Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Category: Blogging general (Page 1 of 3)

On the false self and self-disclosure in the internet age

6988270931_5bf6a75fd7_oI first heard the name of Trappist monk Thomas Merton a few years ago in an article by the late Michael Spencer at The Internet Monk. Being at that point a stranger to the idea of contemplative spirituality, I registered mild interest and moved on. In recent years, thanks to the work of Richard Rohr and others, the idea of a quieter, more reflective form of spiritual practice has gradually endeared itself to me. (Though, lest anyone should think I’m now an accomplished contemplative, think again: I’m very much a novice at the beginning of the journey.) So it is that I’ve finally got around to reading some of Merton’s work – namely, his 1962 book New Seeds of Contemplation.

This book is so brimming with rich, thought-provoking insight that I stopped highlighting it after I realised that I was highlighting just about every paragraph.

One of the topics Merton often touched on in his writing was the distinction between what he called the false self and the true self. I’d like to share with you a short section from New Seeds on what he means by the false self, and then consider how this plays out in our lives and, in particular, in our engagement with social media:

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On social media and the purchasing of worth

Social mediaI have clearly been somewhat quiet lately on the blogging front, for which I apologise. All I can say is, sometimes inspiration can’t be forced; you just have to wait for it and be ready when it comes.

Anyway… I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Facebook and other social media.

Or rather, to back up a little, I’ve been thinking about our addictive tendencies as human beings, and how social media taps right into them and exploits them.

I’d like to quote from a couple of authors before bringing this brief reflection back to the specific topic of social media.

First, in his book Addiction and Grace, Gerald G. May writes that “all people are addicts… to be alive is to be addicted.” I happen to strongly agree with that view. My contention is that those who don’t agree with it are simply not yet aware of their own particular addictions.

Second, for the past ten years or so, one of my favourite writers on things spiritual – and one of those who have most influenced me – has been the late Brennan Manning. (If you don’t know of him, do yourself a favour and get acquainted. You could pick any of his books as a starting point and not risk disappointment.) His book Abba’s Child has a chapter titled “The Impostor”, in which he sets out to describe in detail the notion of the “false self”. This is the artificial self that we are subconsciously compelled to present to others in an effort to gain approval and acceptance. In doing so, we tend to bury the real us – the true self – and thus we end up working increasingly hard to manage and hide the growing gulf between who we are deep down and who we sincerely and desperately want everyone else to believe we are.

Here is a sentence from the aforementioned chapter of Abba’s Child:

Living out of the false self creates a compulsive desire to present a perfect image to the public so that everybody will admire us and nobody will know us.

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New year, same old you

ContentmentFirst of all, I’d like to wish you, dear reader, a very happy New Year. May 2015 bring you a greater measure of peace and well-being. (I reckon those are things we could all use more of.)

Traditionally, of course, the New Year is a time to make resolutions. Like turning over a page full of messy scribbles to reveal a fresh, clean sheet waiting to be written upon, we shake from our feet the accumulated dust of the old year’s failures, frustrations and disappointments, and confidently tell ourselves things will be different this year. At least, that’s the theory.

We humans are easily enslaved by habits that either contribute nothing positive to our lives or, indeed, are outright destructive both to us and to those around us. As such, that times and seasons provide us with opportunities to cast off the old and bring in the new is, in my opinion, a good and necessary thing.

And yet, in spite of our desire to put our most optimistic face forward as we once again pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and promise ourselves that we will do better this year, for many of us New Year is always tinged with a sense of inevitable disappointment that no amount of manufactured optimism can fully dislodge. It’s as though we’re trying to convince ourselves of a positive outcome that we know deep down probably isn’t going to materialise. This is why, as they get older, people generally end up discarding grand notions of resolutions: they begin to know themselves well enough to realise that some things just aren’t going to change by virtue of a simple rational decision. And, as they look back over the years behind them, they’re forced to conclude that life and experience bear out this realisation.

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My favourite posts of 2014

WriterYesterday I listed the ten posts on this blog that have received the highest number of views in 2014. Today I thought I’d share some of my personal favourites from among all the posts I’ve written in 2014.

I couldn’t manage to get the list down to ten, so below are the twelve favourite posts I’ve written in the past year. (One of them is a three-post series, so I suppose you could say I’m cheating there by slipping in an extra two posts.)

As for why these posts are my favourites, the reasons vary. In some cases, I felt I’d managed to express something significant in an especially clear and compelling way; in others, I felt I’d succeeded in using language particularly creatively or impactfully; and in others still, I simply felt the fulfilment of having been able to capture and describe something I believed or experienced very deeply.

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Most viewed posts of the year

ListWhen it comes to writing blog posts, I’m not generally a huge fan of lists. However, pulling together a list of most viewed posts does provide an opportunity to review and reflect at the end of the year. And it may also give anyone new to the blog some pointers as to where to begin reading.

So here, in descending order, are the top ten posts on the blog that have received the most views in 2014. If I have time, I’ll follow this up tomorrow with a list of my personal favourite posts that I’ve written in 2014.

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Welcome Internet Monk readers

Today I have the honour of having my post The Bible clearly says featured as a guest post over at Internet Monk.

I’d like to extend a warm welcome to any IM readers who make their way over here after reading my guest post today. For some background about me, head to my About me page. If you’d like to get a flavour for the kinds of things I write about, check out my Favourite and popular posts page (though I confess I haven’t updated it for a while).

And if you’re a regular reader who isn’t familiar with Internet Monk, please head over there right now and take a look around. It’s a site I’ve been following for about eight years, and there’s a whole lot of good stuff there.

A year of blogging

Carry on bloggingOne year ago today, I began my adventure of blogging here at Faith Meets World. Since then, this little blog and its nearly 600 posts have received 1,000 comments and been viewed over 23,000 times by more than 8,000 visitors. To say that I am both surprised and delighted at this response is an understatement.

I’d like to thank my agent…

Seriously, I’m indebted to my friend Randy McRoberts, without whose encouragement I may never have taken the leap and finally moved from thought to action. And, most of all, I owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who has honoured my efforts by taking time to read. Whether you’ve visited once or are a regular reader, I’m sincerely grateful. And I hope you’ll continue the journey with me.

[ Image: John Sutton ]

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