Facebook and Com-boxes

My brother priest Fr Jonathan Munn shows sympathy for whom he calls “the administrators of a certain Sarum-based Facebook group“. I thank him for his discretion. I am the founder of Use of Sarum on Facebook, and my other brother priest, Fr Andrew Scurr, is a co-administrator, something which is useful now that we are 1,720 members. Fr Jonathan has expressed himself in Being right in the com-box.

Just after the little rififi of someone asking a genuine question about the Use of Sarum on behalf of a female member of the clergy of some institutional Church, and someone expressing surprise by this seeming act of collaboration or treason, I wrote a posting. I later followed it by a comment in the light of some of the things written by other people’s comments.

Just a little housekeeping reminder: There has been a posting which seems to have disappeared, about finding texts in English of the Sarum Missal. I added a comment linking to some Word documents that can be formatted and printed as anyone wants. There was something of a dispute about the original post referring to a clergy woman and someone expressing surprise. I belong to a Church that doesn’t ordain women. However, the subject is not germane to this group and we need to avoid polemics and potential nastiness. Please respect the mind of this group that I have tried to convey: polite conversation about the Sarum and other medieval western liturgical traditions and something of the spirit of a university seminar. We can also discuss practical matters, but please keep the polemics away.

I have to say that I have accepted members onto this list via the criterion of not accepting those who are extremely unlikely to be interested in the subject matter, or who join hundreds of groups for the purpose of promoting their particular agenda, marketing, spamming or scamming. There are borderline requests by people in other parts of the world, at least interested in Christianity, and I just have to assume they want to learn about something new for them. Also, there are requests from clergy and laity of the Church of England or the American Episcopal Church, some of whom are female clergy. I resolved from the beginning to accept requests on the basis of at least a potential interest in the Use of Sarum (and other medieval liturgical traditions). I have implicitly trusted such female clergy not to promote their convictions in this domain. I myself have a sister going for ordination in the Church of England, and I belong to a Church that doesn’t ordain women. What do I do? Live in perpetual conflict, or come to understandings on another basis? In the end of the day, we are not here to worry about other people (unless they come to us for help and advice) but the health of our own souls. Such “another basis” can be the subject of this group – the Use of Sarum. We are now 1,698 members, and we are not all from the same institutional Church with the same orthodoxies. I went from that basis because I believe that the study and use of the Sarum liturgy cannot be restricted to any one institutional Church or system of orthodoxy. I took a risk that it would all implode or explode, but so far, some very good work has been done and made known. Let us continue on that basis…

These unpleasant episodes happen. I have long experience with blogging & flogging, people with fanatical emotional reactions and the Nozzle of Weirdness as a Canadian journalist I know put it. Maybe for many of us, being put into lockdown and then brought out of it and told there is still a risk of infection is getting to our subconsciousness and affecting our rational faculties. I am not joking or making fun.

Fr Andrew and I keep a watch on this kind of thing, not because it brings personal suffering, but because it can cause a group dedicated to its subject to collapse into a polemical and off-topic mess. It has happened on groups dedicated to vestments and clerical dress and even some of my sailing groups where religion is generally not discussed. Things have to be nipped in the bud.

Supposing the group had to be restricted to traditionist Roman Catholics, I doubt there would have been ten members. The subject would be demolished by the idea that Sarum isn’t explicitly allowed in the Roman Catholic Church, then by speculations about the Pope, Our Lady of Fatima and other apocalyptic messages, which priests are valid, etc. usque ad nauseam… We could be all Continuing Anglicans or Methodists or the Church of England. There would be no point. The question cannot be entrusted to any institutional Church or members only of that institution. I have said it all in my two quotes above. We come from everywhere and we have the Use of Sarum as a common interest. Otherwise there is no relationship between all those 1,720 people who don’t know each other for the most part.

Personally, I have become utterly exhausted by polemics over the subjects that have been debated for decades. There is no end of it. From all points of view, it erodes the very point of Christian faith and spirituality, bringing out a sense of boredom and ἀκηδίαsee more adventures of Micky Drivel next week

It is easy to become upset with Facebook, but without it there would only be silence. It has replaced the old Yahoo e-mail lists with a user-friendly and graphic interface that makes it possible to include photos and links to websites. Facebook can have constructive uses if the limits are firmly set. Otherwise, without any self-moderation, it becomes an addiction for empty and frustrated souls, d’où the phenomenon of trolling and other uncivil behaviours.

We can simply moderate threads with just the right amount of force made possible by excluding offenders who are unwilling to explain themselves rationally and respectfully. That prevents us from having to close the group and deprive many genuine liturgical students and enquirers from the intended benefit of what I created, motivated by my own interest in the subject.

Sometimes, people ask to join the group. At first, I put questions to try to find out whether they were actually interested in the subject. Then some were not answering the questions, but were manifestly interested in Christianity and liturgy by the other groups to which they belonged. Now I go by this second criterion. I set the bar low so as to give the benefit of the doubt. I can always get rid of someone who is looking for money or wanting to spread ideas that are nothing to do with the subject, for example politics or a new hair shampoo. Such things have rarely happened. We are probably twenty or thirty members to be posting on the Sarum liturgy and contributing to something very positive in terms of dispelling ignorance, teaching and working for practical revivals as church worship. For this reason, the group continues.

Facebook is used for all kinds of things. This seems to be a part of the genius of its design and what made its owners very rich people. In its basic configuration, you set up an account and you make “friends” by accepting their requests or their accepting yours. You can then join groups or set them up. I set this one up. I have set up others that were less “successful”. It can become addictive if you don’t have clear and rational ideas. There are irritating things like “tagging” so that someone can start posting their stuff on my Timeline. It took a while to find out how to turn that option off. It is a complex piece of “machinery”, morally neutral in itself, just like a sharp knife which most of us use for cutting food in the kitchen, and which can also be used morally or immorally.

Conversations are public, according to the group settings. Use of Sarum is very open and we need to take that into account. Outside the subject matter, people’s beliefs and conviction of what is true are as diverse as in any social context in real life. A large group like this one is mostly self-regulating in regard to cantankerous people or troubled souls.

Finally, it is not the com-box that is at fault, any more than the carving knife in the kitchen drawer, but us as human beings. It is the Enemy Within in ourselves, in our own inner conflicts threading their way through our whole lives. This is where we have to care for our spiritual souls and live as incarnate spirits of God – and be human beings.

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1 Response to Facebook and Com-boxes

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Having read them, I found I could not in good conscience agree to Facebook – or, for that matter analogously, YouTube – Terms of Service, but this post got me finally to take a look at the Use of Sarum page, and I am delighted to see how much is readable by such ‘outsider’ visitors as myself!

    For the rest, this strikes me as a sensible academic approach – as well as reminding me of C.S. Lewis’s fascinating overview of Biblical translations in English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (1954), with its glimpses of how all the ‘warring’ churches and individual translators were profitably learning – and borrowing – from each other!

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