“…the secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is.”

— Ann Voskamp

Social media has offered up all kinds of fascinating trends in recent years, from the cute and entertaining (Grumpy Cat, poor Charlie’s brother’s finger, breaded animals) to the weird and bizarre (people of Walmart, Harlem Shake, planking, Baby Cha-Cha). For the most part, the memes and remixes that populate our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest feeds are all in good fun.

Lately, though, the Christian blogosphere has been agitated over one “troubling” trend: “Man Crush Monday” and its sister “Woman Crush Wednesday.”

Here are the rules of that game: Every Monday, share a picture of a man you’re crushing on; every Wednesday, do the same for a woman. Tag them #mcm and #wcw. The overall effect of the hundreds of thousands of participants is to load timelines across the globe with “crush-worthy” men or women (which, at least on my feeds, seems to amount to an endless stream of Channing Tatums and Rihannas).

For Christians who wish to take part, the pitfalls are obvious: Lust. Idolatry. Warped perspectives on beauty and sexuality. Christians analyzing the trend have generally agreed on what notes to sound in response: “disturbing”; “lustful, wrong, and hypocritical”; a “plague” perpetuated by “pig[s]”.

Indeed, on the surface, the issue seems pretty clear: If we’re rating the practice of posting pictures of half-clothed men and women online on a scale of “worldly,” this one’s a 10. Questions over how Christians should behave on social media is only the most recent in a long history of theologians and lay practitioners’ attempts to navigate culture and the latest technology in a godly way.

But I would encourage us to take a step back and see not so much what is wrong here, what is to be condemned and rejected, but rather what fascinations like these say about our culture and how we, as the church, might intervene in a redeeming way.

In examining the popularity of #mcm and #wcw, what I first found is that these two weekly “traditions” are part of a larger weekday hashtagging trend. In fact, there is now a hashtag for nearly every day of the week. We also have:

  • #tt or Transformation Tuesday, where you post a before/after picture. Haircuts, home remodels, vehicle rebuilds, and wardrobe makeovers are all fair game.
  • #tbt or Throwback Thursday, where you post a picture from your past: shots of a high school football game, your grandparents’ wedding day, the original Nintendo you uncovered in your attic.
  • #ff or Follow Friday, where you promote a friend, role model, celebrity, or business you think others should follow.
  • #ss or Selfie Sunday: Get your mirror and iPhone; pucker those lips; use a good filter!

Users of these weekday hashtags have effectively created a series of daily traditions to gather around, small celebrations in which their friends can share, moments in which they are all agreeing to appreciate and uplift a similar value or ideal.

In fact, I would argue that this trend can give us some serious insight into the hopes, dreams, and desires of our culture:

We seek beauty.

We seek relationship.

We value life and its trajectory.

We crave transformation.

We want to be valued.

 What context could call more clearly for the gospel?

Man Crush Monday and Woman Crush Wednesday don’t just show a culture consumed by superficiality and lust. They show a culture longing for a deeper understanding of beauty and relationship.

Transformation Tuesday isn’t just a chance to brag about upgraded, updated lifestyles. It’s a moment signifying the value we place on the ability to change and our hopes that things can get better.

Throwback Thursday is more than sentimentalism and nostalgia. It’s our appreciation for the trajectory of life and the passage of time.

Follow Friday does more than puff up our fan base and hint for a #followback. It shows we’re looking for connection and relationship, reaching out to validate others and in turn be validated.

And Selfie Sunday isn’t just self-promotion with duck faces and figure-flattering filters. It’s a call to be appreciated for our uniqueness, to be loved in a way that — oh, if we could only imagine this! — may one day not require us to conceal our flaws.

These longings are conveyed in days that may seem off base; sexualized images designed for mass consumption are certainly not God’s ideal of beauty. But the desires they represent — the longings behind the posts that so many individuals throw into cyberspace every day of the week, every week of the year — should be a moment of clarity for Christians. Why don’t we respond with empathy rather than judgment? Rather than shutting down our accounts, why don’t we stick around and see if we might find ways to intervene?

While one option is to find appropriate ways to participate in these trends, another is merely to allow the trends to remind us of our culture’s needs and to find ways to step in. How can we show the world more of God’s standards for beauty? How might we convey more clearly the relationship Christ seeks with us? How can we more openly reflect the spiritual transformation, self-worth, and purposeful life the gospel provides?

We can do it online — with pictures or text — or we can do it in our everyday lives. What we shouldn’t do is judge, condemn, step out of the game, and leave the world hanging.