I poked the Pope but he didn’t poke back

It turns out that the pope has his own channel on YouTube. The Vatican channel.

But he doesn’t have a Facebook page. Yet.

I’m supposed to write about culture, but each month I end up writing about Jesus. Because once Jesus gets a hold of you, even when you don’t like him very much because he’s slow or grumpy or doesn’t fit the bill for what you need in a God, you’re stuck. Jesus is sort of with you forever. This means that when you go to the mall, or hear a cello beautifully played, or watch junior high kids at the bus stop, or see a man fall in the parking lot with his walker, you can’t look at the world the same way again. Once Jesus has got a hold of you, everything is bathed in an enormous grace, as if your chest opens and light draws into it and air pulls out and every string of your being is threaded as lightly as prayer. That’s what Jesus does to you. It’s heartbreaking.

So, I decided for this month’s column would be cultural. It would be about Facebook. I don’t have a Facebook page. Each and every time I bring up Facebook with someone, they feel compelled to enlighten me on its merits and, at the same time, they become a bit defensive. The little Freudian in me grows leery and suspicious. Yes, I could see it being fun but after a while, I think I would find myself wondering why I’m whittling away my one life by taking a quiz to see if I’m a pirate or not. I find myself a little disturbed lurking in wall conversations and reading the details and constant barrage of others’ inner thoughts. The worst defense of Facebook is when I hear people say it creates community. Or, this is just plain creepy, they can find out what high school friends are ‘up to these days’ (stalking). Or, the slightly shaming “well if you’re going to keep up with culture these days, you have to be part of Facebook.”

Besides being a pastor, I am a part-time mortician’s assistant. So, I go out with a mortician in a van and pick up the dead where they happen to be. I have realized that in my short time working this job, I often learn more about someone by retrieving their dead body than I can working next to them in a cube for a year. I see the pieces of their life around them: the pictures, the worn shoes, the coffee cup left on the counter. I see the books on their shelves and their medications on the bathroom sink, the piano in the corner with open music, the cross-stitch pillows. Death is not an option, you know. Each one of us is given this life, momentarily, and beneath and beyond this floating wreck of our lives together is something more. And community, in all its vagaries and small wonders, has a lot to do with being in a body. And so I think I agree with the Pope on this one. Nothing is inherently wrong or bad about Facebook, but it can never replace, or even come close, to replicating real embodied human contact.

Later this month is Ash Wednesday. If you go to church on this day, you will likely find your self with a smear of burnt palm ashes on your forehead, shaped more or less like a cross. Someone will say “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” and you’ll smile or look down and nod and rise from your knees and walk back to your pew. But it won’t take long for you to forget your dust; it’s part of being dust to forget, even if you faithfully and attentively trek down the forty days of Lent. But it all really leads to this: Jesus, our God, comes into this life in a body. Born as a vulnerable infant, dying a real death, he calls us into community by dying with us, and then rising, telling us as he does to his disciples in Luke’s gospel, “to touch and see” his wounds. And then, when our bodies grow weary and we in turn die, Jesus offers us a hand so we might be raised.

We chew, we eat, we drink, we drown, we touch. We love and we suffer. And as we do so, together we remember that each one of us is blessed by God. We are called to care for one another, for our bodies are now, through Christ, holy places. Facebook is fine, but it isn’t really real. No. Real is the wash of light as we lean into touch a loved one’s face, that terrible, taut hope when we find ourselves succumbing.