Monthly Archives: January 2015

Falling foul of the Facebook name police

Being real comes with associated costs. It’s always easier and more comfortable to hide ourselves behind masks, different ones for different situations, play roles that make us fit in and stop others getting close enough to see our flaws and vulnerability. I was anticipating some of these costs when I began this project, but I’ve just come up against one I was not expecting; my Facebook profile!

This is perhaps a strange post. I’ve loosely categorised it as ‘politics’, since it raises questions for me that I think affect people, although I’m not sure how exactly to address those questions. But I’m putting the story out there; perhaps just adding evidence and asking questions might be useful to someone more knowledgeable about online privacy issues than me, who might be able to frame a call for change.

So what happened?! It all began when a couple of weeks ago I decided, in the interests of being real, that it was time my Facebook profile carried my actual surname.

When I first joined Facebook a few years back, I was using it exclusively for work purposes, so instead of using my surname on my profile (which the people I was trying to network with might not have known me by), I used the name of the community I worked for – Speak – to give me a better context than my actual name would have done. Over the last few years, I have continued to be Helen (from) Speak, but have also begun to use Facebook for my own purposes. Whereas my friends know to recognise me as Helen Speak, where I use Facebook for work for other organisations, the name is now more a source of confusion than a help. So I decided to add my surname to my account, initially at least alongside Speak, for the sake of continuity.

So I now had 2 surnames on my profile, and for a week or so all seemed well. From Facebook’s perspective, a female user of undisclosed marital status had added a second genuine surname. Big deal. And then one day I went to log in, and was confronted with a page I could not pass, asking me to change my name. I tried various combinations of names, including my straight name, but the page only allowed me to save after I reverted back to Helen Speak. After that a week or so passed in which all seemed well, although I was now a little frustrated that I couldn’t find a way to make my actual surname display anywhere.

A couple of days ago I went to log in and was again unexpectedly confronted with a ‘Please change your name’ screen. I thought ‘Great, maybe it will allow me to change my name this time’, so clicked through. And this is where things became distinctly creepy!

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Instead of presenting me a name change form as before, I was taken to a page requiring me to submit a copy of my identity documents to prove who I was! My account is suspended until I do, and my identity has been verified by someone unseen. Speaking to friends who still have access, I appear to have ceased to exist in Facebook-land, except that messages I’ve sent to them are still there but marked as ‘abusive or spam’. The only name I am allowed to use is the one on my official identity documents, and the documents must be provided to prove that that is indeed my official name. In my case, no big deal – the name I was attempting to add is indeed my name. But this is where the questions start to arise.

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Firstly, Facebook says once identity has been established it will destroy copies of our ID documents – but who can guarantee that will happen? Who is overseeing the process?

Secondly, what if nobody knows a user by their official name? Wouldn’t that make them harder to find, rather than easier? If my name was something very common like John Smith, but everyone around me, including my colleagues and family, knew me by a more distinctive nickname, would anyone be able to find or recognise me by my real name?

Thirdly, there is more to a name than what is written on a person’s ID documents. One of the biggest lessons I learnt last year was the importance of family, and the range of ways in which true family can be defined to a person. That is perhaps for another blog once I’ve processed the lesson for myself, but one of the things that came out of it for me was that my community in SPEAK is far more to me than work, and has indeed become ‘family’ for me, in the sense of being a community I feel a tie to, a responsibility towards, and feel I can rely on for help. Therefore Speak is in that sense a genuine family name to me now, and I’m happy to identify with the rest of the ‘family’ through it.

Fourthly and perhaps most importantly, what if a person has a real reason to need to hide their true name? I know people who use pseudonyms online so that they can easily be found by people they want to be found by but not by people they don’t, for good reasons. People who work with children and who don’t want their profiles being found by their young people for a range of reasons including child protection and avoidance of online harassment. People who work in prisons, who don’t necessarily want to be tracked down online by those they work with. People who have been abused, persecuted or stalked, and who do not wish to be found by their abuser, persecutor or stalker. And there are plenty more reasons – Facebook seems to assume their users will automatically be a risk to others if they hide their official identity, neglecting to recognise the fact that their users could themselves be at risk from others by revealing it. Surely it would be possible to require a person have their official name on their account so that they could be tracked down if a problem arose, without requiring that that be the name publicly displayed on the user’s profile?

