Psalm 23 in a new media age: Part 2

Posted Jan 17, 2012 | New Media Project

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By Monica A. Coleman


In my last post, I suggested that contemporary Christians might think of God in metaphors with more direct relevance to our everyday lives than we are offered in the 23rd Psalm. I honestly believe that thinking of God as a shepherd was meaningful and even subversive and revolutionary for the ancient Israelites.

Maybe a society influenced by new media could develop contemporary language to talk about God. I asked my theology students to re-write the Psalm by beginning with these words:

God is my website designer...

My students immediately re-interpreted my words and changed the first line to a sentence that would make Mark Zuckerberg proud:

God is my Facebook designer...

These particular students were international students and found comfort in Facebook because it helped them stay connected to friends and family back home. In this connection they found strength and courage in a foreign land. Here are a couple of lines:

God takes away my loneliness
Through God I find courage can be transmitted over the Internet

The last line is golden:

My Facebook Designer facilitates a fuller life

I don’t think these words are meant to deify Zuckerberg or the Facebook design team. On the contrary, I think they show how much holiness there is in connecting with others. This psalm shows how the community that social media creates can reduce real loneliness and offer solid support—despite the distance.

Like all metaphors, there are ways that God is notlike a Facebook designer. But maybe there are ways that God is like one, as well. God is one who reduces loneliness, creates community, offers courage, and gives us a fuller life. These are common ways that Christians think of God.  They are also ways that many people experience social media—especially when far from home.

Some people can read this as a rationale for churches and pastors to have Facebook accounts. Others might interpret this imaginative psalm as religious justification for time spent in social media outlets. Still others might be outraged about changing such a classic piece of scripture and think it more important to tell contemporary believers about the lives of shepherds so they can better understand the original text.

As a theologian, I’m intrigued by how people find divinity in connection and community. One might even say that this community is the earthy goal for many Christians—a contemporary baseleia or kin-dom of God. If social media mediates that community, does that make it our salvation?

Monica A. Coleman, a research fellow for the New Media Project, serves as Associate Professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Associate Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University in southern California.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Marcia Haley Hammon 31 Jan
    I offered a similar same response during a worship service on Pentecost Sunday. "Where have you seen God this week?" asked the female worship leader, a UMC pastor.

    I raised my hand and replied when called upon, "On Facebook!" feeling uncomfortable, too visible as a social media user. As a mid-60 year old, I had received COMFORT after the recent death of my sister, my one sibling, from FB friends. As a metaphor it works; it's about connection, loyalty and proximity--digital communication.

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