Suzanne Bossert

Not A Spectator Sport

Sometimes when I wade into my Facebook stream and see a parade of posts/photos/videos drift past, I can’t quite shake the feeling of voyeurism. I gawk, therefore I am? ...

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Sometimes when I wade into my Facebook stream and see a parade of posts/photos/videos drift past, I can’t quite shake the feeling of voyeurism. I gawk, therefore I am? 

Oddly, this feeling is heightened when it comes to cries for action about causes. As it turns out, a good percentage of my FB village is comprised of religious & spiritual folk—ministers, social workers, contemplatives and good-hearted souls from my denomination, the left-leaning United Church of Christ. When social injustices erupt in our world . . . such as the heart-wrenching double tragedies of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, just to name two . . . my social media feed becomes quickly flooded with powerful testimonials and urgent appeals. After watching the video of Garner’s murder, how can anyone breathe easy? I am regularly awed and inspired by the longing and lament expressed by so many social justice advocates, even beyond the riveting national events of late. But occasionally, I feel the voyeur element bubble up unbidden, a feeling of unwarranted satisfaction that just by reading about a cause I have somehow participated. Sitting in my computer chair, I feel almost as if I am part of a Roman coliseum mob charged with watching and judging, and my role is simply to boo and offer a “thumbs down” gesture when I witness brutality.

I want more.

More than gestures, more than words. But how? How to move from my comfortable perch in the anonymous crowd to a spot closer to the blood, sweat and tears on the dirt floor where the lions are mauling the innocents?

As Franchesca Ramsey, of digital aggregator Upworthy, recently posted: “I just hope people contributing to #CrimingWhileWhite are vocal about these disparities offline. Great, you’re trending but we need action.” Yes, action. There is a risk in not moving from virtual hashtags to bricks n’ mortar activism.

Let me be clear: protest is critical. The very word comes from the Latin protestari, which means to “declare publically.” Public discourse—heated, messy, and political—is foundational for any reformation moment. The great revolutions of history did not occur in silence, and the impact of social media today in fomenting and organizing democratic, non-violent uprisings cannot be underestimated. And yet, there is a danger to imagine that posting alone (especially when offered to curated tribal clusters of friends) is enough.

But there is hope. I believe a kind of hinge or fault line exists between our digital and physical worlds, a place where intense energy is released when the two tectonic plates overlap and rub against each other. Ideas, collective wisdom, outrage and great hope heats up beautifully in the cauldrons of social media platforms – we just need to pair physical world opportunities with our digital inspiration. One place this can occur is in faith communities, who already know from scripture that following the Way of Jesus is not a spectator sport.This is the moment for the mainline Protestant Church to arise and reclaim its place as a relevant, transcendent interface between intention and action. 

People have the power, as Patti Smith once sang, and God has the grace. Blogging about taking action is rather ironic. So please, can you help me get to my feet?

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