There’s an awful division afoot and we like to think of it as a modern thing, never more necessary than in times like these. But it is a recycled conversation with different nouns and the same adjectives. The question is this: is it better to be realistic about how things are or optimistic about how they might be? The answers are varied, but they’re everywhere and all along a spectrum.
Who Is Real?
In social media, some find themselves nestled in the tell-all spot, unfiltered and funny. Yet their everyman readers feel hoodwinked when they meet their seeming kindred-spirit and find out she has veneers and hair extensions and a nanny for her kids, and few of the real problems her readers are actually facing.
Then there are the sweetly optimistic ones, those who point to beauty, truth, goodness, whose photos are always just so and whose lives always feel slightly out of reach from the reader. There is something mysterious about them. In person they are sincere if a bit shy, and they struggle to mingle with the crowd and so appear aloof and unapproachable.
One puts her worst foot forward and turns out more polished than expected, the other puts her best foot forward and turns out to be a bit disappointing. Which one is the more real one?
In the world of female social media users, this is a real conversation in the hallways and byways. In almost every female group I am a part of (writers, editors, thought-leaders, church, and friends, etc.), there are folks with strong opinions either way. I’ve heard folks decry the former woman for only being “real” as much as it makes her a living, and lament the latter for being too distanced from the real world, holding up impossible standards for women.
How does a woman navigate this?
Uniformity Is Not Ideal
In my church we have a saying, “It’s okay to not be okay.” Sometimes it is followed by the words, “but it’s not okay to stay that way.” Both of those sayings are good, but they are best when yoked together. The former alone leaves us to our muck and mire, with no hope or future. The latter alone makes growth feel impossible, unreachable. Together they give permission to be real about our sin and permission to hope in the gospel—and not always at the same time. There are days we just need permission to be real about today. And sometimes we can’t help but be hopeful about tomorrow.
When we want uniformity, we do a major disservice to the Church. The process of sanctification is one of faith to faith and glory to glory. No one is who they were ten years ago or two years ago or two weeks ago. We grow, we change, we fall, we wake up, we sleep, we are dormant, we bear fruit, we are sad, we mourn, we grow, we change, we fall, we get back up.
Lamenting Christian Celebrity Culture
The real lamentable thing about Christian celebrity culture—and the ways social media is used to curate it—is we come to expect a mere human to remain unchanged. We expect they will always have Cheetos stuck to their sweaters and grubby handprints on walls and will never have their hair done or lipstick on. Or we expect that because a person loves beauty and lifts it high wherever possible, that there is nothing ugly or ordinary and human about them. We cannot bear to think our idols are not gold all the way through.
Isaiah 30:22 says, “…defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, ‘Be gone!'”
Sometimes it is for the influencer to smash their idol of personal persona, and sometimes it is for the followers to smash their idol of expectations. If followers have an expectation of an unchanging person or a person who is seamless all the way through, it’s the expectation that is wrong, and not necessarily the person they follow. We make enemies of the “celebrity Christians” but most of us don’t set out to become celebrities, and none of us can stand for long on the platform that made us if it’s not the sure foundation of Christ alone.
We All Need Refining
Whatever gifts we bring to the table, whatever thing makes folks want to follow us, they must be refined and proven too. If they are not, and if followers begin to count on a person always and only ever being about One Thing (and not the gospel), this is how celebrity culture is formed—and one reason we are seeing so many topple these days. Our message isn’t that we’re realists or optimists or we love beauty or we never use filters. Our message cannot be that we never look at our muck with honest eyes. It cannot be that we never look to Christ, our hope and sure fulfillment. We have to hold all things lightly, loosely, and in tension, or we’ll become the idol making factories of which John Calvin spoke.
How do we topple the idols within celebrity culture? One expectation at a time, both of ourselves and of others. We remove the overlay and the gold-plated exterior and become honest about the wood or carvings beneath them, the worthless bobbles we use as social currency. Then we crush them by being honest about Cheerios on the kitchen floor and age spots forming on our cheeks and the days we wake up sad. And instead of expecting us to be happy clappy Christians, remembering the gospel in the midst of discouragement, we remind one another again and again of who our Father and King and Holy Spirit is. This is how we do it.
We are all humans, even those with hundreds of thousands of followers on social media and mega-churches and book contracts and homes looking straight out of Pinterest and podcasts where we’re funny or smart or sharp or clear. And that’s a blessedly beautiful and most uniform truth because it means we’re all beggars in search of the only one who satisfies.