Let’s just stipulate that Congress isn’t looking smart these days. The investigative hearings with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg have staged some pretty silly moments in American political discourse. Perhaps the funniest (apart from the comments about chocolate advertisements and a grandchild’s Instagram account) was when a senator asked how Facebook has managed to be financially sustainable without charging people for their services.
“Senator,” Mr. Zuckerberg responded, “we sell ads.”
But though it’s easy to satirize our elected officials, I find myself sympathizing for once. With all the revelations about data-mining, I have caught myself trying to actually read a user agreement about Microsoft’s negotiation of my data. But after read what big corporate has to say—well, I have to confess I haven’t felt this dumb in a long time.
So, it’s a relief to hear a senator like John Kennedy say to Mr. Zuckerberg:
Here is what everybody has been trying to tell you today. I say this gently. Your user agreement sucks. You can spot me 75 IQ points. If I can figure it out, you can figure it out. The purpose of the user agreement is to cover Facebook’s rear end. It is not to inform your users about their rights. You know that and I know that. I am going to suggest to you that you go back home and rewrite it. Tell you your $1,200-an-hour lawyers—no disrespect, they are good—tell them you want it written in English and not in Swahili. The average American needs to be able to understand. That would be a start. Are you willing, as a Facebook user, are you willing to give me more control over my data?
Thanks be for candor and humility and plain speech. Still, with all due respect to Mr. Kennedy and the average Americans he represents, I rather doubt that corporate lawyers are going to clarify their writing style any time soon. So, how about this as a counter-proposal: The average American should read the book of Colossians.
I have a strong sense, as we’re reading this New Testament letter, that the church at Colosse felt intimidated by all the sophisticates who seemed more put-together when it came to knowing stuff about faith. The Colossians were new to everything. They couldn’t find Obadiah in their Bibles, you might say. They didn’t know all the kings of Israel. They didn’t all the verses to all the Psalms.
And feeling daunted like that, can be dangerous. On the one hand, you can be (as Pastor Geoff said last week) immobilized. Feeling not smart can make you feel stuck. On the other hand, you might be wrongly mobilized (as the Colossians were) to turn to bad gurus for help. Paul warns the Colossians not to subscribe to the religious experts who were trying to rewrite the gospel’s user agreement, adding in all sorts of extra provisos and escape clauses. Paul said, in short, Continue in Christ. Keep doing the things you’ve been doing: loving each other, praying with each other, reading Scripture together, honoring your parents, doing your best at work every day. These seemingly unsophisticated counsels from Paul are not the stuff of TED Talks. But they are sites where the gospel’s power of the Living God becomes palpable in the maturity of the people of God.
By recommending a reading of the book of Colossians, I don’t mean to say we shouldn’t try to figure out our company’s user agreements, shouldn’t try to seek more responsible data mining, shouldn’t sharpen Congressional discourse, shouldn’t clarify what Facebook is doing with that dumb comment we posted 13 years ago. But I am saying that we should pay special care in just those moments when we feel intimidated. Those are growth moments, and it’s all too easy to grow badly. As Paul might say, the best way to grow well is to keep growing the way you were planted. “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”