I often find myself feeling confused by Facebook for a variety of reasons:
#1: Like or Dislike
When someone announces something really big, I feel like I should like/dislike it. However, this gets confusing. "Satan sucks." Does marking "like" mean I generally don't like Satan or does it suggest that I am sacrificing animals in a secret cult gathering? Or what if it's more personal? "My brother past away. He will be missed." I "like" the update and want to lend support. However, I don't like the fact that your brother past away when in fact that is pretty damn tragic.
#2: Fringe Friends
I have no problem with people I know only vaguely leaving comments. However, I often fear that leaving a comment on a co-workers page can be the online version of a close-talker.
#3: Former Students
I allow former students to befriend me. We're not friends, though. It would be creepy for us to go hang out at the mall together, which is why when I'm on Facebook I feel like I have to be extra-non-creepy and therefore I end up being standoffish toward former students.
#4: Lack of Context
I can't be political, since I have some pretty extreme left and right friends. Unlike a real social situation, I can't figure out the rules. I know that it's okay to take a crap in the woods, but totally socially unacceptable to do so in a church service. I know that I can cuss at a pub but I can't cuss around my wife's extended family. This lack of context makes the rules of Facebook that much more confusing.
#5: I Don't Use It Correctly
I don't find funny stuff online, take cool pictures or do pretty much anything that you are supposed to do with Facebook. My lack of a cell phone hurts me here, because it actually takes some effort to find and post pictures.
#6: Lack of Body Language
I can't smile without using annoying emoticons. I also can't be funny, because my humor can be dark and sardonic when there's no twinkle of an eye or smile.
#7: I Feel Guilty
When I'm on Twitter, I think of all the cool ideas to share. It's about a conversation. On Facebook, it's about a connection - often times with people I haven't seen in months and some of whom live in my city. That can make me feel guilty when the distance is often mutual.
So, why do I stay on Facebook?
It's the language we collectively speak. It's a horrible medium, but it's the only way I find out who is getting married or divorced or dying or having more kids. It is where we post our life cycle for others to view. So, I stick with it, even though I honestly can't figure it out.
People want a Nanny State to outlaw children's toys in Happy Meals. I get it. Kids can pester parents and it becomes difficult to win the war of attrition. Still, if you think that Happy Meal toys are wrong and that you don't want your children to be enticed by cheap plastic crap from a transnational artificial food corporation, here's a thought: don't visit McDonalds. It's the option we often choose in our house and it works well.
If you think that advertising to little children is wrong, here's a solution: get rid of the television. I heard there's this amazing parental switch device on even the oldest television sets and it allows adults to turn off the television instantaneously. We have an off button at our house and it turns out that it works really well.
If you think that Harry Potter is evil and should be banned from schools, here's a solution: don't let your kids read it. It's really easy. You just tell your children to avoid the book or they'll go to Hell. Or offer to give them free pizza coupons for each one they read. Meanwhile, I'll continue reading it to my own children.
Part of being a parent is engaging in conflict. It's part of being human. It's part of living a story. Whether your concerns are liberal or conservative, traditional or progressive, natural or structured, talk to me, question me, engage me in debate, but don't push your agenda through a political process. Instead, try being a parent.
"Me, too. I don't know what happened. We were in love and then . . ."
"You grew apart?"
"You had an affair?"
"What was it?"
"I'm not seeing your point. Was your wife actually a lesbian?"
"No, but the mere existence of gay marriage was a threat to the institution of marriage and therefore killed our marriage."
I've known about six or seven guys who have gotten divorced in the last few years. None of them mentioned gay marriage as the cause of their divorce. None of them saw the institution of marriage as something frail and weak and near death. Instead, they saw their individual actions, the incompatibility of their relationship and the larger societal pressures (time spent away, the bad economy) as contributing to their relational problems.
Christians who see gay marriage as a threat to the institution of marriage, often miss the following points:
Marriage is a civil and religious union. Atheists are allowed marriage despite the fact that they don't believe in the religious union whatsoever. Moreover, Christians and non-Christians get married quite often, despite the fact that this is considered a sin in many churches. So, what's the point in using only the Bible
Another point I'll hear is that gay people can't procreate. This argument makes little sense. Can elderly people get married even if they are passed their child-rearing days? Gay people, on the other hand, can adopt and often have families together.
