Introduction to the Gospel of Matthew

Barent Fabritius, Saint Matthew and the Angel (1656)

The Gospel of Matthew is a book that has generated countless books and studies and continues to be one of the most read and preached upon books in the bible. Writing about this gospel is, to use the words of Stanley Hauerwas, “an honor, a burden, and a daunting task.” (Hauerwas, 2006, p. 18) On the one hand, as a pastor who deals with the gospels on an almost weekly basis there is a greater familiarity with these texts and with the various scholarly perspectives on them. On the other hand, to take up a project like this is a burden and daunting task because it attempts to capture years of learning, study, and remain open to new discoveries. There are scholars who dedicate their entire life work to Matthew’s gospel or even to a small portion of it like the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, to the casual reader many of the commentaries and works of interpretation on the bible may be unapproachable because they are written for those who have an insider’s knowledge of the world of Biblical studies.

The Gospel of Matthew gives us a window into Jesus’ life, ministry, teaching and by extension the world he did his living, ministry and teaching within. Both the time of Jesus life and the time when Matthew’s gospel was written were times:

when there was conflict and division in the community of faith;
when some were insiders and others were outsiders;
when political and religious leaders were coopted, mistrusted, and discredited;
when the great majority of the common people were without power;
when cultures clashed. (Case-Winters, 2015, p. 1)

In 2015 I wrote a guide based on a class I taught on Mark’s gospel and Mark’s portrait of Jesus and the world he lived in and many of the things addressed in that series apply to reading Matthew. If you want to read more as an introduction about the Kingdom of God (or in Matthew frequently kingdom of heaven) in contrast to the Kingdom of Satan, the Roman Empire as a setting for the gospel, Second Temple Judaism as a setting for the gospel, the gospel writers as interpreters of scripture, structure and some other topics I would invite you to these brief introductions below:

Mark’s Portrait of Jesus and the World He Lived in Part 1
Mark’s Portrait of Jesus and the World He Lived in Part 2
Mark’s Portrait of Jesus and the World He Lived in Part 3
Mark’s Portrait of Jesus and the World He Lived in Part 4
Mark’s Portrait of Jesus and the World He Lived in Part 5

There are a few additional topics I want to introduce prior to beginning my journey through Matthew’s gospel.

Gospel Parallels

Matthew, Mark and Luke share a lot of material in common while John occasionally will have a common story but in general will narrate Jesus life and teaching in an independent manner. Where there are stories or teaching that are shared between Matthew and other gospels, I will list the parallels as a subtitle for the section. For those who have not studied the gospels they may not be aware of the similarities and difference among Matthew, Mark and Luke. Matthew, Mark and Luke are often called the synoptic gospels (syn-with, together; optic-relating to eye or sight: they are the gospels that share similar patterns, stories and often word for word correspondence). Mark is the shortest of the gospels and is believed by most modern scholars to be the oldest. The authors of Matthew and Luke probably had access to Mark’s gospel and added material to that to compose their own gospels. There is also material that Matthew and Luke share that are not a part of Mark’s gospel and scholars have often labeled this material shared in common as ‘Q’ from the German ‘Quelle’ or source.  Whether there is an independent source behind these shared sayings in Matthew, Luke and the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas or whether Matthew is the second gospel written and the source of the common material is something that can interest scholars but for most readers of the gospel it is helpful to understand that there are parallels are shared between Matthew and Luke in addition to the material that is present in Mark and in addition to the material that is unique to each gospel. Each gospel writer does bring specific accents to their portrayal of Jesus, but I do think it is helpful to see what they share and how the similarities and the accents give us a richer picture of Jesus and his teaching.

Matthew as an Interpreter of Scripture

Matthew invites us into his world viewed through the lenses of a scripture formed imagination. Even though Matthew will use explicit quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) far more than any other gospel writer the entire gospel is permeated with allusions and imagery from the law, prophets, psalms, wisdom literature and story of the Jewish people. Matthew’s reading of scripture is shaped by the merciful and inclusive reading that comes out of the prophets, particularly Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hosea which expands the promises of God’s covenant beyond the boundaries of the Hebrew people. As Richard B. Hays can state:

Thus, for Matthew, the story of Israel is carried forward through a particular, prophetically shaped, interpretation of Torah within a community called to embody the mercy of God. Emphasis authors (Hays, 2016, pp. 127-128)

Matthew’s scripture formed imagination hears within the story of Jesus both a continuity with and an expansion of the story of the people of Israel and their relationship with the Lord, the God of Israel. Throughout this journey I will attempt to highlight the way Matthew uses both the explicit quotations and the implicit allusions to scripture to show how these all give Matthew’s gospel a fuller exposition of who Jesus is, what he teaches and what it means for those who are now invited to become a part of this story.

Matthew, Discipleship and a Meaningful Life

The name Matthew means disciple and from beginning to end the gospel is for the formation of a community of disciples who will follow Jesus in the world. Most readers of Matthew may reflect upon the Great Commission at the end of the gospel with its command to ‘make disciples of all nations’ but the entire book in both its narrative and teaching is forming the follower to first become a disciple themselves. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic work the Cost of Discipleship, originally published in 1937, attempted to capture this for the church of his day by returning to the Sermon on the Mount as the center of this journey behind Christ. Unfortunately, discipleship has become a term that churches may use frequently but I think many people may wonder why they would follow Jesus, especially when it means picking up one’s cross to follow him, when they have been taught they can simply believe in him. For Matthew, and for us as readers of Matthew, the key comes in understanding what it means to live a meaningful life. In Matthew’s scripture formed view of the world a meaningful life is a life lived in harmony with God’s will for the creation. For the Jewish mind the will of God for the creation is expressed in God’s law, or Torah, and God’s Torah is a gift that enables one to live the life God intends. Matthew points the hearer to Jesus interpreting God’s law to show how one can live the wise and righteous life that God intends. Following Jesus becomes a school where the student slowly learns the blessing of a life of shalom (peace, harmony) in contrast to the cares of the world.

