The perils of social media for the unchaste fingers…

I was over in Glasgow today with Emily, who looks like she is going to continue her 6th year studies at a Cardonald College. It was a gorgeous hot day and we went by ferry train and bus. The first two were efficient and pleasant, the latter far less so.

At some point of the journey, as you do, I picked up an abandoned newspaper of the tabloid variety, and found myself reading about a Vicar called Paul Shakerley, a (loose) Canon of the C of E in Doncaster who (shockingly) was recorded as having a pierced tongue. Perhaps this was some kind of behaviour modification technique to control his utterances, but unfortunately he seems to have been less careful about his Facebook status updates;

“I think I will put my feet up. I’ve done f**k all today other than jazz lesson and visit a friend. I hear the fizz of tonic in my gin beckoning. Alas, I have religion tomorrow. At least I’m not preaching this week. Preaching next week at St Mary Abbotts Kensing-ton though. Best make that a good one eh?”

‘Piss myself! H, you are so funny!!! It was good to share over lunch yesterday and at the URC Homelessness “event”. I say “event”. It was hardly worship, was it?

‘I hope you managed to get home okay. It was late by the time the URC and Methodists finished. Good job we are Anglicans eh?’

The ‘do religion’ bit made me laugh out loud, as did a Facebook group he joined called ‘I want to get back with my ex…!’…LOL jk…I’d rather s*** in my hands and clap!’.

I suspect I would like this bloke. I would not want to be his Bishop though. I hope he comes through this bit of silly season journalism intact. I should add that I have absolutely no problem with a swearing vicar, and suspect that Jesus would not have either.

We people who display our lives on line- through whatever combination of narcissism, grandiosity and strivings after significance- we constantly make decisions about what is appropriate to share with others. For people like me, this all started as exercise in honest creativity, but often I find myself wondering if I expose too much.

Old habist die hard though…


One of my old schoolmates posted this on Facebook recently. I must have been around 8 or 9 when it was taken. I will let you guess which one of this fine group of students is me. Mrs Ellis’s Class, Croft Primary School, circa 1975.

The fact is, I remember very little from my childhood. Through the joys of Facebook, a number of folk have made contact with me, and invited me to join other school pages/groups for secondary school too. They always seem to know far more about my school days than I do.

This might be because I have a poor memory, but also is something to do with poor memories. Mine was not a happy childhood- neither at home nor at school- too much difficulty, awkwardness, bullying and violence in both places. The end result was that childhood for me was all about insecurity and isolation. My lovely big sister had a rather different experience- she was cleverer and far more articulate than me so could hide her insecurities much better. I have spent the last 30 years slowly trying to rediscover me. It is a work in progress, and looking back at these ghosts makes it seem a lot closer.

However, the trip down memory lane, painful and fractured as the memories are, forced me to count blessings too. The secondary school that I attended (not the one above) was a rather experimental ‘Community School’- located in the middle of our small Nottinghamshire town, with ice rinks and sports halls, day centres and adult education all mixed in. The building was open plan and teachers and adult learners mingled with us all on first name terms. The experimental nature of the school did not survive long- scandals over the so called teaching of swear words and loose discipline found the front page of The Sun, and there was a conservative fight back after Thatcher came to power.

But something of this school made me who I am. The fierce sense of social justice, the love of English literature. These are friendly ghosts. They can stay.

Dunbar’s number and Facebooking…

I was reminded today of Dunbar’s number– the theoretical numerical limit of people that we can maintain meaningful relationship with- relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person in the group.

The suggestion made is that for groups to be cohesive and integrated beyond this number, then increasingly rules and enforced norms have to be used. Dunbar proposed this number as a result of studying primate groups.

The number has been argued about in anthropological circles, but is somewhere between 100-150.

Strangely this number corresponds to the average number of Facebook friends (I have around 120 I think. Michaela has many more, but then she is a very sociable kind of monkey.) I have written before about how Facebook, useful and clever though it is, can reduce communication to a kind of cyber-autism.

The other figure that is relevant though is the number of people with whom you can sustain intimate, deeper friendship- our close community. This is a much smaller number- usually thought to be between 5 and 10.

Even if these figures are more or less accurate (and we humans form a broad bell curve on just about everything) then so what?

If these numbers are a feature of the limitations of our cerebral cortex as Dunbar suggested, then it would mean that we humans (who are above all things SOCIAL animals) are at our best in small groups.

There are clear evolutionary and anthropological implications for this- but of course, I am interested too in the theological ones. These are the things that seemed important to me-

Jesus called us to live in communities, where we might learn to practice the mysterious and challenging ways of love.

And although this love was never intended to be restricted to our small groups, we simply can not be all things to everyone. Start with were you are, and seek to live graciously and generously. Accepting that you will fail.

And there will be some who we are called towards deeper relationship with- soul friendship.

This kind of relationship requires so much more than informational exchange, status updates and Mafia wars games.

It needs flesh.

Loneliness and the agents of the Kingdom…

There has been a lot in the news recently about loneliness.

One in 10 Britons often feel lonely, and those aged 18-34 are more likely to worry about being isolated than older adults, according to a Mental Health Foundation report.

Four in 10 have been depressed because of loneliness, and 48% believe people are becoming lonelier.

While 17% of over-55s worry about being alone, 36% of under-35s do.

The elderly, jobless and those who are disabled are most likely to be affected.

Persistent loneliness is bad for people’s mental and physical health and can be linked to stress, heavy drinking and poor diet, says the charity.

Peter Byrne, associate registrar of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Our stereotype of the older person, home alone … is challenged by information [showing] the number of children calling a helpline who are lonely has increased by 60% in five years.”

The Guardian- here.

I find myself interested for several different reasons-

I work in a mental health setting, and the role of community and social support is being ever more recognised as both cause and potential recovery of mental ill health.

I am interested in the role of social networking (and other on line health and social care platforms) in supporting us- and have a strong feeling that our reliance on the web is contributing to the isolation of many people. The stats above for example suggest that loneliness is especially concerning in the ‘facebook generation’- who might have three hundred on line friends, but no-one to go to the pictures with at the weekend.

This is a recurrent theme on this blog- here for example.

It is also a key theme for our Greenbelt worship event this year.

Here is the question- if the statistics suggesting that loneliness, isolation and disconnectedness are increasingly defining characteristics of our society- then what should be the role of we, the agents of the Kingdom of the living (relational) God?

Who made us in a way to be at our best when we love and serve one another?

As we seek to serve those around us, how might we need to structure our activities to better shine light and sprinkle salt to bring out the good flavours of the societies we serve?

It used to be the strength of our institutions of faith- the way we brought together and unified our communities (sometimes for ill as well as good.) We birthed a thousand community groups- womens groups, mens groups, kids groups. And we served our communities at points of crisis and celebration in a way that marked and deepened our understandings of transitions.

We still do many of those things- but perhaps we need to think outside of the boxes in which we currently work within. There is great need out there…