I originally posted this on Facebook back in 2010. With the new wave of privacy posts going around, I thought we could revisit this.
Very often these days I see a post or a link about the current Facebook policy (or lack thereof) concerning privacy. There’s the Scan for Privacy tool (which I’ve used) and the MoveOn petition. I don’t oppose any of these movements and I think it is good that we’re all evaluating that which is public – intentionally and unintentionally.
This also probes for me a deeper question and – as my ponderings often wander towards – it is a spiritual one. What is the role of privacy in the life of faith?
I’ve often preached that faith is always personal but never private. Our spiritual walks touch us in deeply intimate ways. The still, small voice we hear. The stirring in our souls as we stand in awe of the Creator and creation. The draw to both confession and reconciliation. None of this happens in a vacuum. These are not abstract theological concepts, but inherently and essentially incarnational – embodied, enfleshed. There is skin and bone connected to it, and that is we.
Yet, in my own understanding (and I think this is pretty orthodox for my particular tradition) these deeply personal experiences are not private. They are not to be whispered only to a close circle of friends, not to be recorded in a “locked” note. They are expressions of a much wider and broader community of faith. My epiphanies are not for my own edification. Our lives are not our own. My experience could be an encouragement for another in this walk of faith. My testimony could be a catalyst for another’s change. The Spirit works that way.
So, here’s the rub. If these most sacred experiences – those moments that are most transformational – are not to be kept in privacy, what is the place for privacy?
Acts 2 defines the early Christian community. It says, They held all things in common. While this is explicitly financial in nature (talk about radical de-privatizing), I believe all might actually mean all. All things in common. Money, food, clothes, tools, personal struggles, parenting challenges, fleeing from the empire’s soldiers, prayers, wine, parties, sick parents, terrible bosses, flowers, everything. My joy is your joy; your struggle is my struggle.
Privacy – the right to privacy, the protection of private property – is deeply embedded in our Northern/Western ideals. We disinvest in the common – common land like parks, common education in schools – and lift up privatization (not to mention privatizing profit while making risk shared). And I do mean we. Do I choose to hang out in my fenced in back yard or on the front stoop? Am I feeling public or private?
Of course there is a time and place for a time and a place apart. Jesus went on retreat, climbed the mountain, hid away from the crowds. Often the deeply spiritual moments from me are in the woods.
But what of my life is private? Is privacy actually sinful? Luther – building on Augustine before him – defines sin as being curved in on oneself. Privacy seems fairly inwardly curved.
I write this in part as a public confession. There are aspects of my life that I do not share publicly. And why? Because I just don’t want others to know. In some cases I don’t want to be held accountable for it. A great example: my love for gansta rap. How can I love music that glorifies violence and often degrades women as a pacifist and feminist? Well, I shouldn’t. And if I link to a video for 99 problems or Check Yo Self then this conflict between who I say I am and what I promote is laid bare for all to see – and in the world of Facebook, to comment.
So, for now, most of my content is public. Privacy be damned. That’s what inbox is for.