Reading the Gospel as a Story

Matthew’s gospel has multiple genres: genealogy, narrative, teaching, and parables for example, but fundamentally Matthew tells us a story. Matthew’s story is theological in nature, it talks about God and God’s kingdom and how Jesus is God us. If you’ve read any of my other writing on scripture, you’ll find I stay close to the text as I write, I’ll bring in historical elements as the illuminate the story but primarily I want to enhance rather than distract from the story Matthew wants us to hear. Sometimes the story may differ dramatically from how we would tell a story, no modern writer would probably begin a narrative with a long genealogy but for Matthew this makes a critical connection to what comes before. Matthew will use clues, some visible in English translations and some not, that help us frame and give structure to the gospel of Jesus Christ he tells.

Conversation Partners on this Journey

I learn as I walk along the journey. I have several works on Matthew that I have read over the years, but the following are ones I will either be reading for the first time or who I intentionally want to re-engage as we move systematically through the Gospel of Matthew:

Allen, O. Wesley, Jr. Matthew (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013)

Relatively recent work on Matthew and one of two commentaries I will be reading through as I do these reflections.  First of the Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries series I have looked at.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Discipleship (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001 (1937)) Cited as DBWE 4 (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, English volume 4)

Bonhoeffer’s classic work that I read for the first time at the beginning of my seminary education in 2000. I’ve read it multiple times but particularly with the Sermon on the Mount I’m interested to reread it considering where I think this project is going.

Case-Winters, Anna, Matthew (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Publishing, 2015)

I’ve used several of the Belief Theological Commentaries in other places and they’ve proven to be a good conversation partner. The authors in this series are not biblical scholars but instead theologians so they bring slightly different gifts and perspectives to the process, but I’ve been impressed with the series volumes I’ve used.

Hays, Richard B. Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016)

Richard B. Hays is one of the most insightful readers of scripture I have found. This book and the earlier Reading Backwards examine the four gospel writers as interpreters of scripture.

Luther, Martin, The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, (St. Louis: Concordia Press, 1956) Cited as LW 21

When possible I’ve gone back to read Luther’s perspective on scripture to help me understand my own tradition. Luther was a phenomenal reader of scripture for his age. His work on the Sermon on the Mount wrestles with it theologically within Luther’s idea of the Kingdom of God and the Secular Kingdom (often called Luther’s two kingdom theology). There are some useful insights even if I know that there will be several places I take a very different perspective than Luther.

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Faith in A Digital Age

This is a series of classes I created for my congregation in January and February 2019 that I captured digitally so that they could be used by other communities or small groups or for members who are unable to be present in class. Below are links to the eight sessions that the class covered.

Week one: Advertising in a Digital Age
Week two: Email, Multi-tasking and the blurring of the work/home divide
Week three: The Internet the Backbone of the Digital Age
Week four: The Impact of the Internet and Engaging it faithfully

Week five: Cell phones and a continually connected life
Week six: Social media and the projecting and mining of the digital self
Week seven: Dating and relationships in a digital age
Week eight: The dangers of a digital age

 

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Dangers of a Digital Age

Session 8: Dangers of a Digital Age

This is the final installment of an eight-part series on faith in a digital age. The outline of the series is:

Week one: Advertising in a Digital Age
Week two: Email, Multi-tasking and the blurring of the work/home divide
Week three: The Internet the Backbone of the Digital Age
Week four: The Impact of the Internet and Engaging it faithfully

Week five: Cell phones and a continually connected life
Week six: Social media and the projecting and mining of the digital self
Week seven: Dating and relationships in a digital age
Week eight: The dangers of a digital age

This is a series of classes I’ve been teaching with my congregation that I’ve been attempting to capture digitally so that they could be used by other communities or small groups or for members who are unable to be present in class.

As I’ve looked back over the previous weeks there have been numerous challenges that have emerged along with the opportunities presented by the digital technology we use. As a way of completing these reflections I am bringing many of these challenges and dangers together in a way that I hope can help us reflect upon how we utilize this technology in ways that are beneficial. I will start with things that may seem minor and move towards events that can have catastrophic impacts on the people who use this technology. My intention is not to scare or to prevent people from using this technology but instead to help us use it wisely.

One of the challenges is the limitation of our human brain and its ability to handle the massive amounts of information we receive from both digital and non-digital sources. Our brain does not evolve at the same pace that technology evolves, and we can become overwhelmed by too many competing sources of information vying for our limited attention.  Sometimes we can simply be distracted by the continual availability of entertainment and connection which can take us away from the work and personal connections we want to spend time on. The internet is great at feeding our desire for that which is interesting in the moment and when given the choice between the instantaneous distraction and the more involved effort of thinking and engaging our brain often chooses the distraction and we can spend hours engaged on the internet, our phones or social media and not feel good about the time we used there.

As I’ve looked at some of the narratives that are a part of our life, I mentioned the narrative of scarcity which tells us we don’t have enough. We believe there is never enough time, information, sleep, money and the list can continue indefinitely. When we add in technologies like social media to the already existing temptations of advertising, we are tempted to believe to compare our lives to the portion of other people’s lives that they choose to share. We can believe that our lives are inadequate because we are comparing them to the lives of others and this often happens because of our existing shame narratives about needing to be, for example, more beautiful, wealthier, more powerful, stronger, more successful or popular, or be better parents. I believe this is where the wisdom of the commandments not to covet come in: if we are going to be content it starts with believing that we have enough and that we don’t need to measure ourselves against some unattainable standard to be satisfied. Comparison can be a deadly to personal satisfaction. Part of my job both as a pastor and when I’m counseling people is helping them learn to see that they do have enough and to be grateful for what they do have.

I do believe there are strong pressures for people to remain engaged online and things that make these platforms more addictive. As people wired for connection we go to social media, for example, seeking that connection and there can be a fear of missing out (or FOMO) on the connections that are being made. In addition to this there are several strategies used by digital media to keep you engaged. One of these strategies is the removal of stopping clues, so YouTube or Netflix will automatically play the next video in a sequence and social media sites will allow you to continue to scroll indefinitely. Another strategy that internet platforms and apps frequently use is rewards for continued engagement, so this can be a stream on a platform like Instagram or a reward on a gaming app.

