Social Media Tattoos


This article originally appeared in August 2011 on the Christians in Social Media blog.

Yesterday, author and speaker Jonathan Acuff posted a comment on his Facebook fan page that could lead to very beneficial discussion between teens and those who live and work with them.

“Posting a photo online is like getting a digital tattoo. Once it’s on, it’s on forever. You wouldn’t let your 12 year old get a tattoo. Make sure they understand what they’re doing when they post a photo online.”

As Christians who actively participate in social media, it is important that we teach our teens (and first learn ourselves) the importance of applying biblical truth even in our interactions on social media sites.

The fact that our every move is known and “recorded” by God is an ancient truth; in Psalm 139 David praises God that we can never escape His all-loving, watchful eye. But being “watched and recorded” 24/7 by other people is new to human culture, and it places upon believers a new pressure to be wise in our walks, even at our most relaxed times like social gatherings. Here are some tips on caring for your “digital testimony”.

1. Be proactive. Don’t wait until you see that one of your students is tagged in a picture that captured a moment of poor judgment. Begin talking now with your tweens and teens about the permanence of anything posted online, not just photos. Even if you “delete” a comment from a social media site, it is captured and saved somewhere. Talk with them about where they go and who they hang out with. Ask them if they have talked with their friends about boundaries concerning what is ok and what’s not ok to post online. Remind your students that personal information such as address, phone number, and age, should never be shared with people online that they don’t in person. And as much as possible, get to know your child’s friends, both those in reality and those with whom they only associate with online.

2. Be gracious. Even the most well meaning person can end up in a photo or post a comment without thinking, and when (not if) you or child gets caught in a moment of thoughtless social media usage,  don’t panic and don’t blow up about it. Even though that is usually our first impulse. If it is something you or your child posted and you have “social media regret”, delete it. While it doesn’t change the fact that it took place, repentance for a wrong decision includes attempts to make it right, and removing the questionable post shows an admittance that it was wrong and a willingness to correct the situation. If a friend has posted something of questionable and unflattering content, go the extra mile to make personal contact as soon as possible (a phone call, a face-to-face conversation) asking them to remove the photo or comment. Making personal contact lets them know that you are both sincere and serious in your request.

3. Be accountable. The best way to prevent photos or comments of questionable content from becoming social media tattoos is to avoid questionable situations to begin with. Teach your teens (and practice yourself) accountability with a friend in social settings. A good rule of thumb these days for where to be and who to hang out with is to ask yourself, “Would I want my friends and family members to see this posted on online?” If the answer is no, then it’s time to excuse yourself from the situation.

These are just a few ways to protect our testimonies online from negative impact. What are some ways we can share a positive testimony online?

Bullying and the Sixth Commandment


As an educator, I spend quite a bit of time discussing the issue of bullying. We form task forces, attend conferences, write books, produce documentaries and movies, inform parents, spear head movements… all in an attempt to teach students to be kind to one another.

Bullying has become the topic du jour as more and more tragic incidences of teen suicides are traced back to constant harassment from classmates. Bullying was a term rarely discussed when I was in middle and high school. When it was, we were generally told that there would always be mean people in our lives so we better learn now how to deal with it. Why the constant attention now to bullying? Are kids today meaner than they were 15-20 years ago?

I don’t believe kids are meaner. I remember some of the things done to classmates when I was in school, and it doesn’t get much meaner than some of those things. What I believe has changed is the fact that, due to social media, kids today never escape the harassment. Once upon a time, bullies found you on the bus or the playground or in the hallway by your locker, and if you could just get home or to your next class, you’d be safe for a while. Now, kids carry their bullies around with them in their pockets. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and a host of other social media sites allow teens to fashion lynch mobs to psychologically hang one another without ever leaving their bedrooms. While I may have had the possibility of one mean girl calling me and maybe being subjected to a secret third party in a 3-way call, teens today can experience virtual mob attacks on their Facebook walls and Tumblr comments.

One movement in particular has caught attention in Christian circles because it focuses on the bullying of one particular segment of the population. Tomorrow is the Day of Silence, “a student-led national event that brings attention to the bullying and harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in schools.” On the Think Christian site, Neil de Koning writes a passionate post explaining why he believes Christians should participate in the Day of Silence.

Regardless of who bullying is targeting, we all know it is wrong. While there is no verse in the Bible that explicitly states, “Thou shalt not bully,” God has plenty to say about how we treat other people. And the crazy thing is that, unlike people, God really doesn’t discriminate. He commands that all people be treated the same; friends or enemies, believers or not, male or female, “Jew or Greek.” All people bear the Imago Dei (image of God), and all are to be treated with the same sacrificial love and respect that we all crave for ourselves. When Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves (Phil. 2:3),” he didn’t place any stipulations on the instructions.

I particularly appreciated the following observation by Neil in the above mentioned article:
It’s simple really. God says “NO” to bullying and abuse. In my reading of Scripture and leaning on Christian tradition, particularly the Heidelberg Catechism, the “No” does not turn to “Yes” when certain subgroups of our community are named.

What does the Heidelberg Catechism contribute to the conversation on bullying? Some interesting and challenging instructions.

Question: What is God’s will for you in the sixth commandment?

Answer: I am not to belittle, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor – not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture and certainly not by actual deeds –and I am not to be party to this in others.

Question: Is it enough then that we do not murder our neighbor in any such way?

