for-my-own-good now that I’m not too-smart-for-my-own-good, let’s talk about the positives and negatives of technology.
As per anything new, change comes at a certain price. While connectedness helps bridge distances and (somewhat) differences depending on who uses it, being able to stay in touch with others constantly exports everyday issues like sexual harassment, bullying, crime, terrorism, warfare, stalking, etc. to a place that is so common access that any kind of governing system will probably only result from a long line of screw ups, much like how a country is governed. Despite popular idealism in my country and in only my opinion that I know of/am willing to cite, the role of the government is reactionary to social tides and beliefs or external threats, like war, poverty, starvation, etc. For whatever reason, many people of all ages do not vote and do not care to consider issues that matter to the rest of the world.
Now, I understand that. To me it seems extremely ungrateful and very poorly educated, but that is beside the point. Unfortunately, the role of Government here has become reduced to somewhat of a sitcom, arguing about one thing or another, and it shows in how few young people care about the political process or using traditional means of change to actually get anything done. Which is why many of us who are technologically inclined now use the Internet.
Activism takes on a whole new definition on Twitter, and most of it isn’t good. I don’t believe in hashtag activism because it is basically as simple as slapping a nametag on problems that should be huge enough to move a nation. It’s like vanity; I can say I was part of this because I retweeted. Not so simple. Hashtag activism is good for raising awareness, but if that awareness stays lost in the Cloud, why is it even generated?
The truth is that most people are extremely aware of the problems we face in my country, regardless of if they are a citizen of my country. As a whole, we are completely ignorant of the problems they face in their countries, and we make such little effort to try to understand that it is sickening, even for someone like me who is just as comparatively lazy. We have access to as much information about anything that we could ever want usually just sitting in our pockets, in our backpacks, or walking down the street, yet we ignore it because there is no longer any cut and dry method to sorting any of it, especially the information that comes from intentionally misinformed places.
If there are laws on the Internet, then I do not know them. I know bits and pieces of a lot of different things, but my brain never went very slow and it certainly does not now. I like being able to think quickly in moments where it is profoundly necessary, but I hate having to struggle to fall asleep because it takes so much energy to slow my mind. I miss having things be less confrontational every place I look, and it shocks me how few people have legitimate opinions on things that truly matter.
It is important to have information that is relevant, as true as possible, and share-able. It is important to speak it in the language of the people who receive it, even if that is emoticons. It is important to fight big battles together, and let other stupid contests simmer down. If the Internet has taught me anything, it is that critical analysis and the ability to discern what is or appears to be the truth is more valuable than anything you might find there, across contexts. As the world, we may not be able to come to agreement on some things, and that is fine: it should be that way. We have different nations so we can have different styles of government, and that should be respected. However, people can’t just take a neutral stance on some really important things like poverty, genocide, war, and global medical concerns like Ebola. That is simply not acceptable. If the consequences of your apathy result in blood, then you too have a part in that, and it is not enough to tweet about it. Living your life like it makes a difference means accepting that it makes differences that you cannot control in the lives of others, no matter how far away you are. It is not enough to not care. It just isn’t.
I am not someone who can stand to look at much violence, in anything. I turn the radio or television off when it overwhelms me. It physically makes me nauseous, I have to literally look away or at my hands, and the documentaries or reenactments that sometimes are played in my class rooms trigger something in me that has to leave the room. You could call it some sort of sensitivity, I don’t know. I never had to think about it until I had to ask my teachers if it was alright if I step out. But even if I am squeamish, I know that something must be done. It isn’t the sight of any kind of blood or gore that scares me; it is the fear of being completely helpless to do something to help. That is a fear than transcends differences, and it should be enough to get us to move. But it’s not.
I cannot guarantee that if I had money, I would give it. I believe that we all instinctively try to retain as much for ourselves as possible, regardless of what we believe we should do. I know that tiny amounts of money have the power to move the world if given to the right people, and I believe in thoroughly understanding what it means to give before people send hundreds of dollars away in preprinted Christmas cards. It sickens me that this conversation is necessary, because it is so terribly sad. We have all these resources and an infinite ability to use them to change the world, and yet we waste time on Facebook. I love Facebook, but that is not the point. The point is that an attitude of service and caring is 1000 times more important than an action however you would like to phrase that. If you can use social media to change the world, by all means, do.
You will not “save” the world; you shouldn’t let your ego control you by pretending to claim ownership of a solution. But if you have something to say and the desire to work with others to change something, you need to try. Screw pros and cons of “world” peace talks, those are for people who can afford to waste time having them. If you want to change the world, you need to be willing to learn from others, and cultivate an attitude of caring through whatever heartfelt desires were already there. There are so many things that could bear improvement that wasting your talents and energy in something that is not the best use of them is a waste of your life. There is all this focus on “new age” garbage instead of just being kind, or just being willing to talk, or just being a person.
You can’t speak over someone and you should never try, but the point is that the world is a big place. It doesn’t matter where you are from if you have a truly insightful plan to achieve the reality you seek, and are lucky enough to know the right people AND come at the right time to do so. I believe in changing the world through Jesus and his Church, and I don’t think the world is so big that that is impossible. I don’t believe our differences are greater than God’s great love. And if I’m wrong, I’m willing to fight to find out. There is a lot that happens here, where I live, overseas, everywhere. It is one thing to say something that sounds pretty like this, and it is another thing entirely to do it. I’d like to professionally put my money where my mouth is, however wrong I may be. I accept those odds. It is not about me, it’s about God. And he loves us all infinitely and the same.
It should not have to be so complicated. It should come from the heart, from knowing God’s Holy Spirit, from making a choice to have an attitude that is better. It is so very small in comparison to the entire scope of God and even just the world, but very small things make a world of difference if they are done very, very well. Every modern invention we have today, from the ability to digest fast food to the cotton fibers you don’t grow that comprise your T shirt started very, very small. Jesus Christ himself started very small, just like all other babies start. It is a choice in how you live your life to devote it to God in service, whatever shapes that may take (so long as it jives with Scripture). You have a choice. Let it be good.