We as human beings were created for rest, what in a religious context we would refer to as Sabbath. The religious idea of sabbath is primarily about rest and not primarily about worship. We do need a break from the continual engagement with the digital world. Sometimes this is to maintain a healthy work/home balance where we set boundaries about when we will respond to work email or messages. Sometimes we set boundaries on our use of the web and our phones for entertainment so that we can focus on either projects and passions or so that we can intentionally spend time with family, friends and acquaintances. Our technology can help us to connect with people across the world, but it can also limit our connections with people who may be in the same room with us. I do think that within families a healthy discussion around boundaries with digital technology and the expectations for connection and engagement is an important discussion.

When the internet was created it was a place where information could flow freely, but with the loss of any type of editorial control there has been a loss of accountability for who is responsible for misinformation, especially when it is deliberately spread. Just because something is shared on the internet does not mean it is true, but sometimes it becomes difficult to differentiate between factual information and someone’s conjectures or opinions. The other struggle is the rapid diffusion of this information across platforms. The spreading of false information can have consequences for people’s reputations and careers. One of the narratives in my country, the United States, is the impact of deliberately distributed false information and their impact on people’s votes in the 2016 and 2018 elections. Like a rumor in interpersonal communication once it is started it can be very difficult to counteract false information once it is distributed online.

We both knowingly and unknowingly share a lot of information online and that information is mined for multiple purposes. I do think that we, as a society, need to have a robust conversation about the ethics of data-mining by advertisers, governments, employers and insurance agencies and what right we as citizens have to safe guard this information. I do think a place to begin this discussion could be the fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution which states:

The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probably cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

While the authors of the Bill of Rights never imagined a situation where people would be sharing information digitally, they were concerned about the fundamental privacy and protection of that privacy against overzealous entities.  I do believe that we should have a right to be secure in not only our persons and houses but also in our digital identity and secure against both governmental and private concerns. These issues will resurface later in our discussion, but I do think we need to be aware of what we have control of in our digital identity and what we do not currently have control of.

Another factor that contributes to some of the issues online is the lowering of social boundaries that people have when communicating through digital technology. Many people feel safer expressing things digitally whether through text or email or on a social platform that they wouldn’t express in direct communication. On one hand this can lead to online bullying or trolling where a person voices some incredibly hurtful and hateful things in a way that may anonymous, things that if said in another’s presence you would have to see their reaction or be vulnerable to their physical and verbal retaliation. One can also experience miscommunication, because we lose all the verbal and non-verbal cues that make up much of communication, where people either read in emotions that are not present or misunderstand attempts at humor. Sometimes with lowered social boundaries people feel free to share too much information (TMI) which can make the person receiving it feel uncomfortable and can present some dangers for the person sharing. Finally, since we are desiring connection, we may be encouraged to do things that are popular and create reaction online. Peer pressure has existed well before the advent of digital technology and has caused people to do things they regret to attempt to fit into a peer group, but with the lowered social boundaries online this can make it easier to make choices that may be popular but have consequences.

Once something is online, we may not have control of that information. Several weeks ago, I listened to Darieth Chisolm’s discussion of how when she left a relationship her ex posted pictures of her online and her struggle to have these images removed. This struggle was enhanced by the involvement of the laws of two sovereign territories and the transnational nature of the internet. I’ve included a link to the TED talk discussion she gave below:

https://www.ted.com/talks/darieth_chisolm_let_s_call_revenge_porn_what_it_is_digital_domestic_violence?language=en

Another situation was with a colleague who had shared information about a superior and a congregation he served in what was supposed to be a closed group on Facebook, but someone in the group commented on it and the information was eventually seen beyond the group and it created a lot of challenges for him in relating to his congregation. Nothing, even when in a closed group, is truly private on a social media site. The other reality is the permanence of this data and that way you share and say can be used against you, even years later.  An example of this which ultimately didn’t hurt the individual but should be cautionary was in the lead up to the NFL Draft last year, a social media post from Josh Allen from his early teenage days, quoting the lyrics from a rap song, used an inappropriate word for a minority group and days before the draft this was shared with the media, which didn’t ultimately impact his being drafted early but perhaps could have. I do know people who have not been offered jobs because of pictures and posts on social media that do not represent who they may be now but are still present online.

The internet has made all types of data much more accessible, and this also can present a danger. One of the news stories going on this week is related to a group placing MOMO videos, a suicide game, in with Peppa the Pig, a show for young children, and other shows and finding a way past the controls that parents may try to establish. Even without the malicious intent of something like the group behind these videos there is the easy access to violent, sexual, graphic, and inflammatory and hateful information online. Even without intentionally seeking out some of these temptations we may stumble upon things we didn’t expect while searching for something innocent.

The internet can also impact our relationships. The ease of access of sexual content online is a struggle I’ve seen played out in couples I’ve worked with where one partner in the relationship feels cheapened or unable to live up to the ideal images that the other person is viewing online. For some people this is viewed as equal to having an affair, while for others they view it less critically, but it can impact the way that couples interact and view one another. With the increased connectivity I’ve also seen people in a relationship either seek out additional relationships or reconnect with an ‘old flame’ online and sometimes this has led to breaking the trust in the relationship either through an emotional or physical affair or sharing negative thoughts and views about their partner. As I discussed when discussing online dating there is also the reality that having a bigger pool of people one could connect with may negatively impact the formation of relationships. The paradox of choice is that more choices do not make us happier and may make us less satisfied with a choice we make because we are continually considering the other possible choices.