Answer: No. By condemning envy, hatred and anger, God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful and friendly toward them, to protect them from harm as much as we can and to do good even to our enemies.

I’ll leave you with this final excerpt from Neil’s post and hope that you will read the entire post and spend some time reflecting on what it means to love with grace and truth, showing the kindness of God that leads us to repentance to a world that is desperately tired of bullying.

Our neighbor is not just the people like us whom we like. She or he is the one we come across in the course of our daily activities. This certainly includes the ones we pass in the hallways of our schools and pass on the sidewalks and buses on the way to school. And the behaviors that the catechism finds offensive include the daily schoolyard practice of belittling, the common practice of offense gestures, the ordinary practice of demeaning texting that creates a culture threatening for gay and lesbian teens.

It even includes thoughts. If there is any way our thoughts say “you are not my neighbor” or say “you are not worth my kindness or my time,” the catechism would say you are guilty of breaking the law of God.
“It’s simple really. God says “NO” to bullying and abuse.”

I find it interesting that it adds, “I am not to be party to this in others.” Being a silent bystander is unacceptable. This is good news from our tradition and church to those who are often victims of bullying and abuse. Every church, school and parent can powerfully encourage teens to become a vocal neighbor when they see a person being bullied. It is simply a matter of being a good neighbor.

So, ask yourself, who have you failed to see as your neighbor, and how can you begin praying and moving towards a Christlike approach to all people?

Jesus and Suicide


5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Matthew 4

One of the greatest blessings of teaching at a Christian school is that once a week, we worship together in a chapel service. The worship through singing is led by our students, and then we usually have a guest speaker share a message with us. It is a midweek refuge, a time set aside to stop the rush of classes and homework and grading and teaching and discipline and meetings to just gather together around the Throne of Grace and remember that before we are teachers, students, and administrators, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s a time I treasure each week.

This week in chapel, a minister named Walt from The Hopeline came to chapel and shared with our students about their ministry. Through his message he gave them a wide open opportunity to begin some real heart conversations about real issues they face everyday: abuse, bullying, cutting, pornography, sex, drug use, and suicide. By just speaking the words with love and compassion, in a church sanctuary, with no judgment, no horror, no hatred of the thought of those struggles, he gave our kids permission to speak safely about the deepest struggles of their lives, and I love him and his ministry for that.

In the course of his talk, he made one comment that has stuck with me. He was talking about suicide and he mentioned in passing that Satan tempted Jesus to “just jump”. He was referring to the three temptations Satan presented to Jesus after His 40 days of fasting in the wilderness.

When considering that passage in Matthew, I have thought of Satan tempting Jesus with His trust of God the Father and His Word. He tempted Jesus to jump based on Psalm 91:11-12 in which the psalmist wrote: “11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Satan was essentially saying to Jesus, “Jump. See if your Father really meant what He said in that Psalm.”

I wonder if Satan wasn’t also tempting Jesus to take control of His own life.
Jesus had just spent 40 days in the desert preparing for his time of ministry. I don’t know what the Father revealed to Him during that time. But I have no doubt that, at that moment on the Temple, Jesus understood fully His purpose for being on the planet; to teach, to heal, to save, to confront, to love, to be betrayed, to suffer, and to die. I can imagine that, standing on that highest pinnacle of the Temple, thinking through all He knew he was about to face, this thought could have crossed His mind: “He’s right. Just jump. Why go through all of that if I don’t have to? The Father may want me to sacrifice myself, but it is my life to put down and take back up (John 10:17-18). I can put it down now and avoid all of the pain and suffering I am about to endure.”

Jesus was tempted with suicide. He was tempted to just jump. To take the easy way out. To avoid the betrayal, mocking, fatigue, pain, suffering of life on this planet and return to heaven where He was worshiped and adored.

But He didn’t. He put Himself aside, emptied Himself, denied Himself, and “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). He was tempted in the now and said no because He knew there was a greater weight of glory to receive in eternity through the suffering (2 Corinthians 4:17).

So what do you do when the overwhelming “NOW” tempts you to “just jump”?

  • Remember that we have a High Priest who has been tempted in every way, yet without sin.
  • Be like Jesus; quote Truth, take the thought captive.
  • Take the moment to stop the spiral into now and bring yourself back to an eternal perspective. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
  • And tell someone. Expose that temptation to the Light. Call a trusted friend.
  • Call the Hopeline at 1-800-394-4673.
  • Go to their website, www.thehopeline.com, and chat with someone.
  • Text DMHopeline to 63389 and just reach out to someone.

But more than anything, remember that Jesus knows the thoughts you’re thinking; he may very well have been tempted with those thoughts Himself. He understands the feeling of exhaustion and despair and wanting it all to just end. But through His endurance, He provided for us an eternal way out of the pain and misery of being separated from the One True Healer. He gives you the way out of it. He suffered and showed us how to suffer for the glory of God, with a perspective on eternal glory and not temporary suffering.

Do you deal with thoughts of suicide? Do you know someone who does? How could this thought of a Savior who has fought and overcome the same temptation bring comfort and encouragement to a life full of pain and heartache? How does Christ’s victory over death heal our broken hearts?

I will leave you with this comforting and hope-filled passage:

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4

Do you need mercy and grace to endure in your time of need? Draw near to Him. He knows you pain and suffering, intimately and personally, and knows how to overcome it.