Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Culture of Encounter

Recently Pope Francis spoke about the digital media world that we live in today and how it has changed communication as we have known it in the past. He encourages the Church to “boldly become citizens of the digital world… to be concerned for, and present in, the world of communication, in order to dialogue with people today and to help them encounter Christ.” (for a summary of what the Catholic Register says about this click here.) In his talk, he coins a phrase that grabbed my attention… 

                           “CULTURE OF ENCOUNTER!” 

This phrase got me thinking and I wanted to throw some thoughts out for y’all to chew on… Just a warning, if you get offended easily, exit now because you might not like some of the things that I’m gonna say…

Jesus knew at the depth of the human heart is a desire to encounter and to be encountered. I think this is seen in our first parents when Adam looks at everything that God created and just didn’t find true satisfaction. Nothing that God had created could allow Adam to be encountered by another. Think about it, when Adam saw the tree he didn’t cry out, “This one at last is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones…” No! He only spoke those words when he saw someone like himself, his helpmate, someone able to receive him and encounter him! Adam’s deepest desire to encounter another and to be encountered is the cry that has echoed through the heart of every human being regardless of their age… We all want to be seen, noticed, recognized, appreciated, affirmed, liked, loved, congratulated, and rewarded. We want to be an expert at something and fail at nothing… this is the human desires that our social media has picked up on… Today’s social media allows us to Tweet every minute of our day. We plaster ourselves all over YouTube and Facebook and to get infatuated with taking Selfies… And just incase you want to be even more connected to people you've never meet, just throw a little #signupandyouwillmeetallkindsofnewfriends.

To go a bit further, lets just look at the names of these popular means of modern communication:

YouTube: Many people want their 30 seconds of fame… well now you got it! Anyone can video themselves and plaster it out there for the whole world to see! You're famous now… and if people really ‘like’ you, you’ll even go viral (when I was growing up, to be viral was to be sick as a dog!) Your video doesn’t have to be tasteful, creative, or show any form of talent, actually, in most cases, the more distasteful and vulgar, the more ‘likes’ a person will get… They think, “Ahh someone finally likes me! I want to put a part of my life out there so that someone can encounter a piece of me… Please, just click the little hand with his thumb up and ‘like’ me! Will somebody please ‘like’ me so I can become Viral!”

Facebook: This has been a great way for people to stay in touch, but it also has a dark side to it… But let's just look at the name “Face – Book”… “I can publish a book and it’s all about MY FACE!! How many pictures of my face can I put up there for people to see how much fun I’m having, how beautiful I am, and what a great life I live!” Please don’t get me wrong, I think that Facebook has some good benefits, but as with anything, it's when we take it too far that things go wrong. I had a Facebook account for three days… and when I didn’t accept a “friend” they got offended… that was the end of my Facebooking life. I thought to myself, “I’m really not that important… nor that interesting. If you want to encounter me, then just call me or come to my house!” But some people are totally wrapped up in this world of Facebook and have somehow exchanged a world of real encounter for a counterfeit world of cyber-counter (I think I just made that word up??) Next time you are in public, notice how many people have real people right there in front of them, eating with them, walking with them… and they are on the phone updating their Facebook account! Amazing!!

Selfie Pics: This is terrible… It sounds something like this, “Since no one else wants to take a picture of me, I’ll take a picture of myself and send it to everyone of my ‘friends!!’ Look who I’m with… Look where I’m at… Look how much fun I’m having…” Really?? For some occasions, I can understand it. But to think that where we are at, what we are doing, and who we are with is really that important to the rest of the world is a bit egotistical, don’t ca think?? But there we see the heart cry out… “Someone see me… notice me… tell me that my face is important to you! Please ‘like’ me!” A friend of mine was telling me about a girl he knew. She started working at Twin Peaks (don’t get me started on this place) and she posted a picture of herself in her new “work uniform” (which to me looks more like the kind of uniform that a prostitute would wear and not the uniform of a dignified waitress…) Anyway… when she posted it, she got hundreds of “likes” and all kinds of affirming comments. A few days later, she posted a picture of herself, dressed up in a nice dress and guess how many “likes” she got?? Yep, less then twenty! So what kind of message does that send out to this 19 year old? It might sound like this, “People like me more when I dress immodestly. I get more attention dressed that way so that must be when I’m most beautiful!” Again, here is the cry of the human heart that longs to be encountered and seen as beautiful and desirable!

Pope Francis getting into a Selfie with some youth!
We could go on and on but I think we get the picture… I’m not bashing multimedia means of communication (obviously, because I use them,) and neither is Pope. He is encouraging us to truly enter into this age of communication, to be active evangelizers in and through the media… this means of communication is at the heart of the New Evangelization! We must enter into this world if we are going to win souls for Christ BUT we can’t let our desire for encounter stop at ourselves! Our Holy Father challenges us to be active builders of a Culture of Encounter because that is exactly what Jesus did… He took on our human flesh so as to truly encounter us!! He didn’t just sit back and observe us… he became one of us! He understands the deepest desire of the human heart, which is to be encountered, so much so that He invites us to “Abide in Me!” He doesn’t just say “read about Me” or “talk about Me” or “draw pictures of Me” but He truly wants us to Encounter Him! That’s how great His love is for us! Think about this, as a child I loved my dog a lot! But never once did I ever want to become a dog! I didn’t want to encounter my dog that much! But Jesus desires to encounter us that much… He became one of us and then placed His Spirit in us that cry’s out, “ABBA… FATHER!!” At the heart of the Culture of Encounter is the longing to Encounter the Living God, in and through one another, in and through His Church!