Most online platforms use algorithms to attempt to show you more of what they anticipate you want to see, so that you continue to stay engaged on the platform. The danger of this is we can become isolated from differing opinions and this has led to an increase in polarization in our communities. Facebook, for example, will categorize you based on what you block and what you like as Extremely Liberal, Moderately Liberal, Moderate, Moderately Conservative, and Extremely Conservative and attempt to show you more things in your feed that fit your political bias. The struggle with this is when we become isolated from people who think differently than ourselves, we can begin to look upon them as our enemy and begin to demonize them. We can also be surrounded by organizations and groups who continue to push us more solidly into their camp and away from opposing views so that we support them, and we can end up with a bunker mentality where we are surrounded by people who think the same way against a common enemy. On the one hand this plays into the natural tendency for humans to form tribes and groups that we feel responsible for and it can feel very comfortable for people to find others who share their views. On the other hand, it can exert a lot of pressure for us to fit into the views of the group and for the sake of fitting in we may silence area where we disagree or feel uncomfortable. I do think that online, like in public speech, we need to be responsible for our language. Both when I was an officer in the military and in my current role as a pastor, I’ve always been aware of the power of words to do great harm and I continue to try to remind others in the public sphere of the impact of their words on others. This has become harder as the society has become more polarized and pushing against political correctness can become used by people as an excuse for painful and hateful speech.

I do think it is helpful to be aware of how we are using these technologies and how they impact our lives in positive and negative ways. The above discussion engages some of the negative aspects of the digital technology and I didn’t discuss the ways criminals use it for everything from scamming to human trafficking but while I think it is important to be aware of the dangers of the technology, I think it is also important to state that there are several positive features. I use digital technology frequently to communicate, to share ideas and information, and to stay updated on what is happening with the people and events that are important to me. I use all these technologies, but I do intentionally set boundaries on my interactions with the internet, my email, my cellphone and social media as I attempt to live a life that is fulfilling.

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Transitioning into the Gospel of Matthew

 

Guido Reni, St. Matthew and the Angel (1620-1630)

The one constant in my writing over the past seven years has been the practice of reflecting on this strange and wonderful book of scriptures that have been handed on to both the Jewish and Christian faiths. Over this time, I’ve worked primarily with books I had less familiarity with even if I had some general knowledge and skills honed both in education and years of interpreting scripture. This has been an instrumental part of my personal growth and has helped both my appreciation and love for the scriptures grow. The past seven years have seen me work through (in order of appearance in the Bible, rather than date they were worked through) Exodus, Deuteronomy, Esther, Psalms 1-51, Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah, Haggai and Revelation. Until this time I have not worked through any of the gospels or Pauline letters since these were areas I invested in heavily in both my education and early in ministry and which as a pastor I preached on more frequently but my work in both the Hebrew Scriptures and recently in Revelation has made me reconsider this approach due to some new insights.

The Gospel of Matthew is often described as the most Jewish of the four gospels and I would agree with this statement but not with what scholars and readers have often implied from this statement. For much of the history of Christian interpretation of scriptures had been plagued by readings that are at best unfair portrayals of Judaism and at their worst strongly anti-Jewish. Although the church continued to recognize the Hebrew Scriptures as a part of the Christian cannon, their usage was often either used for constructing a salvation history in which the election of the Jewish people is merely one step along the process of God’s eventual creation of the church or the Hebrew Scriptures became places where the interpreter of scriptures looked for prophecies (in the sense of telling the future rather than the way prophesy often works in the Hebrew Scriptures) that pointed either to Jesus or helped interpret the words of Revelation to help the diligent student predict the end of the world. When people have referred to Matthew as being the most Jewish of the gospels what is often understood by this term is it is the most judgmental or legalistic of the gospels. This fundamentally misunderstands both Judaism (both ancient and modern) and the Gospel of Matthew.

One of the gifts of spending much of the last seven years engaging both Christian and Jewish scholars on the Hebrew Scriptures and being engaged in dialogues with multiple faith traditions is that it has given me a number of insights into the way the New Testament in general, and the gospel of Matthew in particular engages the language, stories, poetry and the law of the Hebrew Scriptures. For me the gospels and Paul’s letters have become much richer documents as I’ve seen how they attempt to use the language of the scriptures (and at the time the New Testament is written the only scriptures they have are the books that make up the Hebrew Scriptures or the Old Testament as many Christians know them.) The God that the gospels and Paul point to is the same passionate God of Israel.

People who come to these reflections are coming from different levels of familiarity with the study of scripture and particularly to some of things that are helpful in approaching the gospels. The introduction will talk about some of the perspectives I will be using in this reading. There will be times throughout this work where I will retranslate certain passages because their current translation encourages us to read Matthew in a way that is more judgmental than the Greek is: for example at the end of chapter five of Matthew, during the Sermon on the Mount, the NRSV states: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5: 48) but the word translated perfect does not mean perfect, the word telios is a word that means having attained a goal or completion. To translate this as perfection takes most people into an accounting or courtroom like usage but what Matthew is probably attempting to communicate is something closer to: “Be complete like your Father in heaven is complete” which fits the context better, even if it may be a little harder to comprehend and force us to think about things differently. Another phrase that I will change throughout occurs most famously in Matthew 14:31 when Peter attempts to come to Jesus on water. This is Jesus’ response to Peter in the NRSV, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” which in English sounds judgmental, its hard to say ‘you of little faith’ in a kind and compassionate way but the Greek oligopistos behind this term is simply an adjective with an implied second person object. I will render this ‘little faith one’ which seems to me a term of endearment, especially when you realize that the object of this adjective is always Jesus’ disciples in Matthew.

I am heavily indebted to those who have studied Matthew and the gospels across the history of the church. There are several passages in Matthew that I will suggest a reading that goes against the grain of many interpretations of Matthew. I will also be building on the work of different scholars who at different points have seen some of the things I am seeing. For those of you making this journey with me welcome to this experiment to test out some of the theories I have about how to read this witness to the life and teaching of Jesus. I am not sure at this point whether the reflections will continue to follow the pattern of one reflection per chapter, since they may become quite lengthy at times, or the more common pattern of breaking down the individual chapters into pericopes (smaller sections like those frequently read in worship).

If you are reading these reflections, I pray that they can help give some insight not only in the Gospel of Matthew but also to the object of Matthew’s description: Jesus. I will occasionally be writing about things debated among academics, but I am attempting to write in a matter that can be heard by people in the congregations that I’ve served. I do this out of a sense of love for the gospels and the witness they bear to both Jesus and the life he attempts to direct us to. The name Matthew means disciple, and Matthew’s gospel attempts to call the readers to engage with the first disciples as they attempt to follow Jesus through his life and beyond his resurrection. Generations later may we continue to come to take Jesus’ yoke upon ourselves and learn from him for rather than being heavy and hard to bear it is light and intended for us to find rest for our souls.

