Today: Monday, December 09, 2019

Social networking - for good or bad    (8/14/2011 )

Since we’re talking about social networking in this series, we can hardly fail to mention the role it played in the riots and looting in London over the past week. Such scenes of violence, greed and disregard for fellow human beings, on such a scale, must never have been seen before in England.

The news made much of the fact that the criminals involved used social networking to co-ordinate their activities. Apparently, Twitter and the free chat system offered by Blackberry phones (BBM) played a particularly big part, as did Facebook—where some looters proudly posted photos of themselves posing with their stolen goods. Now, there are calls in government for the police to have the power to temporarily shut down Twitter and BBM in future.

I feel that’s like banning cameras because some people use them to take immoral photos. Plus, many people have rightly commented that these social networks were just as effective in co-ordinating forces for good—London’s ‘clean-up crews’ also used Twitter, Facebook and BBM to invite others to join in, to decide where to meet, and to tell each other where pockets of greatest need were.

One of the posts which was circulating on Facebook last week, shared by many on their own walls, was a call to pray for the rioting and looting to come to an end as soon as possible. I must admit I did not pray for that… which sounds awful of me, so why not?

Because I felt that we had reached a tipping point. There are many things wrong with our society, and we have become far too obsessed with the self, the individual; with material good, with our ‘rights’—in a country where the vast majority of us have everything we need and a lot of what we want. Now, finally, we were seeing what happens when the sort of behaviour Jesus repeatedly warned us against takes the upper hand—and I felt we needed to see it.

I thought perhaps God was holding up a mirror to us, and we needed to take a good, hard look at ourselves. Pulling down the curtain on all this too quickly would make the riots just a sudden glitch we could too quickly sweep under the carpet. Instead, I prayed for God’s will, and that no one would die.

One of the most iconic images from the riots has to be one of the YouTube videos I saw posted on Facebook, of a young Malaysian student sitting bleeding by the side of the road (it turned out he had a broken jaw), having been attacked by rioters. The clip showed another man helping the student to his feet and walking with him a few paces. Then a third approached—but started to rifle through the student’s backpack. Immediately, two others joined in (including the original helper!) before walking off with his possessions, leaving the bewildered student alone again.

Jesus was asked how a person can get into heaven; the answer is to love God with all your might, and to love your neighbour as yourself. When the questioner asked who one’s neighbour is, he told the parable of the good Samaritan.

It struck me immediately that the clip of the young Malaysian student is an almost perfect opposite of the good Samaritan story. It took a few days for the secular media to catch on, but then they, too began talking about the ‘bad Samaritan’. And the clip has shocked the world.

Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, God gets involved—online, on the streets, in our homes. This week we had good and bad doing battle online as well as on the streets. And I think we had an important reminder of the need to ask ourselves which side we’re on, and where the important lessons on how to live our lives come from.

Pray: Lord, help me to love my neighbour as I do myself - even, and especially, when that's so hard to do. Amen.

Think about: Many of the looters and rioters on England's streets took what they thought belonged to the rich, seeing themselves therefore as the poor. How poor are they really, in a welfare state with benefits and healthcare provided? How does that kind of poverty, where the first thing you 'need' is a high-definition TV, compare with this?

Challenge: It's easy for us to quickly feel indignant and angry when we feel we've been slighted by another, or when what we see as our 'rights' are infringed. So this week, let's all try to hold back - to see every person we meet, whatever they do, as a neighbour whom Jesus commended us to love. After all, no matter what they do, he loves them just as much.

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