I cringe a little bit when well-meaning Christians want to totally write off the promise of the digital age. It’s foolish to uncritically embrace every new innovation, but it’s also foolish to condemn every new innovation. And in many ways, our laments about the Internet are not laments about pixels and bytes and cables and screens, but laments about the human condition, the worst of which is just newly exposed because of new communication tools. The Internet is us. So rather than writing off social media and other platforms as irredeemable, let’s be intentional about creating and communicating truth and beauty with the tiny corner of the Internet we control.
How do we do this? How do we steward our words and images well online? I think we first begin with another question: How can I make the Internet a better place? How can I make my corner of the Internet a better place? I can’t control the trolls that make a sport of attacking public figures. I can’t stop the cycle of shame that greets Twitter every morning with fresh objects of derision. But I can bring joy and humor, prophetic words, and gentle grace.
We face this choice with every piece of content we choose to make public online, whether it’s a tweet or a Facebook post or an article or a podcast. There is a temptation, especially for creators, to withdraw, to let the cynicism of the age stifle our creative gifts. But to create, to make something is an act of rebellion against the darkness, a sliver of light that points to a better world.
Offering Feeble Gifts
This is why I do what I do. Sure, I like getting paid for books and articles and other pieces of content. And I enjoy meeting gifted people I bring onto my podcast for interviews. But I also create because I believe that by creating, I’m offering my feeble gifts to serve the church and love my neighbor.
If you are a creator of any kind, even if all you create is social media posts, you must do this too. The digital world needs more light, more hope, more grace. To be an image-bearer is not to sit on our gifts but to use them to create as our Creator creates. We can be the solution to an uncivil, ugly world of social media. Even when we speak up for the vulnerable or declare truth to a world of confusion, we can contribute to a better, more edifying Internet.
We can also make the Internet better by refusing to yield to the narcissism of the age. Even as we create, we can refuse to always cast ourselves as the hero of the story. As a public voice, the temptation to seek glory is a fierce one, but we must allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, to offer our gifts not as ways to bring ourselves praise but to serve others. One way I’ve tried to do this is to make it a point to use whatever small platform I have to elevate other voices whose work brings joy to my heart. If I’ve read a good book, I try to share it on social so others can discover it. If I read a wonderful piece of journalism or listen to a compelling podcast, I try to make others aware of it so they can be similarly blessed.
You can do this too. Whether your online platform is large or small, don’t’ make it all about you. Be free with your praise of other’s work. Share good content and ideas widely. Lift up others.
Sharing others’ work is a way to both attack the problem of pride and attention-seeking and a way of resisting the 24/7 temptation to be an angry rage-bot. One of my favorite practices is to send a nice email or direct message to an author after I’ve read their book, if only to let them know that the project that consumed a significant portion of their time and energy brought wonder and grace to someone like me. You would be surprised at how rare it is for creators to receive good words about their work and how a short note of encouragement can be a balm to their souls. So don’t hesitate. The Internet has made this easy to do, so why not make it a habit?
Building a Better Internet
We should also all try to take ourselves less seriously. I enjoy following people online who have the capacity to laugh at quirky and ridiculous news in a broken world and to laugh at themselves. There are times for seriousness, for prophetic statements and for mourning, but there is also a time for laughter and hilarity. Comedy, I’m coming to believe, is not a luxury, but a necessary oil for the gears of life. To laugh is to heal, a life detox that flushes out tension and reinvigorates the soul.
If we Christians want the Internet to be better, we can start by being the better Internet we want to see. That sounds a bit cheesy, I know, like some saying from a digital fortune cookie. But even if you are serious about theology, as you should be, and even if you care deeply about truth and justice, as I do, it doesn’t mean your brow has to be constantly furrowed. In other words, there is some fine medium between Joel Osteen and the church lady from SNL.
Christians also need to be better at laughing at our own tribes. This is why I appreciate attempts at humor. Even if the satire hits a bit close, even if it makes me say, “Ouch!” If we truly believe that Christ is our sovereign king and has conquered sin, death, and the grave, we can take the issues seriously but take ourselves not so seriously. We can laugh. We can joke. We can share ridiculous GIFS and hilarious memes. And we can do so for the glory of God.
–Editor’s Note: This excerpt is adapted from Dan Darling’s newly released book, A Way with Words: Using Our Online Conversations for Good.