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Dating and Relationships in a Digital Age

Session 7: Dating and Relationships in a Digital Age

This is the seventh part of an eight-part series on faith in a digital age. The outline of the series is:

Week one: Advertising in a Digital Age
Week two: Email, Multi-tasking and the blurring of the work/home divide
Week three: The Internet the Backbone of the Digital Age
Week four: The Impact of the Internet and Engaging it faithfully

Week five: Cell phones and a continually connected life
Week six: Social media and the projecting and mining of the digital self
Week seven: Dating and relationships in a digital age
Week eight: The dangers of a digital age

This is a series of classes I’ve been teaching with my congregation that I’ve been attempting to capture digitally so that they could be used by other communities or small groups or for members who are unable to be present in class.

In 2010 a relationship that I thought would last suddenly ended. I had been married for thirteen years, had two kids and suddenly I found myself a single dad and for the first time since my early twenties having to enter the world of dating and relationships again. When I reentered this world, I found that it had changed dramatically and one of the big portions of this change was the introduction of dating platforms like Match, eHarmony and many more. I would find the right person several years later and I have been happily remarried for the last couple of years but as I was thinking about the scope of this class, I thought it was important to revisit this time and think about how the digital age has changed the way we think about relationships and connection. How do we find friends, date and build the connections we need to have a good life?

In the past we met most of our friends and relationships in life through the communities we were a part of: school, church, neighborhoods, hobbies and groups of people who shared either a common goal or beliefs. Occasionally a friend or a relation would play matchmaker and connect you with someone who they felt would be a good possibility for a partner or you would meet someone at a bar or dancehall or other common gathering place, but even there you had some context for the person you were meeting. Our social networks were the places where we met people. If you lived in a smaller community you may have known everyone who was a possibility to date or to be friends with, it was a smaller pool but you knew all the fish swimming in it. In a city like the one I currently live in, Frisco a suburb or Dallas, where not only is the population larger but people also come home, close their garages and may not interact with their neighbors it can be difficult to form connections. Many people spend longer at work and retreat to home and may not feel like they have time to be connected with a larger group where they can be in a relationship with.

As we discuss dating platforms, I’m going to draw an analogy from social media and its world of connection: there is a difference in the level of connection I have from someone who I interact with on a daily basis and a friend who may know me predominantly through social media. I may have several hundred Facebook friends from the places I’ve lived, schools I’ve attended, congregations I’ve served, my time in the military and frequently people who I’ve interacted with once or twice. The pool of connections is broader but it is also not as deep: I have more contacts but many of those contacts are fairly weak connections. As we look into relationships that begin on a dating platform you are beginning with a broader pool of candidates who may be possible connections but the initial connection with any of them is much weaker than even a person you meet one time in another way. One of the differences of beginning that first meeting is that you have less shared connection and investment as the relationship begins.

With online dating you do have a broader pool and that can be a positive thing, especially if you are a person who is for various reasons forbidden from forming relationships in the places you spend most of your time. As a pastor, for example, I spend most of my time working with the congregation I serve but for many ethical reasons I am not allowed to date people who are a part of the congregation I serve. There is the possibility that you will meet people who you would never meet otherwise. The other reality is that many people feel permission to be more vulnerable interacting through a dating site and initially conversing through messages and texts rather than the awkward interactions face to face that we may have. We are all seeking connection with another person, we all want to be loved and valued and desired and sometimes it is easier to take a risk when you are interacting with people who seem to be in the same position of seeking a relationship or a connection.

With the larger pool you will encounter rejection and you will be ignored sometimes. There are times where you will send a message to someone or several people and wonder if any of them are still on the site or whether their profiles are just remnants leftover from people who once were seekers. I know that I can be a little naïve, but I ended up in one situation where I was chatting with someone and then they invited me to another site which I quickly realized was an adult site and I let them know that wasn’t what I was looking for but there is always the possibility that we can go looking for love and find something different, people who are using the site for commercial reasons. People can find and stumble into things they wouldn’t otherwise.

As we discussed in our discussion of email, we employ sorting methods because we are overwhelmed with information and we do the same thing with the broader pool in online dating. We frequently evaluate people very quickly to see if they might be a possible connection and the most common method of sorting is based on photographs and the person’s physical looks. Some sites, like Tinder, are almost exclusively based on looks. Yet one of the things that came out of my discussions with my congregation about what they valued about the person they were in a relationship with was that looks were not the primary thing: it was an action, a kindness, something in the person’s character, something that took a little longer to see that made them the person they wanted to spend their life with. I’m not saying that looks are unimportant, but they are not the only or even the main thing that will make a relationship last.

When people put a profile up on a dating site it is also helpful to remember it is a representation of the person, it is not the actual person. As we discussed in our last two discussions when building a virtual identity, we place out on the internet what we want others to see. Sometimes people will talk about themselves in ways that may not be accurate and there are times when even a person’s pictures may not be a good representation of who they are. We often see pictures taken at the best angle and in the best lighting and they may not be recent pictures. There is always the possibility that the person we are corresponding with is not entirely who they seem to be.

While the broader pool can be a good thing, I think it is helpful to bring up the paradox of choice when we think about dating online. Most people believe that more choices will make them happier but psychologists when studying choice actually find the reverse: more choices make us less satisfied with the decision we eventually make. For a popular culture reference I’m going to turn to shows like the Bachelor or the Bachelorette where a man or woman is surrounded by approximately twenty attractive and successful potential partners and through a series of experiences and dates they are expected to pick their eventual spouse. You would think with a capable and attractive set of choices that the person would ultimately end up with a partner they would be happy with but these relationships rarely last. Part of the dynamic of choice is when we are presented with several attractive choices, we often think about the choice we didn’t make when we are engaging the choice we did, so on a first date you might be evaluating the person you are sitting with at the same time you consider others you interacted with before meeting this person. It can cheapen the engagement we are in if we are continually wondering how this person compares with others who may be possibilities. One of the other dynamics I experienced was that often people were dating multiple people at the same time attempting to see who would be the best fit for a relationship (or they may not have been seeking a single relationship). Ultimately, we all have to set boundaries of what we are willing to do based on what we are looking for but it is helpful to realize that not everyone is seeking the same thing.