Finally, once my identity is verified, Facebook tells me I will never be allowed to change the name on my profile again. What if my marital status changes, or I need to change my official name by deed poll for some reason? I will either be stuck with a name that is not my own, which in some situations may be a real-life risk to me, or will have to rebuild my online life from scratch.

For me this is creepy, but at the present time, no more than an irony and an annoyance. For others, it could cause a serious risk. I have plenty of questions but no answers.

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My life in 15 Switchfoot songs

I’m sometimes asked why I’m such a fan of Switchfoot in particular. My response is usually to joke that I could probably tell you my life story in their lyrics! It’s not strictly true, but I could usually tell you the state of my soul at any given moment by reference to one of Jon Foreman’s songs, and they can certainly tell you a lot about who I am.

Talking about my experience as a megafan is possibly the most uncomfortably personal thing I could blog about aside from my own attempts at poetry, which means it would defeat the object of this blog to not go into that. I cannot really be known without knowing Switchfoot (to the extent that when I first began dating my husband, I bought him one of their CDs..! Know me, know ‘my’ band!).

This post was inspired by my fellow fan friends trying to list their favourite 15 Switchfoot songs. I cannot do it – if I could bend the laws of mathematics, I would put every song they ever recorded in my top 10! So these are by no means my favourite songs. If you want to know what those are, just ask me what I’m currently listening to at a given moment. And I’ve not even touched on other Jon Foreman material not released on full studio Switchfoot albums – I had to narrow my choice somehow! But here are 15 songs (audio of each song will open in a new tab if you click the links so you can listen along 🙂 ), in chronological order since I can’t rank them at all, that right now I can say have a particular resonance to me, and their stories:

