Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
Whenever I’ve picked up John Bunyan’s classic of Christian fiction The Pilgrim’s Progress, I’ve been struck by two things: (1) Bunyan names his characters with all the subtlety of J.K. Rowling, and (2) the book seems to have an extremely weak theology of the Church. We could explain both of these things in four words (“he was a Puritan”), but let me see if I can unpack the second one a bit more.
For the uninitiated, the book functions as something of an extended metaphor (an “allegory,” if you will) for the Christian life, envisioned as sort of a long hike. Our main character, cleverly named Christian, discovers that he’s carrying a mysterious burden of sin on his back; he sets out to get rid of the thing, and from there he soldiers on to the Celestial City (and I haven’t finished the book yet, but I’m pretty sure that’s where the Wizard of Oz lives).
My main issue with the metaphor is that Christian makes his journey essentially alone; at any given time he has at most one companion. In other words, there is no Church. Jesus didn’t come to establish a place of refuge for sinners; He came to pave a path. Walk it if you can, chump.And that’s okay. Some people you meet, fall in love with, and marry (usually just a few); some people come into your life for a season, and then they’re gone. God gives you to each other briefly, and then He takes you away from each other.
That’s fine, I guess; all metaphors break down eventually, and really I should just be impressed that a Puritan even knew what a metaphor was, I suppose. And if we’re honest about it, there is something insightful about the way characters drop in and out of (and sometimes back into) Christian’s life, because that’s often how real life is. Your best friend might move away in fifth grade; you might think your life as you know it is over; then a month later you’ll realize things are okay. Maybe you’ll see him in 20 years and realize you have nothing to talk about anymore. Maybe you don’t share his newfound obsession with fantasy football, and he just doesn’t understand your deep, vibrant appreciation for furry culture, or something.
And that’s okay. Some people you meet, fall in love with, and marry (usually just a few); some people come into your life for a season, and then they’re gone. God gives you to each other briefly, and then He takes you away from each other.
At least, that was how things worked before social media was a thing.
In the (obligatory) DARK, GRITTY reboot of Pilgrim’s Progress set in the modern era, Christian would no doubt carry a rope named Facebook with him and immediately tether himself to everyone he met, and then drag them all behind him while they shouted racist things and threw inane pictures of Minions at him. Could even the Cross lift such a burden?
(Well, I mean, I’d hope, but who knows? Those Minions are…tenacious. They’re already on, what, their third sequel?)
The only relief would come in the form of unfriending, which in this metaphor, I guess would entail Hopeful, or Pliable, or Wishy-Washy But Fun At Parties cutting his end of the rope and running off. And then everything would be groovy till Christian decided to haul on the rope to see how the friend in question was doing these days, only to find they were no longer there. And then he’d mutter to himself, “Hmm, I thought the cacophony of status updates sounded slightly less racist.”
We’ve all been there, man. You go to check on how “Friend X” is doing, only to find out he’s just “X” now. It’s hard not to take it personally, but it let’s be honest with ourselves: it’s almost never personal. Usually, Friend X was just pruning back their unwieldy friends list, or they just decided the chapter of their life that featured you was closed, or they just didn’t dig the sort of stuff you post. Statistically, not everyone is going to want to be your friend. The best thing to do is probably just to thank God for the time they were in your life and move on.
But who am I kidding? Of course we don’t actually do that. Not when our egos are on the line!
Enter a new iOS app, cleverly titled Who Deleted Me? (I guess John Bunyan is naming apps now), which recently shot to the top of the App Store charts and managed to crash its own servers before Facebook finally pulled the plug by denying it access. Before it destroyed itself under the weight of its own popularity, though, Who Deleted Me? would notify users whenever one of their friends cut it off — which in this metaphor is like…Christian installing alarms on his Facebook Rope? Or something?
Y’know what? Metaphors are hard. I’m starting to see what Bunyan was up against.
Metaphors aside, though, can anyone explain the point of this app to me? I mean, maybe it sounds nice at first — maybe right now you’re saying “Facebook tells me who friends me…why not have it tell me who unfriends me?”
Well, first off, stop talking to yourself. That’s weird. And second, what would you even do with that information? So you just found out your ex-best-friend’s Minion-loving aunt unfriended you…now what? Do you contact her and demand an explanation? Spend the rest of your life obsessively wondering why? Just…forget about it? How is that information even remotely useful?
What would our many-Facebook-Rope-tentacled Christian do in our story when his alarm went off? (Seriously, metaphors are so confusing, you guys.) Just pretend he didn’t hear it, just like I do when my ‘take your meds’ alarm goes off? Burst into tears? Chase after Temporary, or whomever, shouting “Why??? WHYYYYYYY??? WHY WON’T YOU LOVE MEEEEEEE?!?!?!?!” (Coincidentally, that was how I proposed to my wife.)
If anything, that’s an even greater burden to bear than the friends alone.
To answer this dilemma, I’ll have to continue to be a #basic evangelical and quote from that other titan of not-terribly-subtle Protestant allegories, C.S. Lewis, who wrote in Mere Christianity that “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” If we aspire to be humble before God and man — as we should — then we ought to spend very little time thinking about whether everyone we’ve ever met likes us, and infinitely more time asking ourselves how we can serve the ones God has placed in our lives for the moment. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, and all that.
And the burden of ego is one that has crushed many under its weight.