Series 41: For the Love of Faith Shakers | Episode 06
Social Media and Spirituality with Heather Thompson Day
We’re back with another installment of our Faith Shakers series–talking to people who are doing work in the name of faith in “not so typical places,” using nontraditional ways to bring life and light to people’s lives. One of the not so typical places people of faith are congregating more than ever is on social media. So many of us have a love/hate relationship with the medium. Sometimes it gives us the feeling of connection and community–especially during times where connection in person isn’t possible (remember the pandemic lockdown, everyone?). Other times, it can be a source of stress, a place where we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others, an alternate reality of only our “best selves” shown to the world through carefully curated content. Religion, faith and spirituality have their place on social media, and with emerging generations–millennials, Gen X’ers–many have never known life without it. But how do we navigate that quality of instant gratification that social media so readily supplies and find true connection and community that will challenge us, instruct us, and maybe even pastor us in the digital space? This week’s guest has done a lot of work looking at and studying digital communication spaces, and she is here to pass on what she has found so that we can better know the power of digital communication and make social connections that are positive, productive and beneficial. Heather Thompson Day is the host of Viral Jesus, a podcast that discusses these very things. She’s also an associate professor of communication at Andrews University and she’s intent on serving students and women in navigating the digital space toward the best possible end–good self image, finding conviction and even handling disagreements. This isn’t your grandma’s Sunday school class y’all–Heather gives us the tools to find a whole different way of experiencing our faith through our social channels.
Hey everybody. Jen Hatmaker here, your host of the For the Love Podcast. Welcome to the show. All right you guys. Right now, we are in a series called For the Love of Faith Shakers. We are having a great time talking to people who are doing work in the name of faith in not so typical places. Using nontraditional ways to bring sort of life and light to people’s lives. It’s been really interesting for me.
It’s so innovative to listen to the way these particular leaders are living out their faith on the margins, or on less traveled paths, or non centered environments. Okay. So, for today, you know that religion and faith and spirituality on social media, it’s a whole thing, right? And so, we can go there to connect with people that share our ideals, and create a community, or to be challenged, to be instructed, even pastored if you will. But social media can also have the propensity to tip us into negative space. And, I mean, we know this too. Social media isn’t one thing. It’s kind of a lazy response to it to say it’s all bad and needs to be completely overhauled, or even it’s all good, and there’s nothing to fear here, and nothing to keep our eye on, nothing to reimagine, it’s something in the middle.
My personal experience is that social media, in some ways, has been an absolute glorious addition to my life. Genuinely incredible. It has brought me to the most amazing people, it has created this community, like our podcast community, social media community. There is no this without social media. And so, for me, largely, social media is a wonderful value add to my life. But I also, of course, have experienced its negative side effects when I am misusing it, or overusing it. When I am not careful about media literacy, or my personal intake and input. When the tail starts wagging the dog. I’m super familiar with how that begins to have a wear and tear on my spirit, and on my soul, on my brain, literally on my thoughts, right?
And so, this brings us to our kids, the next generation. Now, I obviously have five kids. My kids are 16 to 23. So, I mean, we’re in the thick of it, like we’re right there in teen and young adulthood. And so, if you know any young people in your life, if you have children, if you mentor them anywhere, if you’re around students at all, we’re kind of aware of the catch 22 nature of social media, right? And let’s funnel it down into specifics for today’s conversation, and from a faith perspective, right? There are Christian TikTokers and personalities who use that platform to talk about their personal faith or their convictions.
But also, there is a dark side, right? To having that be the primary source of faith input. Some of it’s subtle, some of it overt, but we do see it forming and shaping the brains and the perspectives of this next generation. I was telling my guest today, this is the first generation to just come up with a phone in their hands. We, in mind, there’s a before and an after. Of course, I absolutely remember life before social media. It was almost my whole childhood and adolescence in college even. So, I have a different perspective, our kids don’t, this is their life. This is all they’ve ever known. And we’ve got some really interesting data at this point that we’re just beginning to collect around the effect of social media on minds, on neuro pathways, on a sense of wellbeing, on mental wellness.
We’ll be parsing this out for generations. And a lot of our data is still young, and early, and even to some degree, untested, but we are learning more, and more, and more, which means ultimately, we’re going to probably start doing better, and better, and better, right? So, I’m thinking about students today. I’m thinking about their relationship with social media, and how do we, as leaders in their life, as parents or whatever we are to them, instill positive and healthy ways to integrate it into their lives, right? What instruction do we wrap around social media? And frankly, yes, this is for our students, and yes, it is also for us. We are also deeply affected by social media and the way it has changed our relational patterns, and the way we perceive the world, and the ways in which we share and don’t share.
So, this is both for the next generation, but also this entire episode is for us too. We are going to jump into all of this with our guests this week, Dr. Heather Thompson Day. So, Heather is an interdenominational speaker. Her work’s been featured on The Today Show, BBC, Radio Life, Forbes. She’s also the host of Viral Jesus, which is a podcast that discusses weekly, the power of digital communication, and social connections, and how we can seek out important conversations related to positive, beneficial, productive living, and faith in digital spaces. And she knows her stuff, you guys. So Heather’s an associate professor of communication at Andrews University, and she’s intent on serving students and women. She’s written a book on the very thing we’re going to be talking about today, and it’s called, It’s Not Your Turn.
And it talks about the instant gratification of our social media spaces, and the real issue of comparison that fosters in our hearts and minds. And so, we love the faith-shaking work she’s doing in the digital space to help people navigate self image, spirituality, conviction, and even disagreement. And what a boots on the ground way to meet people, especially young people, where they live, this is where they are. And so, it’s not necessarily in Sunday School, or at youth camp, right? This is where they are, so this is where she goes, and this is where a lot of us go. And so, she is so smart. She’s so engaging. And I love her pluck, and I am grateful that she is an important voice to the next generation and to us. So I’m super delighted to speak today and share this conversation with the absolutely wonderful Dr. Heather Thompson Day.
Books & Resources Mentioned in this Episode:
It’s Not Your Turn: What to Do While You’re Waiting for Your Breakthrough
Heather Thompson Day
The Strength of Weak Ties
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