  1. Let That Be Enough – A prayer that has caught me so many times when I’ve fallen into despair and felt hopeless. Time and again I’ve found myself feeling like a nobody with all I’ve worked for feeling like a failure after yet another project of mine has come to nothing, especially with a career history that looks like a long sequence of false starts, and this is the prayer that I have fallen back on. It’s a thin place where God is really not so far away.
  2. I Dare You To Move – This song has so much resonance with my faith story, describing perfectly for me the experience of first meeting Jesus and coming alive, and then finding that as I’ve grown with God I see the gap between reality and potential in myself and in the world more and more clearly. It is such a strong encouragement to never give up, to always keep picking myself up and pressing on, however hard the fight becomes.
  3. Erosion – Oddly specific, this one! It is awesome enough on paper as a worship song that takes soil erosion as its central metaphor and quotes Winnie The Pooh, but as an environmental scientist it has special resonance! When this came out I was at uni, and was taking a course in soil science, so I appreciated the metaphor – it really works! I did my first year research project on soil erosion and listened to this on repeat literally the whole time I was working on it (when I wasn’t in the library anyway…), and still loved it even after that, it got me through 🙂 I still think I should have included the song in my list of references.
  4. This Is Your Life – ‘Are you who you want to be?’ A question that I just have to keep returning to. Sometimes I don’t want to be asked it, the answer is painful. But it’s good to have to face up to that and think what can be done about it. It keeps me on track.
  5. Ammunition (and Politicians) – grouping these two together, perhaps the best example of a song with a sequel! There’s a real tendency amongst us activists to look at what a mess the world is in and then to find someone to blame for it, and make them the enemy. These two songs bring me back to the root of the problem – myself. We’re all a part of the mess, it starts inside each one of us, and we are all to some extent complicit in it, even if it’s by our apathy. I’m reminded not to pile the blame on someone else until I’ve first looked at myself and my own culpability, and to then think how we can work together to begin to put our mess right.
  6. On Fire – Hard to put this into words. In the moments when I get a clear glimpse of God, I also see so vividly the gap between God’s incredible, powerful beauty, and my own inadequacy, and the empty show that is our worship. As if we can contain God in a church service! As if I could ever be worthy of calling myself God’s follower! I think this song says it all.
  7. Twenty-Four – If I could tell my life in one song this might be it! Every day I can sing this, a story of repeated failure and redemption, and a desire to be truly God’s, truly myself, truly present in the moment, and the same person in all situations. I see so many layers of meaning in the end lyric ‘I am the second man now’ too – I am resurrected, I am ‘in Christ’ rather than ‘in Adam’, I am present in the moment, I take second place…
  8. Happy Is A Yuppie Word – The things this song has brought me through! Everything from being mistreated by a landlord to my country going to war. Sometimes I really get the feeling that ‘nothing is sound’. This song begins with a ‘rrrrrrAGH!’, possibly the most angsty sound in the whole of recording history, and sometimes that alone is the deepest and most profound prayer I can pray! But it goes on to put words around the feeling that really everything in the world and in me is so far from how it should be that to really yell it out becomes a really powerful prayer. Again, it won’t let you give up and close your eyes to the problems, whilst an incredible outlet for the frustration of it all, it also acts as a motivator for me to act.
  9. The Blues – For when the extent of the world’s mess really does become heartbreakingly too much. I sing this out with tears when honestly it doesn’t seem like anything could ever be right with the world. Again, a really powerful prayer and outlet for the emotional strain of the fight against injustice. Although in a way the emotion is left unresolved, the refrain draws me back to where my hope is pinned – on the promise of God’s coming Kingdom, and that however far off that world seems to be, it is coming.
  10. Daisy – I have a bad temper. I get fierily angry very easily about all sorts of stupid things, like being overlooked by a shop assistant, or someone playing music in the street outside my house at night, or someone walking in front of my bike when I’m cycling. One of my biggest issues has been road rage. I could get really mad at cars cutting me up whilst I’m cycling, or passing me too closely, or all manner of other things, and it’s come close to getting me in trouble and even making my own behaviour dangerous at times. One rainy day a couple of years ago I was cycling past a particularly dodgy junction when, yet again, a car pulled out right in front of me, causing me to swerve, and this song popped into my head. ‘Let it go, Daisy, open up your fist…’ and I physically opened my hands (keeping hold of the bike!), breathed, and tried to let it go, move on and be in the ‘now’. A perfect song for the moment, even the choice of name was interesting since daisies mean a lot to me! And it has stayed with me in similar situations since, a conscious choice to just let go and move on instead of getting angry and holding on to the bad experiences I don’t need to dwell on. I am really changing as a result.
  11. Awakening – I find it very easy to close off to reality and not let it affect me. I like the sense this song gives (as do many lyrics in other Switchfoot songs) that unless we allow ourselves to feel the disconnect between the now and not yet, ‘how it is and how it should be’, we are asleep – dead even, and that really living involves feeling the pain of that and rising up, with others, to bring healing to the wounds, even when it wounds us. It’s a constant challenge to wake up and live, rather than continuing to take things easy.
  12. Yet – Now being brutally honest, I see my own relationship with my husband in this song. How many times I’ve hurt him, and though he doesn’t exactly cry, I have certainly shut him down. That’s almost worse. I hate myself for it when I do, and yet instead of backtracking and apologising, I find myself getting more angry and indignant, and self-justifying. I am a horrible person in those moments! The truth is it breaks me when I behave that way. And yet…I experience so much grace, both from him and from God. I am the monster, but I do not accept that in myself. I’m being forgiven and made new, I’m trying to allow God to work in me and clear all that rubbish from me, and become a more loving person, and the second chances on second chances I’m given are incredible gifts.
  13. Thrive – I have moments when I wonder who I am, what I’m about, why I still behave in ways I hate, where I’m heading, and whether or not I’m making a difference. Am I becoming someone I’m not? Will I ever feel like I’ve done something of actual significance? This is my song for those moments.
  14. Rise Above It – This is a song that gives me so much energy! It’s like ‘Come on! You know nothing’s ok, but you can fight it! You can do it! Do you really want to accept easy, everyday normality? Oh come on! You were made to change the world, even in your own small way, you were made to live a different way and challenge this whole broken system. Don’t accept ‘normal’!’
  15. The World You Want – Another quietly challenging question, ‘Is this the world you want? You’re making it, every day you’re alive you change the world…’ The choice for me, us, is not if we’ll change the world but how. We are, by our very nature, changing the world. Every action, every day, decides whether we shape it for good or for bad, whether we are helping bring about love, justice and care for our fellow creatures, bringing in God’s kingdom, or whether we perpetuate existing systems of injustice. Ultimately, our true faith manifests itself in our actions or inactions. When we’ve really caught a glimpse of God, we can’t help but follow. If it never goes beyond words and religiosity, it’s doubtful we’ve truly encountered God. It’s a good challenge for me; how much am I truly following, truly stepping out of my comfort zone, and what does that say about how close I am to Jesus?

