Keeping up with the Joneses

I came across an article recently titled, “Get off Facebook and You’ll Stop Being Miserable.” (I found it on Facebook, ironically.) It was about a trial that studied a group of 1,000 people who use Facebook as part of their daily routine. Half of them didn’t look at Facebook for a week, and the other half continued their normal usage.

Maybe it shouldn’t surprise us, but the group that didn’t use Facebook for a week reported “significantly higher levels of satisfaction” than those who did. They also reported feeling “less sad and lonely” when away from Facebook. Given that the point of Facebook is to help connect us, clearly something is going wrong.

What is it about Facebook (or Instagram, or Vine, or YouTube) that can leave us feeling more isolated, rather than more connected? I think part of the problem lies in the unprecedented access into the lives and thoughts of others, even friends.

Seeing everything that our friends and acquaintances post can lead to an unwanted, but often unavoidable, urge to compare. And to compete. Back in the day, keeping up with the Jones meant seeing who had the nicer car or yard. Because unless you were close, that was about all you knew about the Jones. Maybe you could see when they had a new refrigerator delivered and feel jealous.

But know, you know exactly what the Jones’ living room looks like. You know that they had broiled salmon on a kale and quinoa salad for dinner. You know that their latest vacation included rock-climbing and parasailing in Belize. You can see their perfect Pinterest meal plans, their tastefully arranged table settings, and their bikini perfect bodies all without ever leaving your own couch.

And your own life might feel boring and unimportant by comparison. What we fail to recognize (even if we realize it when we think about it) is that social media is not a fair and accurate representation of anyone’s life. I don’t post things too often, but when I do, it’s things that I think are interesting. A trip to Linvilla to go apple-picking. Going to a friend’s wedding. An anniversary.

What I don’t put on Facebook are the nights spent re-watching the West Wing for the eighteenth time on Netflix. Or not having time to cook dinner before an evening meeting, and running out to Qdoba so I can hurriedly eat a burrito while, you guessed it, watching Netflix.

But the fact of the matter is, most people have both the super interesting moments and the boring evenings on the couch in their lives. We just don’t broadcast both kinds to the world through social media. If you spend a lot of time scrolling through Facebook, though, you may start to believe that everyone else is having a fantastic time—all the time.

That’s what leads to those lower levels of satisfaction shown in the study. We compare ourselves to the carefully crafted online personas of other people, and find ourselves coming up short. Because we are painfully aware of all of our odd bumps and warts, we will never see ourselves the way we see other peoples’ happy pictures on social media.

So should we turn off Facebook? This study seems to suggest that too much of it can skew the way we see ourselves in comparison to others. I know I find it easy to fall into the comparison (and for me, competition) trap online. But I know I also enjoy seeing pictures from friends’ adventures and hearing their news, especially the ones who are now far away.

I think we have to realize that social media can’t become a substitute for actually being connected with our friends and family. Because if I pick up the phone and call, I get a much better chance at hearing about the whole person I care for—not just the internet ready parts. And I can offer the whole of myself in response, which really is a lot more effective than clicking the ‘like’ button.

During Advent and Christmas we think about the wonders of an incarnate God. A God who took on human flesh and lived among us. It is our whole selves, our whole humanity that God is acquainted with, not just the things we find appropriate for sharing with others. And it is our whole selves that are redeemed by God, and claimed by God as precious and loved. Just as we proudly claim the labels of both sinner and saint, we can boldly admit that sometimes our lives are Pinterest-perfect, and other times they are boring and messy. But God and the community of the church are interested in both parts.

So—how about you? Do you realize you are comparing yourself to the images of others on social media, or is this just for millennials like me? Or do you hold back from posting things that you worry aren’t interesting enough? Do we misuse or overuse social media at the expense of real connection? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Red Cups: On what Starbucks actually has to do with Christmas

I have to admit—I’m a big fan of Starbucks. They make great coffee, and I live within walking distance of one. I even have the app for my phone, that lets me in on good deals and gets me free coffee every once in a while. So on Saturday, when I started to see headlines saying “Christians upset with Starbucks,” I was curious to say the least.

In some part of my naïve, idealistic mind, I assumed that Christians were upset because of some business practice of Starbucks, so I wanted to read more. One of the reasons I like Starbucks is because they make an effort to use sustainable, fair trade products. They’re not perfect, no large corporation is, but they seek to support coffee farmers and not exploit those whose labor provides my coffee. Did you know they gave Lutheran World Relief $350,000 to work with coffee growers in Colombia? (You can read about that gift, and more about Starbuck’s efforts here: http://lwr.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=dmJXKiOYJgI6G&b=7535365&ct=14558327.)

So anyway, I assumed that this righteous indignation from Christians must have something to do with how Starbucks is treating the poor and vulnerable of the world, right? Because that’s what Christians, living out God’s gospel of inclusion and justice for all would surely be concerned about. (If you can’t tell, this is just a bit of sarcasm: I knew immediately what would have folks riled up, and I knew it wasn’t anything related to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.)

But no, it was the cups. Starbuck’s famous red holiday cups. The new design was out, and it was a minimalist, ombre pattern. Personally, I think they look neat. But wait! They don’t have anything that says “Christmas” on them! The horror! All the holiday symbols of past years are gone—you know, the snowflakes and ice-skates and wreaths that just screamed about the wonderful mystery of the incarnation, the miraculous event of God breaking into human history.

Some people are upset, because to them, this means that Starbucks has abandoned Christianity and is, in fact, being outright aggressive towards Christians. To them, I have to say: if you depend on Starbucks to spread the gospel and proclaim the message of Christmas, boy have you got problems.

You know what I depend on Starbucks for? Coffee. I think it’s awesome that they do their best to ethically source it, provide living wages to their employees, and send me cool games on my cell phone. But Starbucks at Christmas time is one big marketing ploy. I’ll buy some Christmas Blend (which hasn’t been renamed, by the way), but I know that the fancy cups, flavored coffee, and snowflake covered walls are ways to get us to spend more money—not ways to spread the message of Jesus Christ.

Frankly, I don’t really want Starbucks to be in charge of the message of Christmas. Funnily enough, I was in Starbucks Saturday morning, and noticed their “Advent Calendars.” I put this in quotes, because I could only roll my eyes at them—for Starbucks (and many other stores with such products), and Advent calendar is used to count down the days of December. They have no idea that, this year, Advent starts on November 29, or if they know, they don’t care. Let’s let Starbucks handle the coffee, and find the true meaning of Christmas somewhere else.

Every time something like this pops up, and people get offended in the name of Christ, all we are doing is giving the church some really bad publicity. Because we look like the kid at the party crying because his piece of cake isn’t bigger than everybody else’s. When people ask me what turns young people away from the church—the answer is this. This kind of offense at nonsense issues. Christians who are more concerned with coffee cups than with living out the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christians who are more concerned with the store clerk who said “Happy Holidays,” than with feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked, and working towards justice. This kind of thing takes time and attention away from things that should actually offend us, like the fact that one in five children in America don’t have enough food to eat. Seriously. Let’s get offended by things like that. That would be a righteous indignation I could get behind.

It frustrates me to no end, because most of the Christians I know, and certainly the ones I work with, couldn’t care less about coffee cups. But when this kind of thing makes the news, it reflects on all of us who bear the name Christian. So this Advent and Christmas season, I’m going to do my best to not let the fictitious “War on Christmas” get me too upset. I’m going to do my best to ignore all the nonsense issues, and instead actually focus on the reason for the season: that God has looked with favor upon God’s people and redeemed them.