When my stake president set me apart to serve as a missionary, his blessing included the claim that I was going to this mission at this time because I would meet people who would respond to the gospel as delivered by me, who might not accept the gospel from someone else. I wish I had a transcription of that (the stake president wouldn’t let me record it) so I could get the wording right. I didn’t think his words meant that anyone’s acceptance of the gospel depended solely on my knocking on their door – that would be rather counter to several principles of the gospel, I think – but he certainly made me feel that I wasn’t just preaching to the world at large, but looking for specific people who would respond to the message in the way I brought it..
I believed him, and I looked for those people. Twice I thought I had identified them … but because I was transferred virtually every month, I never got to stay around long enough to see anything develop. That’s one of the unresolved issues from my mission, 30 years on – I want to believe that there is something unique about me, and that God can use that uniqueness somehow, but what do you do when you fail, even when the failure was due at least in part to another’s agency?
Anyway. I’ve been thinking about that stake president’s blessing in connection with Elder Bednar’s call to “sweep the earth” with testimony via social media.
Because Elder Bednar’s examples mostly concerned content created by the Church – the “Because of Him” video, for instance – much of the ensuing discussion has been a howl of ridicule. Just what we need. Everybody posting the same content. Everywhere. Endlessly. Whether appropriate to the venue or not.
I agree with that sentiment, to the extent that I don’t enjoy, don’t take seriously, don’t repost the same old stuff that is posted or tweeted or linked by multitudes of friends and friends-of-friends. I don’t enjoy soundbites printed in curly script on pastel backgrounds, posted and reposted ad nauseum. If I thought that was all Elder Bednar had in mind, I’d rebel, too.
But I don’t think that’s what Elder Bednar asked for at all.
Consider his discussion of the #ldsconf Twitter hashtag. Neither the Church nor any other group or individual provides content for those tweets. They depend entirely on you for content, if you participate. What did you think about such-and-such a talk? How did you respond when Sister So-and-So reminded you of such-and-such? Yes, you could tweet inane drivel about tie colors or how you just lurve President Uchtdorf – but you could also tweet a quotable line, or your heartfelt response to some principle, in as elegant terms as 140 characters will permit.
Elder Bednar expects us to create our own content on other platforms, too. When he mentioned the images made available by the Church for members to use in their social media, I don’t think he had in mind merely slapping a picture from that collection into your Facebook or Instagram accounts. Rather, I’m pretty sure he meant we could use those images to illustrate our own content, created by us. I don’t think I’m all that different from the friends you’d hope to reach – I pay far more attention to a few lines composed by somebody I know than to any link to somebody else’s production.
Elder Bednar called for “authenticity” in our communications. Sometimes an LDS meme may convey exactly what you feel, in words you cannot muster yourself. I suppose in that case it is authentic to repost it. But may I suggest that you add a few words of your own? Not merely “I really like this video” or “This video says it all for me,” but something personal – authentic – like “When I had to take my mother back to the hospital last week, I found myself repeating the words of Jesus Christ that are the heart of this video,” or “The reason I’m sharing this video is because …” Something personal. Something your own. Something of yourself that the Lord can use to speak to your friends. Something that tells your friends that you do believe, and aren’t just clicking “share” because it’s so easy.
Elder Bednar didn’t specifically mention blogs among social media, but I think blogs – especially those with friendly and familiar commenters like Keepa’s – are very much social media. Keepa is chiefly my platform, but it is in part yours, too. I almost never (have I ever?) borne a classic Fast Day testimony here (“I know the Church is true. I know …”) but I hope there is no doubt that I bear another kind of testimony, one that is authentic, and consistent, and fits all Elder Bednar’s criteria for the material he hopes will “sweep the earth.” When I write about a Latter-day Saint of the past, it’s because I can see the hand of God in his or her life a little more clearly than in my own. When I write about that Latter-day Saint doing extraordinary things simply by being the kind of person he or she ought to be, I’m really testifying that our lives shaped by our Church experience are good, and that we can see the fruits of the gospel in our own and each other’s lives. When I post something of our cultural past, it’s because I love us, and I love what makes us us. That’s a testimony, as surely as any classically worded one, and I think you who keep coming back, who comment freely or who use Keepa stories in your talks and lessons, share that testimony. Sometimes sharing a Keepa story may be a friendlier, less in-your-face way of bearing testimony, especially to friends whose world views are not exactly compatible with bold, declarative testimonies.
So, I suppose my thoughts on Elder Bednar’s request are that we can and ought to adapt the request to our own capacity. We ought all to create some content, whether it’s commenting positively on some post, here or elsewhere, that endorses a gospel point; or adding a few lines of personal thought before clicking the “share” button on ready-made media; or finding our own novel bits of text to share – maybe from family history, or faithful daily life, or anything else that isn’t currently bouncing around everybody’s news feed – that expresses a positive idea, or that is funny, or poignant, or heartfelt, that will catch some reader’s eye and, if even for a moment, give him or her a glimpse of what the gospel means to you.
Thanks for helping to make Keepa the kind of place that lets me hope that my stake president’s blessing is finally coming to pass.