Performing Life on a Virtual Stage
The word ‘performance’ has received a bad rap in Christian circles. On the one hand, pastors and theologians warn us that we cannot earn salvation by performance, because salvation is a gift. On the other hand, a preeminent virtue among Christians (and society in general) today is authenticity, which often is pitted against mere show and performance. Either way, performance is bad; receiving salvation and living the salvation life with authenticity is good.
But if we are honest, performance is inevitable, and performance is not necessarily a bad thing. Performance is inevitable because life itself a drama (in fact, it’s a theodrama because God is the author and has the primary part) in which we have several roles to play depending on the relationships and interactions we have both inherited and freely chosen. And what is more, these roles—father, daughter, employer, gardener, pastor, plumber, etc.—are not masks concealing our true selves, but authentic ways to act out our identity in the comprehensive theodrama. Of course, those who trust in Jesus as the way, truth and the life have one overarching role—Christian—that gives shape to all the others.
So, being a Christian is a performance in the theodrama, but that does not mean that being a Christian is a matter of earning merit or being hypocritical. Do Christians struggle with performing their role to earn God’s favor or to put on a show before God and everyone else? Yes: if we are being honest, we all do. But this would constitute a poor performance of the Christian role. Faithful and fitting performances are responsive to God’s gracious action, not concerned with putting on a show, but seeking to conform our performance to the preeminent performance of Jesus.
To apply these ideas to one particular area of life, it is interesting to note several recent articles highlighting the ‘performative’ nature of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Peggy Orenstein at the New York Times surmises that we use these sites to construct a unique identity one pithy phrase and status change at a time. In short, Twitter becomes a way for putting on unique performances that set you apart from the other players on the world stage, easily digressing into an exhibition of fictions and falsehoods. Paul Burkhart at Pastrol agrees that Twitter is a performance, but accentuates the fact that this is nothing new, and that it does not destroy the roles we play in everyday relationships. Rather than contributing to inauthentic living, social networking sites like Twitter can actually contribute to faithful and fitting performances in the complex matrix of relationship in what we call life, or if you prefer, the theodrama.
Is Burkhart right? Do people use Facebook and Twitter to promote faithful and fitting performances in the theodrama, or do people mostly use these sites to build inauthentic identities of hypocritical self-expression? What is your experience in using Facebook and Twitter? Do you become someone you are not on these sites? Or do you use them to create a unique stage for your life performance, which you hope is neither hypocritical nor fake? Is your identity on Facebook ‘the real you,’ or is it someone you wish you could be? Are these sites contributing or inhibiting faithful and fitting performances in the theodrama?