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Friday, September 6, 2013

Privacy and Publicity

Last night, when I should have been working on one of the other dozen or so really important projects I have going, I was busy deleting years of Facebook posts.  It was an interesting experience to go back through years of family events, random news, funny pictures, political articles, quips, and bits of life... and delete them all.

Or, was I?

The truth was that some folks who want to be my 'Friends' on Facebook at the same time took grave offense at some of the things that I posted, so much so that at least one of them expressed the possibility of either calling the bishop or leaving the parish.  You guessed it: they are parishioners.

In this sense, they were upset that I was 'representing' the Church while also having controversial opinions.

Well, let me set the record straight: what I do here is not on behalf of my bishop or my synod.  This is just one man's opinion.  There is nothing official about anything written here unless I can prove it came from an official source.  This is a blog.  It is all about opinion.  If you don't like mine, you are welcome to not read it and find something else to do.  It will not offend me in the least.  You are also entitled to disagree with anything I say here, all I ask is that you not put up spam links.  I do pull those down along with obscenities.

Facebook has largely become something very different for most people.  For example, I have parishioners who want to be my FB 'Friends,' but then take offense when they discover that I do not share the same opinions as they do.  They revert to the 'parishioner' status of being in need of a certain part of me, but don't feel like they want the whole me.

It is a problem I have struggled with as long as I have been a clergyman, where people want part of me but find the rest undesirable or even completely objectionable.  The battle for me is trying to remain behind the mask that people wish I would wear.  The truth is that I don't wear a mask, at least not intentionally or reliably, which makes for some embarrassing moments when the person I am speaking with expects me to 'filter' what I say through their expectations as a 'clergyman' and I do not.

When I don't live up to expectations, then I am a failure.  I can tell you now, I am indeed a failure.

Part of me is perturbed that I can't seem to act a little less like myself (I do annoy the heck out of me many times a day), while the other part is bothered that others who want to know about my private life, complete with photos of family vacations and the like, also find it necessary to instruct me how to live and think 'off duty.'  To them, I do not have a private life.  I am always to be as they want me to be.

If I 'defriend' these people, then they will take offense that I am denying them access to the me that they really want.  In at least one case, the protester is upset that someone might see my opinions and become so offended they will leave the Orthodox Church altogether.

Really?  Is the Church supposed to be some kind of robotic place where we all think and feel the same things?  Or, is there room for tolerance?

Someone suggested that I set up a separate 'private' account under a different name, and use that for all the salacious opinions and controversies.  The reason I object to that is that I just don't think that having a 'secret life' is what I signed up for to begin with.  I've spent the last 21 years or so trying to be the same person all the time and not operating multiple personalities, because occasionally you wear the wrong mask into the wrong room and then all heck breaks out.

I don't think Christ called me to wear a mask for Him.  I was asked to serve, and I have tried to serve.  On plenty of occasions, I have failed to serve.

So, I deleted all those posts and pictures and whatnot because, in the end, they are more of a liability than a benefit.  They don't serve me or my plans.  It was fun to share and read feedback, but in the end I can't fight the expectations people have of Facebook and of me.

The profile remains, and there will be no other one.  It will be empty, because what is bland is not offensive.  I can still wish people a 'happy birthday' and see their smiling faces, and I can leave up a photo of my face just the way most people see it.  My private life and opinions will not change.  I just don't have to put it on Facebook.

After all, my private life is mine and I can choose to do with it as I please.  It isn't a secret, it just isn't something I have to put out in public either. 

We should all feel free to be who we really are.  We just don't always have to advertise it.  That's what I was guilty of.  I was displaying conversations and opinions that should be kept at the kitchen table or the campfire not because they are bad, but because most people don't care enough about me to tolerate what I have to say.  Yet, they also feel the need to somehow share themselves with me via Facebook, and through it somehow be more a part of my life than Sunday liturgy and coffee hour.

In the future, if I feel the need to 'post' something, it is a good sign that I really need to pick up the phone and call someone who actually cares.


  1. I agree.

    I do not have a Facebook account at all, nor do I ever intend to get one. I have just opened a LinkedIn account, because you increasingly need that for professional purposes.

    The Internet is a tool, and as with any other tool, we need to ensure we are using the right tool for the job at hand. As a source of information, the Internet is a Godsend. As a medium of communication, it is very handy. However, as a source off community, it is completely fake.

  2. The Internet has a way of taking real life frailties and tweaking them in new ways. I do not use Facebook and intend it to remain that way, but I have socialized online since back when I called into computer bulletin board systems with a 2400 baud modem attached to my Amiga 1000 computer. People were weird back then too, myself included. I'm sorry that you had to go through this and the resulting night of the long knives on your Facebook profile, Father.

    Your last line resonated with me in particular:

    In the future, if I feel the need to 'post' something, it is a good sign that I really need to pick up the phone and call someone who actually cares.

    It makes me wonder about those who do not have anyone so immediate and caring to reach out to. Even I myself turned to my own online endeavor, starting it just a few months ago, in the midst of having no one to find at the other end of such a telephone line. Sound advice, in any case: it is good to turn to a friend. Nonetheless, also bad to be intimidated (or something approximating intimidation) over one's candid online writings.

    1. An Amiga! Wow, that takes me back.
      The sad truth is that there are too many lonely people these days. I've written on this before, and it is a significant problem in modern life. This is also a powerful fuel for addiction.
      I chalk the FB incident to a classic case of 'emotion-hostage taking,' where people blame others for their emotions. Unfortunately, the church-world here in the US is run largely on high emotions, and the highest emotion usually wins. So, people who are offended almost always get to act out without accountability or responsibility for themselves. I just don't have the time or energy to fight what is, for many people, a terminal cancer. There are some personality types that run really high on emotions, but learn to manage them. I'm on the other end of the spectrum (I don't have a super-colorful emotional life, though I am far from haze-gray), and so super-emotional people are largely a mystery to me. That means they are a lot more work... more work than what I was ordained to do. I was not ordained to be a professional counselor or a psychologist, and so when problems shift beyond the basic spiritual kinds I'm out of my depths. The problem is that most people expect the priest to be a psychologist and to handle their problems like someone with professional training.
      They also think they are entitled to manage my personal life, which is not only uncomfortable but weird.
      Right now, I'm using FB again the way I originally intended to when I signed up... to spy on all the people silly enough to send me friend requests... ;)

  3. Fr. George,

    I just found your site today, and I can definitely identify with this post. What you describe here is unfortunate, but is a side-effect of the internet. People like social media, but it allows for an instant, sometimes out-of-context peek at a whole person.

    My wife and I share a facebook page. She gets along fairly well with friends on there, but when I get on there "unsupervised," LOL, sparks sometimes fly. :-)

    I look forward to reading your blog as I explore Orthodoxy.