Lection Connection - Spirit Sightings

June 2, 2019: Haunting Claim of Freedom

From Paul Turley

 

Looking at this text with 21st-century eyes, it might not be as far from our experience as it first seems.

 

Is it too far fetched to see the slave-girl and her hectoring as the social media of her day? As not so far from the unreflective vitriol that bombards us relentlessly in our time? If so, it is hardly surprising that Paul and Silas want not only to silence her but also to shut down the whole enterprise! Will we one day look back at the phenomena of social media and question whether its ability to amplify and broadcast the anger, prejudice, and pain of individuals was of much benefit to us?

 

Of course, any challenge to the power of social media is a challenge not only to free speech but a challenge to those who make vast fortunes from this medium. This complicates the debate about who and how we should hold a national conversation, just as it did for Paul and Silas.

 

And, just as in Paul and Silas’s time when those with the power and money were able to make the world to suit them by having the apostles incarcerated, those who control the social media levers are able to bend power to their will by their easy access to government and even by ignoring government when it suits them, as Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook did to British Parliament during their hearings on social media at the end of 2018.

 

But, just as for the authorities in Paul and Silas’s time, power cannot control everything. Whether it is an earthquake that comes out of nowhere or a horrendous terrorist incident that is livestreamed on Facebook, as we witnessed in New Zealand two months ago, something can happen to upset the plans of even the most powerful.

 

The New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern has developed the Christchurch Call to Action in response to that attack, which Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter have now signed up to, developing a nine-point plan to make their platforms less open to those who want to disseminate terrorist content.

 

Many would argue that what these companies are doing is too little and done to ensure that they will continue to profit from human misery. While in the Paul and Silas story the representative of power asked the fundamental and life-changing question, “What must I do to be saved,” in our story we all seem far from this kind of deep soul-searching.

 

However, if we do have the courage or desperation to ask and respond to this question, our text holds out the hope of restoration of community, of food and shelter for all and the healing of wounds.  

 

Explore…Acts 16:16–34

  • What events can you think of internationally, nationally, or locally where unexpected things have happened, providing an opportunity to re-evaluate or address a problem or need?
  • Where in your community do you see power being misused? What might your community of faith do in response?
  • What would a conversation in your faith community around social media look like?

 

Prayer...

God, our living together in community is the great hope of the gospel. We are called to be one family. Help us not to shut our minds to the joys, possibilities, pain and despair of social media, but to live in hope and expectation and to find ways to use the tools to make us all one. Amen.

 

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