Finding constancy when change happens in an instant

Global Sisters Report has enjoyed a partnership with A Nun’s Life Ministry since our site went live in April 2014. Srs. Maxine Kollasch and Julie Vieira share audio clips every week from their popular podcasts and now take turns writing a monthly column. Drawing on their experiences of online presence and using a lens of Scripture, they each will explore how social media offers new ways of witnessing Gospel values.

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All things are passing away.
God never changes.
- Saint Teresa of Avila

Social media changes all the time. That isn't news to most of us, whether or not we are regular users of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or some other form of social networking.

So last month, when Instagram launched its new "Stories" feature, it was not a big surprise in the social media world. But it was a significant change to the popular social platform, used by millions of people around the globe.

For some of us, Instagram is already part of the language and culture of our relationships, digitally expressed. For others, not only is the Stories feature new, but also the social platform itself.

In a nutshell, Stories works like this. People can take a number of photos or videos and combine them into a slideshow-type format to tell a brief story. The images can be embellished with special effects, such as smiley face emoji, text, or filters. Then, 24 hours later, the images vanish from Instagram. (For those who use the mobile application called Snapchat, this will feel a lot like déjà vu!)

In contrast, the existing Instagram feed enables people to post images, but not to add special effects to them within Instagram. Also, the images do not automatically disappear; the person who posted the images can decide whether to keep or delete them.

What Stories adds to Instagram is a new way for people to share the everyday moments of their lives. The type of stories I've seen varies widely. Recently, there was a story showing a group of friends on the way to Sunday Mass, and there was a story that highlighted a Scripture quote. There was also a story about someone teaching her dog to roll over and one that showed a mouthwatering meal being prepared.

Why the outcry?

Lots of Instagram users have expressed their reactions in news articles and across social media. Some Instagram users readily enter into Stories. Others hold back, seeing it, for example, as an unwanted mash-up of two social media cultures, or as one more thing that they're forced to learn if they want to stay connected with the Instagram community. Many seem to be somewhere in the middle, undecided but willing to try it out.

So why all the hubbub when Instagram or other social platforms make changes? Ultimately, what's at stake are relationships. That includes, for many of us, relationships on our spiritual journey. We use social media to interact with others around questions of faith, share our understandings of God, experience community in the online environment, and engage in many other activities that deepen our relationships with one another and with God.

The reality of ongoing change in social media is likely to continue for quite some time. How might our faith tradition inform the ways we deal with the pace of change in social media, a pace that seems emblematic of much of life in the 21st century?

Already but not yet

Scripture suggests that we might consider the nature of change itself. It reminds us that we are in the "already but not yet" place. We are becoming but are not yet completed. This orientation to life and change can be helpful because, as with the introduction of Instagram Stories, it may not be that we dislike change per se. It may be that we reached the point of having Instagram all figured out, and it is deeply satisfying. It is the feeling that we have finally arrived. And who is Instagram to mess with that!

Saint Teresa of Avila's words, "All things are passing, God never changes," remind us that in the sea of change, we must hang on to that which is enduring. What endures in social media is not this or that platform or feature: Many hundreds of platforms have already come and gone. Rather, what endures is the gift of discovering, nurturing, and enjoying relationships. It may be through a live Twitter chat, a thoughtful Facebook message, or a clever emoji-bedazzled Instagram Story.

When a new social media platform or a new feature emerges, we can discern if and how we want to use it by asking ourselves how it can serve to develop and deepen relationships in our lives, missions, and ministries.

At the end of the day, we may flounder a bit in the sea of change, but our presence to others and our desire to relate to others remains. We can find comfort and energy in knowing that as we face changes of all kinds — in our social engagement and throughout life — God continues to walk at our side.

[Maxine Kollasch is a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Monroe, Michigan, and co-founder of A Nun’s Life Ministry, which was founded on the Internet in 2006 and is present at aNunsLife.org and in many social media.]

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