Pedestals, numbers, social networks and Jesus

Some people building a large house of cards
Photo by Bradley Newman CC:By-SA http://www.flickr.com/photos/bradley_newman/68921818

Some interesting thought patterns have been sparked off in my head by Twitter this week.

### Cracked pedestals and treasure

The first is the fallout following Stephen Fry’s “fall from grace”. To be honest that’s a complete misnomer but what happened is that Stephen Fry – possibly one of the most popular people on twitter was quoted (he says mis-quoted) by the press as saying some things which at face value seemed rather sexist. The shock which reverberated around Twitter wads almost tangible. Millions of people “follow” Stephen Fry and is (particularly here in the UK) hailed as a sort of public treasure. Indeed he has been hailed as a National Treasure here many times. With excellent TV shows like “Last chance to see” and “QI”, he has somehow — and without him seemingly seeking it — been elevated to almost being worshipped by many who see him as a sort of modern-day wise-man. It’s important to note here that Mr Fry has not promoted himself in this way, he has to the most part been himself and because he comes across as likeable it is his “followers” who have elevated him to a high pedestal. He has as Shakespeare put it had “greatness” thrust upon him to the point where his word is often taken as truth simply because he says it. Again I imagine he’d be shocked at this but that is the scenario that was built around him. With all such situations it is inevitable then that the pedestal would reveal cracks and when it was even suggested that it did many of those who put him on it then criticised Stephen because he was up there. The irony of all this is not new. Stephen Fry is not the first “celebrity” who is worshipped and then pulled down or – in this case – vilified if he shows himself to be human. In fact the UK seems to have a real propensity for such behaviour. What is flavour of the month will next month be rejected as “uncool” (or whatever this month’s word is) simply because it has gained some traction.

Now set against all this we have the situation where those who worship God and in particular Jesus are more frequently portrayed as having some kind of delusion or ridiculed for daring to believe what “everyone” considers to be fantasy. The fact that Stephen Fry is himself a proponent of some of this is another ironic twist here. Don’t get me wrong I am sure Mr Fry has encountered more than his fair share of bigotry in the name of faith which has no doubt helped formed his opinion of religion. For that and other similar cases I am ashamed but it is interesting that in this dichotomy exists. On the one hand we have a world which seems to be increasingly obsessed with celebrity and is even redefining that term on a regular basis to suit whatever or whomever is on the flavour-pedestal this month. Andy Warhol was not a prophet when he said everyone would have 15 minutes of fame: he voiced something which then became a life-plan for many. On the other hand we have those of us who worship someone who is unchanging, ever-faithful and eternal and we are ridiculed. As I tweeted the other day:

> Irony = In a world which worships that which is destined to fail, those who worship the One who is not are ridiculed.

Or as Jesus put it (better)…

> “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where they can be eaten by moths and get rusty, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where they will never become moth-eaten or rusty and where they will be safe from thieves. Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be. Matthew 6:19-22 NCV

### It’s all about the numbers

The second thought is along a similar line. There’s been some research again on social networking and the impact it had. These things will never go away. People always want to understand why something is popular or well-used. I guess for many of them this is so they can figure out to make some money out of it but maybe I’m being extra cynical there. Mostly we’re given the impression that “success” or “influence” on Twitter or Facebook is down to how many connections you have. For Twitter it’s how many followers you have; with Facebook it’s how many friends. Consider then the use of those words: follower and friend. Whereas Twitter calls a follower someone who is fed what you type but doesn’t always read it, Facebook calls a friend someone you have or wish to have some loose connection with. For some this is simply that your friends or followers have heard of you (see Stephen Fry above) for others it’s a bit more personal. Either way it’s an empty defnition which seems to apply an intimacy to relationships which often could barely support being called that.

Consider what Jesus meant when he spoke of his friends or his followers. Following and friendship Jesus said, is about sacrifice. Terms like laying down your life, taking up your cross spring to mind. We throw words like friend and follower around with great regularity these days and I am not suggesting we find a new term for people-i-have-a-loose-connection-with on Facebook or people-who-say-things-I-want-to-see on Twitter but I maybe those of us who consider ourselves followers or friends of Jesus should make clear in our own hearts and minds what that means. As for the numbers we should remember how many followers and friends Jesus has. We should also remember that any greatness does not stem from the number of relationships he has but the effort he puts into them.

2 comments on Pedestals, numbers, social networks and Jesus

    1. Good point and one that sits well alongside this post. Certainly there’s a case to be made that we Christians should extend the deeper traits of friendship to Twitter et al. At least within the bounds of the medium. (edited for typo’s 10 Nov)

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