I hope the subject line caught your attention, and, maybe, offended you a little.
Recently, Kate Fagan of ESPN published an absolutely heart-wrenching account of Madison Holleran, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, who took her own life at the age of 19. While I read many articles from many different sources on a daily/weekly basis, few leave me as impacted as this one, not only because of the tragedy of a young woman’s decision, but also because it showed what is one of the most fatal flaws facing any congregation. Fagan writes:
Everyone presents an edited version of life on social media. People share moments that reflect an ideal life, an ideal self. Hundreds of years ago, we sent letters by horseback, containing only what we wanted the recipient to read. Fifty years ago, we spoke via the telephone, sharing only the details that constructed the self we wanted reflected.
I would like to sit here and say we do not intentionally lie to others, but I do think that we must be honest enough to admit that we do not want people to know us completely, for there are parts that we simply don’t want out there, for whatever reason. It would not surprise me in the slightest if the number one reason is our fear of being judged or our fear of not being acceptable to others.
And, yet, there is no way to square this with what we read in the any of the sacred texts, going back to Adam and Eve seeing to hide their true selves behind the fig leaves. Of course it’s nothing new – it’s just the medium of exchange has transitioned with each generation.
When he came to preach here a few years ago, our District Superintendent, Hadley Edwards, gave a sermon about how we must confront things to correct them. His words rang in my head as I read Fagan’s piece because if the church, and any congregation within the church, believes that we can be most effective when we hide our true selves, we are sadly mistaken at best, and tragically delusional at worst.
Let’s be honest – this is much easier said than done. I’ve share with some of you one of my most vivid memories of the aftermath of a hurricane in one of my previous appointments came when a lady told me that she didn’t come to church the Sunday after the hurricane hit because they were without power and she simply could not come to church without ‘putting her face on’ and doing her hair, for, ‘what would people think of me?’ I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.
Later on in the article, Fagan says:
With Instagram, one thing has changed: the amount we consume of one another’s edited lives. Young women growing up on Instagram are spending a significant chunk of each day absorbing others’ filtered images while they walk through their own realities, unfiltered.
Checking Instagram is like opening a magazine to see a fashion advertisement. Except an ad is branded as what it is: a staged image on glossy paper.
Yes, people filter their photos to make them prettier. People are also often encouraged to put filters on their sadness, to brighten their reality so as not to “drag down” those around them. The myth still exists that happiness is a choice, which perpetuates the notion of depression as weakness.
This week at North Cross UMC, we are going to host well over 100 children and their families for our Vacation Bible School ministry. These children are going to be surrounded with God’s grace and love, being told they are loved by Christ just as they are, without any need on their part to ‘do something’ to earn God’s love.
What Kate Fagan’s article reminded me of was that we, the church, had darn well better be courageous and faithful enough to live our lives this way in communion with one another. What we must commit to as the church, the body of Christ, is to love and accept one another no matter what, AND allow others to love us just as we are, without trying to hide anything.
I’ve included a link to this story below – while it is terribly upsetting in many ways, we owe it to ourselves, to those we love, and to those who we hope will love us, so as to be reminded that it is VITAL to our overall health, and the health of those we love and love us, to be as transparent as possible so that we can all not only extend God’s grace, but receive it as well.
Near the conclusion of her piece, Fagan notes: