Facing the Facebook world

By Kit Carlson

Yes, I got a Facebook page. I really shouldn’t have one. I’m not in the proper generation (I’m at the tail end of the Baby Boom, and age 50 is looming into view). My kids, who ARE in the proper generation — Milliennials — have told me repeatedly that Facebook is their world and that I should stay out.

But one of the Michigan State students who is part of the campus ministry here asked me over the summer if I had a page, saying it would be easier for us to do some church business if I did. And I discovered that Facebook has opened its membership to anyone. It has become indiscriminately welcoming. I signed up. My kids shrieked in horror.

For those not in the know, Facebook is a social networking site like My Space, or Xanga, where one builds a page that then links to one’s friends’ pages. You can send each other virtual gifts, report on your social life, write on each other’s “walls” (which are spaces for public messages) or send each other private emails. Developers continue to create all kinds of applications for Facebook pages, including interactive webs that show how all your friends are connected, a map of all the places you’ve ever been, links to your iTunes library, movie knowledge quizzes, and many, many, many virtual wars between pirates and ninjas, zombies and werewolves, and it goes on and on and on.

So I got my Facebook page, and immediately found myself surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses.” My colleagues, far-flung friends, fellow clergy, and former professors also have Facebook pages. My seminary, Virginia Theological Seminary, has a page. Episcopal Cafe has a page. Our MSU Canterbury group has a page. There are groups for Episcopal clergy and Anglican clergy. There is a group for folks who like the Christian humor site Ship of Fools. There are the groups “There are no Episcopalians down in hell … hell, no!” and “Episcopalians drink real wine.” There is my favorite group, “Praise bands annoy God.”

And through it all runs the interlocking, organic web of “friends.” Facebook friends can be people you really know and really love … I can be connected with my friends and former colleagues back in Maryland, send them little notes, share pictures, and check in with them quickly and easily. Facebook friends can be people you only know by name … some of my fellow Episcopal Cafe contributors are now my Facebook friends, and I can see their pictures and begin to envision them as three-dimensional human beings. Facebook friends can be colleagues you haven’t met yet. At our recent Michigan clergy conference, it was fun to meet people IRL (in real life) who were previously just Facebook friends. I have a Facebook friend who used to be a parishioner at my church, but who moved away before I arrived here. A few of my parishioners are my Facebook friends. My nephew in Italy is my Facebook friend. My best friend back in Maryland is my Facebook friend. My crazy hiking lady friends, who are scattered through four states, are my Facebook friends.

And yes, my kids, ages 20 and 18, did become my Facebook friends too. I try not to abuse the privilege. I rarely look at their pages. I refuse to let their friends friend me. I also do not friend youth members of any of my parishes, current or previous. Facebook was their world first. I try not to horn in. And because Facebook is, in the end, a public venue, I try not to post anything that would embarrass my children, my IRL friends or my parish.

But for me, the arrival of Facebook into my life has broadened my vision. I am able to see my colleagues across the church, working to serve the people of God. I am able to hear different voices, share different experiences of faith. I am able to play with my friends at a distance, remembering that life and the church are not always such deadly serious things. I have prayed over my friend list from time to time, holding them in my heart in the presence of God.

Facebook for me has become a foretaste … of the heavenly banquet, of the great gathering at the throne of God that will be the culmination of all things. It is a visual and virtual reminder to me that we are all connected in ways we don’t even envision, friends at a distance, friends nearby, each of us on a journey through life. Facebook reminds me that it is ultimately a journey shared.

The Rev. Kit Carlson, is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Mich. In 2003, she played the apostle Paul on the world’s first internet reality series, The Ark, a project of the Christian humor website Ship of Fools.

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