Recently I was involved in a conversation about how people use e-mail and other forms of social media in ways which are harmful and even hateful. I made the point that e-mail and media are "too easy" -- so that perhaps people send or post things that they would never say if they had to speak face-to-face or even if they had to write a letter, sign it, and post it for mailing. There is just something too quick, too immediate, and perhaps too unthinking about e-mail; people sometimes say things that they might not say if they had to take some time to think about it. Certainly all of us who are in "public" positions (like any pastor of a church) have received e-mails that reflect this kind of reflex-action.
In the midst of that conversation about how e-mail and social media can be misused, one younger leader said something which caught our attention: "Jesus reads my e-mail." His further explanation was something like this: "Before I hit the Send button, I picture Jesus reading my e-mail and I consider whether Jesus will be glorified or even just pleased by my message."
That is a powerful image! It is kind of like the old "What Would Jesus Do" bracelet that so many youth have worn. It is a way of measuring our actions and our words against the standards that Jesus set in places like the Sermon on the Mount or in his Golden Rule. But the image of Jesus actually reading my e-mail messages, my social media posts, or my notes and letters -- that image has stuck with me.
I find myself asking, "Is Jesus glorified by my words? Do my thoughts, actions, and words reflect the spirit of Christ? Is the Kingdom of God advanced or hindered by my words? Is my electronic presence in the world a good and faithful and positive one? Or to put it simply, is Jesus proud of my e-mail?"
Those discernment questions also raise the issue of the "trivial" use of powerful media. John Wesley urged his followers not to "trifle" away their lives, their witness, and their time. He was not just lamenting laziness, he was calling us to make the best use of our time. I wonder how much time is wasted by trivial messages and posts on social media? I wonder how many times I have used e-mail to try to communicate, when my time would have been better spent by a phone call or a personal meeting? And I wonder if all of us are just a little too addicted to our electronic gadgets?
This electronic age in which we live is amazing, and it has such potential for good. I find my life is better organized by calendars which sync with my wife and my secretary. I am glad to keep in communication with so many people, and I have been told recently that I am the "most accessible" bishop they have ever known. I am delighted to carry around hundreds of photos of my grandkids on my smart phone. It is a joy to have a Bible app which includes dozens of Bible translations on my phone for my reading, study, and prayer. This electronic age offers us a maze of opportunities for ministry and connection with one another; and yet it sometimes keeps us isolated from the kinds of conversations and community which we need as the Body of Christ.
Meanwhile the image sticks with me: Jesus reads my e-mail. And it causes me to think before I hit that Send button.