One of the things in society that has changed dramatically is the age when people enter into permanent relationships. For women the average age of a first marriage is now 27.4 and for a man it is 29.5 years old, which is a long time for people to spend dating and seeking. One of the struggles this introduces in a religious and ethical realm is that most religions expected people to wait to have sex until after people married which was easier when the age of marriage was closer to the age when people become sexually interested. When societal pressures of education and career have postponed the age of marriage it makes this a struggle for a lot of people.

I have found that people often enter into relationships with unrealistic expectations. Part of my work as a pastor is counseling couples who are getting married and then also helping couples who are struggling in a relationship and it has caused me to continue to look at what makes relationships work. Sometimes the language we use around relationships gives us this expectation: we look for a soulmate or someone who completes me and if we expect another person to complete us, they will let us down. They will let us down not because they are bad people or because they do anything wrong, but if there is something that you are expecting another person to fill up in you, if they continually have to fill up your sense of worthiness, they will be unable to always do so. The initial emotions of a relationship can make us feel whole but nobody can sustain that level of feeling throughout a long and healthy relationship. It will be exhausting for the partner of a person who has to make a person feel worthy and loved and whole all the time.

I’ve also seen lots of times where the internet can interfere with relationships that have existed for a long time. When you enter into a relationship with someone you build trust and you put a lot of energy into the relationship, but our partner cannot fill all of our needs-we still need connections with friends, family, and people we work and interact with. Yet, there need to be boundaries for trust to remain intact. Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many relationships broken because someone began seeking something that should’ve been kept within the relationship with another person. Sometimes this happens in the digital world, where a person in a relationship stays connected on a dating platform or reconnects with an ‘old flame’ on Facebook or another social media platform. Another struggle I’ve seen couples have is with the availability of sexual material online and couple encounter this differently. For some couples this may be viewed as a breaking of trust and others it is not, but it is something that can cause struggles in relationships and can make a partner feel unattractive and unloved.

Trust is something that can easily be broken. Trust is really the currency in any relationship and to use Brené Brown’s metaphor of trust being a jar of marbles that we slowly fill up different things impact that trust that we have. Something like an affair shatters the jar and the marbles are lost and that is why it is so difficult to rebuild a relationship after an affair, because trust is lost and it takes a long time to rebuild that trust. Other times trust is lost is lost in little moments where the person feels ignored, not valued, and feel that we are distant from them. Trust is built in those moments when we notice and pay attention to what is important to the other person.

We are all people who are formed for connection. We are all people who have value and worth but want that value and worth affirmed by others. Relationships can be both wonderful and challenging and the digital age presents both opportunities and challenges for relationships. It is easy to judge others on their relationship, but this is an area where people struggle throughout their lives. We want to be in a relationship but most of us have not been trained in how to make relationships work. It is hard work to build a relationship that will last.

Discussion Questions

  1. If you’ve had a relationship that lasted for a long period of time, what was it about that person that made you think they might be a good partner? Was there something they did or something about who they were that made them attractive to you?
  2. What is great about being in a relationship? What are challenges of being in a relationship?
  3. Have you ever had a time where having lots of choices seemed overwhelming or when you second guessed a choice you made? Have you ever experienced this in a relationship?
  4. How did someone earn your trust? Can you think of things that people did that made it hard to trust them?
  5. What interferes with relationships? What struggles do you think cause relationships to fail?
  6. Is there some wisdom about relationships that you would impart to your younger self based on your experiences?

 

 

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Psalm 51 Seeking the Possibility of Redemption

Palma Giovane, Prophet Nathan ermahnt Konig David (1622)

Psalm 51

<To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.>
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
19 then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

The relationship between the speaker and God has been broken because of the psalmist’s own actions and there is no future without God’s forgiveness. The superscription gives us one possible moment to read the psalm from: the moment when David is confronted by the prophet Nathan about his adultery with Bathsheba and the arrangement of the murder of her husband, Uriah. (2 Samuel 11-12) This moment of betrayal of both David’s responsibilities to his people and the favor that God has bestowed upon him changes everything: trust has been broken, the innocent bore the cost of David’s actions and in the words of this psalm David’s iniquity, sin and transgressions have broken the relationship with God. Yet, this psalm could apply to any experience of guilt and shame where one’s actions have failed match one’s called identity as a person of faith. When a person who sought God’s heart stumbles, when a righteous one commits iniquity, when the one who once was clean is now polluted by sin and when one’s transgressions place a wall between the transgressor and God these words allow the penitent one to seek the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation with God and a return to their former state of grace.

The hope of the penitent lies in the character of God outlines in verse one: God is a God of steadfast love and abundant mercy. There characteristics of God’s character are matched against the trilogy of terms for acts against God: iniquity, sin and transgression. The sinner in the psalm stands permanently marked by their sin and in need of cleansing. They have become defined by their actions and their guilt shows them how their actions have not matched the calling they bore before the people. The guilty one was a righteous one whose entire life was lived in the presence of God and now their actions which may have once been concealed from others were seen by God and they confess that God is justified in God’s judgment of them. Others may have been injured by the psalmist’s actions (and the in the narrative of David and Bathsheba a family was broken, a man was killed, and David failed to be the king he was supposed to be) but here the brokenness is between the psalmist and God and the hope rests in God’s cleansing and restoration.

