August 7, 2019

Hypothesis: More people pray when scrolling through Facebook than in church.

Here is a bit of observational comedy I have tried to say from stage, but has fallen flat: “The number of friends you have on Facebook is directly proportional to how long it takes you to scroll through your newsfeed before you find a dead dog.” 

I know it is crass, but I was thinking of it as simple truth-humor. It never takes me more than forty seconds to achieve the above. When I find a Facebook dog-bituary, there are usually two or three heart-stirring pictures, first of the young frisky pup, then the old limping mutt with that cataract stare. The comment is heartbreaking.  “Oh, how I am going to miss FriskyPooh, my sweetest friend and companion for thirteen years.” (FriskyPooh was my childhood-to-teenhood beagle, by the way, and I miss him to this day.)

When one sees such a post, one is obliged into action. I mean I was raised right, as they say where I’m from. Which is to say, I come from a family of — albeit whacky — gracious folk. I know what my mother would say, my mother who never knew anything even slightly analogous to Facebook.  (Mark Zuckerburg was six when she died.) But when I see a post of illness or grief, I encounter my mother’s specter looking over my shoulder at the screen. She is lighting a Winston and employing her ungracious tone that always demanded graciousness – what I call her thank-you-note voice.  She says, “You had better respond to your friend’s post and offer condolences. It’s the right thing to do and you know it. Now quit scrolling and start typing.”

I grew up in a seven-hundred member church, which means we would have about ninety people in regular attendance on Sunday morning. The kids in my Sunday school class were also kids I saw at my elementary school. There were around twenty-five students in my classroom. Outside of social media – in a natural pre-electronic life – we probably know about one hundred folks. There are maybe fifty to whom you would write condolence notes, fifteen or twenty who’s funerals we would go out of our way to attend. 

Just as humans have had to adjust to the speed and frequency of the technology of communication, I have had to adjust to an ever-greater volume of social obligation.

Okay, so, at the top of this, referring to the Facebook feed thing: at my age, what I said about my friends’ dogs, I could have just as easily said about my friends’ parents.  Or friends themselves. You know what I mean. 

And how do we respond when we read these reports of ill health or grief on our computers or tablets or phones? What do we say after we have clicked the heart or teary-eyed emoji?

“I am thinking of you and keeping you in my prayers.” 

And that’s what we do, don’t we?

We pause. 

We think about.

We pray. 

Amen. 

And we continue scrolling. 

© Andy Offutt Irwin

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