Celebration and social media: Searching for beauty

Posted May 21, 2013 | New Media Project

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By Elizabeth Myer Boulton, guest blogger


This is the fifth in a six-week series on celebration and social media.

Social media is ubiquitous. According to Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, “It is the very air we breathe.”

And it’s true: we love scrolling through status updates, sharing over-exposed photographs on Instagram, re-Tweeting quotes, and perusing Pinterest for cute birthday cake ideas. With over two-thirds of online American adults using Facebook, it seems as if social media is as pervasive as kudzu in the south, coiling, climbing, and twining its way into our lives.

New findings from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, however, suggest that we may be entering into a time of social boredom. According to their findings, 61 percent of current Facebook users say they have voluntarily taken a break from it—citing, in some cases, a general lack of interest in the site itself, excessive gossip or “drama” from their friends, and an absence of compelling content.

This new research sheds an interesting light on the future of social media. On one hand, it makes it quite clear that people aren’t abandoning social media altogether (far from it!). On the other hand, it also seems to suggest that the joy of social networking has limitations, and that people seem to be searching, online and off, for more beauty, more joy, more compelling content that combats both boredom and brokenness.

In Psalm 27, the psalmist poetically argues and proclaims that beauty is bound up with salvation; beauty itself is dignifying and humanizing in the deepest sense. Too often, we find ourselves assailed by the brokenness of the world. Too often boredom and dullness try to coil, climb, and twine their way into our lives, and what we need, the psalmist writes, is not mere refuge or safety from these dangers. What we need most of all is to spend time immersed in divine glory, beholding God’s beauty, meditating in God’s house—only then, the psalmist insists, will we be able to lift our heads high. The challenge, then, is this: finding and sharing God’s beauty in our everyday lives, even and especially when so much of our lives are lived online.

The good folks over at St. Paul’s Church in Auckland, New Zealand seem to get this. They know that beauty and salvation are as intricately bound as sugar and spice, fish and chips, Jesus and justice, people and their iPhones. And, thanks be to God, they are committed to articulating a beautiful, celebratory, and culturally relevant version of the Christian faith. This can be experienced most clearly in their whimsical retelling of the Christmas story.

With over two million hits, this beautifully shot, poetic, and imaginative short film has the power to inspire congregations everywhere to create (or to simply curate and share!) similarly compelling content that captures the good news of the Gospel—glow sticks optional, yet strongly encouraged!

Beauty is ubiquitous. Some might say that it’s the very air we breathe and it comes in many forms: photographs on Flickr, a new playlist on Spotify, a community of artists coming together to reimagine how God becomes flesh again and again. If we learn to become creators and curators, we can help mend the brokenness and celebrate God’s amazing grace one status update at a time.

Elizabeth Myer Boulton is the President and Creative Director of the SALT Project. She's ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and has served as the Minister of Discipleship at Old South Church in Boston and senior pastor of Hope Church. She holds degrees from Trent University and the University of Chicago Divinity School.

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 Tracy 21 May
    I love that this gets at something so important-- social media can be wonderful, but there is a too-muchness to it. If I catch myself posting 3 times on facebook one day, I ask myself, "do all my friends really need to see these photos/news blurbs/small thoughts?"

    An "absence of compelling content" -- that about sums it up.

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