The guilt of the actions has transformed the person at their deepest level. Everything of who they are is now tainted by a part of themselves they wouldn’t have believed before. They question everything about their story from their conception to the present. They have been transformed into a sinner, one who is separated from God and others and is defined by their transgressions. The psalmist probably doesn’t see their actions as a result of “original sin” passed on from generation to generation but instead views their entire life under the judgment and pollution of their iniquity. They know they need to be purged, cleansed and washed by God in order to remove the stain that their sin causes them to bear. They know that they need to learn truth after their lies, wisdom after the folly of their innermost heart, a holy spirit to replace their sinful one. They need to be recreated as a new being in order to have a future beyond their brokenness. Yet the God of mercy and steadfast love could forgive the people of Israel when they worshipped a golden calf (Exodus 32-34) and while cleansing oneself and receiving a new heart, spirit and future are impossible for the psalmist on their own, they are the type of action that a merciful and forgiving God does. The psalmist hopes for a return to their life in God’s presence where God no longer looks upon their sins but upon the redeemed sinner.

From their place of shame, the psalmist attempts to barter with God. I know when I was growing up that I was taught not to barter with God but the more of the scriptures I read the more I see places like this psalm where a person attempts to barter with God, and I’ve had to rethink this. For the speaker, they will teach, sing, declare and offer right sacrifice If God will restore the relationship. The psalmist doesn’t have much to offer beyond their acknowledgment of their sin which broke the relationship and their promise to live better in the future but the offering a broken spirit, broken and contrite heart. They are hoping through an exchange with God of receiving a new spirit and heart in return for their broken spirit and heart. God becomes for the poet the surgeon who can place in them a new heart and renew a right spirit. Perhaps by the penitent’s witness the good that God does for them will also extend to the rest of the people and allow for Zion’s pleasure and strength to be renewed. As we saw in the previous psalm the sacrifices and burnt offerings are not needed by God, but just as a broken heart and spirit were preconditions in the psalm for forgiveness and renewal the new orientation of the speaker places sacrifices and worship as acts of thanksgiving for the God who blots out transgressions, washes away the iniquity and cleanses the sin because of God’s steadfast love and abundant mercy.

 

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Social Media and the Projecting and Mining of the Digital Self

Session 6: Social Media and the Projecting and Mining of the Digital Self

This is the sixth part of a now eight-part series on faith in a digital age. The outline of the series is:

Week one: Advertising in a Digital Age
Week two: Email, Multi-tasking and the blurring of the work/home divide
Week three: The Internet the Backbone of the Digital Age
Week four: The Impact of the Internet and Engaging it faithfully

Week five: Cell phones and a continually connected life
Week six: Social media and the projecting and mining of the digital self
Week seven: Dating and relationships in a digital age
Week eight: The dangers of a digital age

This is a series of classes I’ve been teaching with my congregation that I’ve been attempting to capture digitally so that they could be used by other communities or small groups or for members who are unable to be present in class.

We discussed briefly in session four about our digital identity, how we place a reflection of ourselves out in the digital world when we engage with the internet and with digital technology. As we enter the world of social media the projection of ourselves into the digital world encompasses a larger portion of our life. We project an avatar of ourselves, an icon or representation of what we choose to reveal of ourselves to represent ourselves in this digital world. We share certain pieces of our lives and our network of connections so others can see. At the same time, we project this representation of ourselves that projection is being examined and mined by others, including advertisers, to understand how to relate to us. Prior to social media what we shared digitally, with some exceptions, was passive-others may gather information about searches or websites we went to but normally we weren’t voluntarily sharing this information. With the beginning of social media sites, we began actively sharing a lot of data: from pictures to political opinions, from the places we go and the food we eat to our connections with other people. We can use this to stay connected but we also receive a lot of junk. People value pictures and the connections we have with the people who are important to us, but we also have to sort through a lot of information that may not be valuable to us.

When we use social media, it can create a lot of strong feelings for the user. We can feel connected, valued, loved or conversely, we can feel disconnected, angry, shamed or excluded. Sometimes it leads us into temptation by copying life we see others showing us and it can also make us feel inadequate. Other times, it can feel like we are being taunted or bullied. There is always the possibility that when we share a piece of our life digitally that we will be judged, just like we could be in the real world. All of these feelings of happiness and unhappiness are real and yet for many people there is a strong almost addictive draw to these platforms.

We can’t talk about social media without discussing the basic human need for connection. As humans we are social creatures and our brains are wired to want connection with other people. We want to feel liked, loved, valued, safe and seen by others. We will do some incredible things for this connection. This is why young people will join a gang, because by being a part of the gang they have a family of people and they have some value. This is part of the reason that people will go through the physical ordeal and sometimes hazing to be a part of a team or a group. It is also one of the reasons that we will go to incredible lengths for those who we love as family and those who we have romantic feelings for. One of the things that has been coming out in research lately is one of the greatest predictors of longevity is a strong set of social connections. A lack of social connections has been shown to be a stronger predictor of an early death than many things like environmental pollution or smoking.

When we feel connected it is a powerful thing to our brains. Think back to a time when you fell in love and because of the love you felt everything felt right in the world. When your brain feels safe, valued, and loved the chemical reaction in your brain is a powerful thing which is one of the reasons we seek these feelings so much. Conversely, when we’ve had our heart broken, when we’ve been rejected or ridiculed or shamed this is an equally powerful negative experience. We seek connection and we fear disconnection and sometimes the fear of disconnection is even greater than our fear of physical harm or death.

To talk about connection, I’m going to rely on the work of Brené Brown who teaches at the University of Houston in the Social Work department. In her research she looked for what made people feel connected, but when she asked about connection people would share their experiences of disconnection. These experiences of disconnection she would eventually come to label as shame. She defines shame as, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experiencing of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love or belonging.” (emphasis authors) and she lays out twelve categories of shame that frequently emerge in her research:

  • Appearance and Body Image
  • Money and Work
  • Motherhood/Fatherhood
  • Family
  • Parenting
  • Mental and Physical Health
  • Addiction
  • Sex
  • Aging
  • Religion
  • Surviving Trauma
  • Being Stereotyped of Labeled(Brown, 2012, p. 69)

Some of these twelve categories of shame are organized along gender lines and social expectations of gender roles. For example, appearance and body image is more likely to be a source of shame for women while money and work is more likely to be a source of shame for men.

