Everyone filming everyone else for everyone to see.
The ice-cream consumers of Port Arthur, Texas, can sleep easy in their beds tonight, knowing that D'Adrien Anderson, 24, is behind bars. You may have seen in this morning’s news that Anderson who filmed himself licking ice cream and putting it back in the freezer of a Walmart supermarket has been jailed for 30 days. The whole point of this stunt, it would seem, is that it is performed for a watching world. Mea culpa. When I read yesterday that Spurs midfielder, Eric Dier, following his team’s defeat at the hands of lowly Norwich, had vaulted into the crowd to confront an abusive spectator, I just had to visit Twitter to see for myself what actually happened. And I was spoilt for choice. I watched several clips of him vaulting over the advertising hoarding to clamber over several rows of empty seats, clearly at some speed. “Me at a wedding,” tweeted one wit, “when the buffet opens.” Then another, as he pushes his way through the crowd pursued by an anxious steward. And then the climax, a heated exchange with someone you couldn’t see. For so many people were in the way each recording the incident on their mobile phones. Talking about weddings incidentally, when I look at the congregation nowadays, all I can see is a bank of mobile screens. Even when the happy couple request otherwise, there is always someone trying to take a surreptitious shot. That’s how it is today, UK 2020. Everyone filming everyone else for everyone to see. As one travel agent has observed, people no longer travel so that they can see the world, but so that the world can see them. This is life as a performance. In this present — and ever-expanding — dispensation,” notes columnist Gideon Lasco, “the modern individual emerges as the producer, director, cinematographer and actor of their own lives.” Of course, we have always to some extent been playing our lives to a watching world. Way back in a pre-digital age, 1959 to be precise, Canadian sociologist, Erving Goffman, explains using non-inclusive language that when someone enters a room, he “will have to act so that he intentionally or unintentionally expresses himself, and the others will in turn have to be impressed in some way by him.” But modern technology is changing all this, as the incarcerated D'Adrien Anderson bears witness. We deliberately play to the crowd and even do things we wouldn’t otherwise have done. Otherwise why return the ice cream we actually paid for to the freezer? The sad thing, as seen at weddings, is that we are so intent on recording the ceremony that we fail to experience the celebration for ourselves. To record means that we are forever the outsider looking in rather than the participant enjoying the occasion. We become mere spectators. To quote Lasco again: “There is always an ‘audience’ that one can instantly reach through tweets, posts and even “live” videos.” And if you are a public figure, like footballing Eric, you have to realise that there is always someone there with their cell phone. For as Jesus said, though in a different context “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” (Luke 8:17) We do not live our lives in secret, he taught. However, it is not that God is forever watching us, recording our every wrong to be held against us at a future reckoning. For here our instinct is to somehow escape the gaze of God. “Is there any place I can go to avoid your Spirit?” asks the Psalmist, “to be out of your sight?” (Psalm 139:7) However, the Psalmist is celebrating the fact that God is with us not as a remote spectator but living our lives with us, even rooting for us. So he rejoices; “I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too - your reassuring presence, coming and going. This is too much, too wonderful - I can’t take it all in! (Psalm 139: 5f, Message translation) Even more so in the new covenant enabled by the cross of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is not just with us, he is within us. His ministry, as Jesus taught his anxious disciples, is to maintain his presence in our lives. “But you know him,” promises Jesus, “for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17). This means everything, Jesus as Emmanuel – God with us. And from now on we need no longer play to the crowd but aim to live for him. As the apostle Paul encourages us: “Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that’s what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions.” ( 2 Corinthians 5:9) As it happens the following verse it often quoted to intimidate us but that would be to turn Paul’s intentions on their head. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10). For such is the power of the cross and the ministry of the Holy Spirit this is something to actually look forward to, the apostle teaches. Not some replay of all the terrible things we have done on camera but a recording of God’s wonderful work in our lives. He made it all possible. And when the credits roll, it is God who takes the Oscars.