Resisting pigeonholes in social media…


You know when you’re a kid and you have very fixed ideas about what type of music you like, and it doesn’t include a broad range of styles? And then you grow up and realise there are myriad sounds and genres you appreciate, depending on your mood or the occasion. You’ve learned to expand your musical tastes, and in doing so have opened the door to relating to an eclectic mix of people whom you would previously have overlooked.

Well, online it often still feels as if you’re back in school again. Without saying it outright, you get the vibe on social media that people want you to declare your affiliations for things… From religion to politics, education, feminism, culture. There’s nothing inherently backward or sinister about this; we all like to find out what we have in common with those we meet online. We all feel emotionally bolstered when others agree with us.

Yet, one aspect I particularly enjoy about networks such as Twitter is engaging with those who don’t share my preferences and inclinations. It makes for interesting online engagement; I wouldn’t want to only follow writers and teachers. Neither do I revel in drawn out arguments or furiously trying to prove a point. (Certainly not in copious series of 140 character tweets, anyway.)

That’s not to say that I shy away from disagreements, rather that I like to keep it simple and civil. Proving a point or persuading a crowd is not the prime purpose of my online presence. In fact I can think of nothing worse than feeling compelled to constantly justify myself or contradict others on a daily basis.

And maybe that’s why I struggle to fit in at times. I see elements I like among both left & right wing supporters, among both feminists & complementarians. I warm to both working mothers and homeschooling families, and a plethora of other socio-economic groups in between. I was brought up to mingle with all types and classes of people – something for which I am forever grateful.

I find it tricky to commit wholeheartedly to anything other than my faith. That is the one non negotiable, yet even then there are disparate views among Christians. I obviously hold my own strong convictions in this regard. But just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean we can’t get along. Wouldn’t it be so boring if we only engaged with a bunch of people whose thought processes were identikit versions of ours?

Undoubtedly, I value elements or aspects of a variety of organisations and ideologies. I just don’t see why I should be pigeonholed, or squeezed into a certain mould. And, who knows, I might actually learn something, change my mind about something or see things in a different light.

I’m open to ideas and thoughts and solutions. I’m open minded – yes, and a Christian! The two are not mutually exclusive.

Maybe we could simply agree to disagree sometimes? Oh, and I won’t unfollow you for being totally different to me. I love variety, and what better variety can one find than in the human species?

Christians and Social Media – How are we perceived?

Photo credit: Audio X

For many people in this country and abroad, the general consensus is that being a Christian is synonymous with being a shallow-minded bigot, who has no concept of science and no sense of reality in the world.

If the first thing I put on my profile is ‘Christian’, I immediately put off or scare away a whole host of individuals who may have otherwise had the chance to get to know me and possibly see their preconceived ideas busted.

What would Jesus do?

Yes – that old adage which used to be thrown around left, right and centre just a few years ago. But it’s a good question. If Jesus were on Twitter, what would his profile say?…

Jesus, Son of God, Saviour of the World? Jesus – your free ticket to heaven? Jesus – the most holy, awesome One?

Or would it likely be – Jesus. Follow me and find out more?

Jesus didn’t walk around with a fish sewn into the back of his robes. He didn’t introduce himself as ‘King of Kings’ in the first interaction he had with everyone he met.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t call ourselves Christians or followers of Jesus – for that would be denying what we are. Rather that, just maybe, we don’t need to declare this first, at every opportunity.

Perhaps our actions and attitudes should precede our words.

When I interact with the man behind the counter in a supermarket, I don’t interject: “Hello – wave – you do realize that I’m a Christian, don’t you?!” as I hand over my store card. When I talk to parents at the school gates, I don’t say – “Hey, remember that I’m a Christian, won’t you? Did I tell you that last week?”

When I go to a party or event – same thing. Do I simply start a general conversation with a stranger or friend of a friend, or do I begin by saying, “Hi, my name’s Annie and I’m a Christian.”

That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Yet, in many ways, that is how we can come across on social media by declaring our religious affiliation in our brief profiles.

If we wouldn’t do that in real life, why do we do it in the virtual world of social engagement?

I’m aware of the other point of view, that we should not be ashamed of Jesus or our faith. I agree.

But wouldn’t it be great if people observed something positively unique in us before we barraged them with our spiritual status?

Should we proclaim our label of ‘Christian’ at every possible moment and opportunity, before someone has had the chance to process anything else about us?

I’m not saying that there is a right way or a wrong way. People should feel free to present themselves in any way they wish. Obviously churches and Christian organisations will always be blatant in their introductions and statements of who they are. But maybe others should rethink their position.

One of my finest moments came when I was teaching part-time in a school, and, during a casual lunchtime conversation with pupils, mentioned something about church. A year eight boy asked me if I was a Christian. When I answered affirmatively, he showed surprise. “But miss”, he said, “you don’t look like a Christian!”

I had shattered his pre-conceived ideas of what a Christian might look like. I was chuffed about that.

In the same way, I didn’t reveal that I was a Christian to colleagues until after I’d been in that school for over a year. (Not necessarily on purpose, it’s more that I was dashing around so much in class, there was little opportunity for chat, and being part-time I missed out on most social events).

Anyway, the teacher I worked most closely with was equally surprised when I revealed my Christian faith; I didn’t fit her stereotypical Christian caricature. In the time before that, when I went about incognito – or before I came out – I got the distinct impression that many colleagues were pretty anti-Christian.

I quietly got on with my work, trying to be a hard working teacher, trying to stay positive and friendly to all. I got on well with most of those around me, but I wonder how different it may have been if I’d declared my beliefs right from the start.

When I once met a new supply teacher in the staff room during a free lesson, I felt immediately uneasy when she started harping on about church within the first three minutes of conversation. It seemed forced and irrelevant in the context, even though we shared the same faith. Perhaps sometimes Christians talk too much? (Yep, including me.)

I’m open to others’ suggestions on how best to handle this modern day issue. What do you think? Should we always introduce ourselves as … [insert name], Christian? Or do you think that I’m some kind of heretic for being unwilling to declare the ‘C’ word in my profile or within the first five minutes of meeting someone?

I only hope to challenge readers to consider others’ perception of them, and how they might best reflect the kingdom of God to those around them in their daily lives – both online and offline.

And as for having a fish on my car… never (I’m not the best driver in the world!)

But, who knows? Maybe I’ll change my standpoint on these matters in future.