The biggest "threat" to marriage is divorce. One area where churches have some influence is in their depiction of masculinity and leadership. Teaching men to be overbearing and controlling in the name of being the "spiritual leader" crushes a woman's spirit.
The second biggest threat to marriage is people never getting married at all. Again, the church does a poor job presenting some of the positives of marriage - how trust can lead to better sex that occurs more often, how living together for years without making a formal commitment is more laughable than sinful and how marriage can be fun.
Allowing for gay marriage would be a social act of compassion. When a child has to worry about being taken into foster care because one of her moms died or when a man can't see his partner in the later hours at the hospital, there is something wrong. Whether the church defines it as a sin does not nullify an act of mercy toward people who love one another.
When churches fight battles against gay marriage, they turn gays off to the faith entirely. They shut off the dialog. If you call it a war, people will assume that you are making them out to be an enemy. I can't think of the last time I took advice, especially on larger existential questions, because someone who viewed me as an enemy told me how to live.
Focussing so much time and energy being against one issue that the Bible hardly addresses moves the church away from issues like immigrant's rights and poverty, which the Bible addresses thousands of times.
Just about every trendy hipster person I know has read Eats, Shoots and Leaves and enjoys The Oatmeal's explanations on grammar as well. My guess is that it fits into a few key trendy hipster values:
1. A chance to feel better / look down upon others. This is especially true with grammar geeks (like myself, who is sort-of Trendy Hipster Light) who were frowned upon by peers during their childhood.
2. A chance to engage in an art that is vastly becoming irrelevant. Like learning shorthand, speaking Old Norse or having a typewriter on hand, learning grammar lets trendy hipsters engage in a geeky endeavor that lacks any real practical element.
3. A chance to be ironic, or when that fails (often) a chance to find unintended humor. Once you master grammar, you can mock the subtle irony found in signs, in books and in music. So, I can laugh aloud when the football announcer mentions that "Philadelphia literally has an explosive offense" or "The Giants literally destroyed the Cowboys." Nope, despite my initial hopes, the Cowboys are still a football team.
I have a hunch that trendy hipsters will not procreate as much as other segments of the population. Which is too bad, honestly, in terms of language lovers. However, in the long run, they might just be the very subgroup that keeps grammar intact.
At Thanksgiving, Micah asks me, "Where's Aunt Beverly?"
He notices that Uncle Charlie is alone and he senses that something is different. I am tempted at first to use a euphamism like "passed on" or "left us" but instead I tell the truth.
"She died yesterday."
"Does that mean she's not coming back?" he asks.
"But I like her. She's fun. She smiles."
He's quiet for awhile and then adds, "She always plays with me and Gabriel."
It's a three year old's eulogy and although it doesn't capture all that she was, it certainly captures a part of her that I will remember. If Micah has taught me anything about life and death, it's that people matter. I used to believe that life was a story and there were minor characters. Now I see it as an overlapping of stories, not with minor characters, but with major characters that I never got the chance to know as well as I could have (due to time and space).
Micah's right. I miss Beverly's smile on Thanksgiving. She was the first family member to giving me the passing grade when Christy first introduced me years ago. I remember that we talked about Van Morrison of all things, because even though we didn't have much in common, she wanted me to feel like I mattered. I think about all of this as Micah runs over to play in the dirt with his cousin. For a moment, I get teary-eyed, so I move inside to see if the Cowboys will pull out a surprise victory against the Saints.
When I first married Christy, I thought she was crazy for referring to her "relatives" as "family." I grew up isolated from most of my extended family, so I never quite understood her language. Over time, I began to see the value of an extended family. It happened with swim lessons and dinners at Aunt Jan's house or with breakfast on Sunday mornings with Aunt Sheri. When Christy completed a triathlon (pregnant, nonetheless) it was her extended family (her nephews and her Aunt Beverly) who cheered her on during the hardest moments.
I'm beginning to see that the nuclear, just-those-who-live-in-the-house view of family is limited and myopic. It's why I feel grateful that my own kids see my parents and my sister and my wife's family so much. It's why I recognize the gift of being two doors down from my mother-in-law. For all the talk of recovering the sense of community lost in America, I'm convinced that for my own children the answer hasn't been found in programs or in megachurches or in master-planned communities. It's been in the large, extended family that has collectively loved them well.