Women and men experience shame differently. Brené Brown describes shame for women as a web of competing expectations and demands: how they are supposed to look, how they are supposed to act, how they are supposed to parent, how they are supposed to balance all the expectations that are put upon them and to make it look easy. This is made more challenging because the expectations are not uniform. For example, women when critiqued on mothering are viewed by widely differing standards and often judged because they are not mothering the way another believes is the right way to mother. These criticisms or places where they don’t conform to these expectations often strike at their greatest places of insecurity.

We often neglect the way that men experience shame and for men it is often a subject that we are unable to talk about. Brené Brown in her work share the story of when earlier in her career she had only researched women and shame and then after a conference a man asked her, “have you studied men and shame?” She admitted she hadn’t and then he went on to explain how men have deep shame but are unable to express it both among other men and with women. For men shame is about failure: a failure to be strong enough, good enough, or to provide enough for others. As I mentioned above, money and work are a strong shame trigger for men and so if a man’s wife comes home and comments about the nice car that her friend’s husband bought it can unintentionally send a message to the man that because he is unable to provide the same or better, he is not valued or loved. Most men learn at an early age that it is socially unacceptable to show weakness or fear. I can remember a point in my elementary school days when I learned I wasn’t allowed to cry anymore and it was reinforced by both peers and family members.

One of the reasons for talking about this with social media is that we go to social media longing for connection and we may experience disconnection. We want to feel good and safe and valued and we may find messages that reinforce how we are not living into the expectations of others or how we are not good, strong or able to provide enough. We may find those things that play on our shame triggers and we are also comparing ourselves to the best projection of someone else. We compare our entire lives to the snapshot that others choose to share of their lives. We measure ourselves unfairly against others without having access to the whole picture of their lives.

The people who designed social media know that we are connection seeking beings and the media are designed to encourage our continued usage of their platforms. When people like or comment on something that we do it feels good to our brains, it feels like we are connected and valued and seen. Because of that desire for connection we do sometimes modify our behavior to seek the approval of others, even when we may not believe that it is the correct thing.

This leads us back to the discussion of lowered social boundaries that I initially introduced when we discussed texting in the previous session. It often feels less stressful to share something through a digital technology because we don’t have to see how the words impact the other person’s body language or voice and there is not the danger of physical consequences to what we say (at least not in the moment). I believe this lowered set of social boundaries also helps to explain some of the bullying or trolling that happens on social media. We may believe that we aren’t interacting with a real person and so our words don’t matter, but they do. Many in the congregations I’ve served have heard my repurposing of the children’s proverb, “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” to “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will send me to therapy.” Words, even online words, can cause real emotional damage. We come in seeking connection and then someone else for their own reasons bullies or insults us in ways that they would never do to our face. Sometimes when we lower our social boundaries, we encounter the basest parts of our self and others. Also, these things are now recorded and we may have to address these things at a later point of our life.

All social media are designed to keep you engaged and to do that they mine your digital projection to figure out what you want to see. Facebook, for example, will categorize you as extremely liberal, moderately liberal, moderate, moderately conservative or extremely conservative and will attempt to tailor your feed based around those political values. One of the dangers of this is that we can be surrounded in our digital world by people who think and believe the way that we do to the exclusion of other viewpoints. This ‘bunker effect’ can shield us from interactions that may challenge our viewpoint and we may be encouraged to view those who think differently than us as our enemy or people unworthy of consideration. Adding into this picture some powerful mental forces like ‘confirmation bias’ we can become susceptible to partial truths and sometimes outright lies that fit within our worldview. This has had major effects on our political dialogue and has increased the polarization we experience in the world.

Social media are advertising platforms, they are not news platforms. They are designed to increase the projection of information for profit. In a profit model where clicks on a website result in greater payments we’ve seen the practice of ‘click-baiting’ evolve to get people to go to an article based on the headline. Social media does not censor things based on their verifiability. There are some practices they have introduced after the last election cycle but ultimately, they are designed to maximize profit and they are not incentivized to remove things that masquerade as news that may merely be opinion. This can present us with a very skewed vision of reality and we may find ourselves confused by the boundaries between someone’s opinion and a verified fact.

Social media are designed for addictiveness. Some of this goes back to our discussion of the internet and platforms like Netflix removing the ‘stopping cues’ to keep you engaged on the platform for longer. Facebook for example, has no stopping cues to keep you from continuing to scroll down the screen and stay on their platform. Some other media like Snap Chat or Instagram reward you for continuing to engage through things like ‘streams’ which are broken if you have a day where you don’t engage. These all send subtle clues to our mind to come back and to seek connection again on these platforms. The technology is not evil, but it does use some of the basic pieces of our psychology to keep us engaged.

As a Christian as I think about social media, I reflect upon the language of Genesis 1 where we are created in the image of God. As Genesis narrates the creation narrative, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1: 27) A person’s value comes not from how other people value them but instead, from a faith perspective, from the reality that they share some portion of the image of God. Especially from my Christian faith it goes back to the language of my baptism where, from my Lutheran Christian theological perspective, I have been marked with the cross of Christ forever and sealed by God’s Holy Spirit.  I am reminded that my identity begins with the reality that my life has been claimed by God and that I am a child of God. That doesn’t mean I am immune to the desire for connection or the feelings of shame, but it does help me to remind myself that I have value and worth already and nothing can take that away. For me it means that even when I disagree with someone, I don’t attack them in a way that attempts to shame them or demean them.

Social media can enable us to connect with a broad network of people. It can be a place where we choose to share the things that we find meaningful and valuable. It can also be place where we encounter disconnection and where we can experience hurt and shame. I think the technology can be a place where we do a lot of positive things but like any technology it helps to understand some of the dangers involved.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are things that you share on social media? What don’t you share?
  2. How do you feel after being on social media? What made you feel that way?
  3. Can you think of a time where you felt shame? What triggered that feeling?
  4. Which of the categories of shame seem to impact you more deeply? What messages from advertising and from others reinforce those messages?
  5. When have you seen social media misused? What do you like and dislike about the platforms you use?
  6. What ways have you found helpful to have conversations with people who think or believe differently than you?
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