(PS: If you like these songs, go buy them! downloads CDs 🙂 )

God, humanity, the earth and climate change…

I was asked to speak on the ‘theology of action on climate change’ at an event a few days ago. In preparing, I realised that’s quite a big remit! I narrowed the question down to focus on what our relationship to the rest of creation should look like from a Biblical perspective. This can guide us on what our attitude and approach to the rest of creation should be, but obviously doesn’t touch on our ethics (for example, thinking what it means to ‘love our neighbour’ in this context), and what our heart response or outward actions should look like.

Here are my thoughts on three Biblical principles that can help us understand ourselves and our relationship with creation:

1. ‘Dominion’

A lot of Christian responses to climate change and ecology speak about ‘stewardship’. Whilst I don’t think that’s wrong necessarily, and I do recognise that that teaching has real value, I think it doesn’t go quite as far as the Bible does in terms of spelling out how closely linked to the rest of creation we are, and how responsible we are for it. Let’s start with Gen 1:26-31. The earth was not made for us. It is not merely a resource for us to wisely steward – it was made for God’s pleasure and worship. It belongs to God, and has goodness and value in itself, not merely in the resources it provides. We are made in a unique position in the likeness of God, which means (amongst other things) that our species has a unique potential for creation, destruction and moral choice. By our very nature, whatever we do shapes the world around us for good or for bad, and we have a choice to make in all of our actions what we want that to look like.* We therefore as a species have the position of ‘lord’ over the earth. The word ‘dominion’ (or ‘rule’, ‘lord’ etc) can be problematic for us. Our human experience is full of associations between authority and abuse and exploitation, and we have been guilty of using the words of Genesis to excuse behaving that way towards the rest of creation, so understandably we shy away from claiming rulership over it. But what does ‘dominion’ look like in the Bible, done properly? A quick search gives me: Phil 2:5-11, Eph 5:23-30, Isaiah’s suffering servant (Isa 53), Jesus’ foot washing John 13:3-5 & 12-16, Mark 10:45, and supremely, the cross. Jesus gives us an incredible example of how to rule with self-sacrificial love. In light of this, what is the most worshipful way for us to behave towards the earth?

 2. ‘New heaven and new earth’

You can draw out several different narratives for the end times from the Bible – it isn’t clear exactly what is predicted to happen (which to me indicates that that is not their primary reason for being in the text; perhaps one or more of the Biblical end-times narratives is there as ‘myth’ in the sense that whilst not ‘true’ in a strict historical sense, is given to teach profound truths that would be hard to express another way). Without wanting to state what *will* happen, a possibility from the text is the joining of a new heaven and new earth (eg, Rev 21:1-5, Isa 65:17-25). I sometimes come across the objection from some Christians that there will be a rapture, and that this world will be destroyed, leaving the saved to go to heaven – so why concern ourselves with saving the world rather than saving souls? There are many possible responses to this, which I’m not going to go into, but one is that alongside this as a possible ‘end’ is the possibility of the ‘new heaven and new earth’ ‘end’. That ‘end’ would suggest that the rest of creation *does* matter eternally, and will share in the resurrection somehow, and that rather than us going to heaven, heaven will effectively come to us. God’s dwelling will no longer be separate from ours. It remains a possibility from the texts.

 3. ‘All things’

Finally(?), the Bible actually teaches that salvation and restoration to relationship with God is not just for humans. It isn’t even just extended to other animals – it is for the ‘cosmos’! This is the word in John 3:16 translated ‘world’, and often understood as ‘humanity’, but it means just what it means to us in English! This concept is treated a little more fully in Romans 8 (especially 19-28) and Col 1:15-20. There’s a deep and humbling mystery in it, but the implication of these texts is that God means for ‘all things’ to be restored to relationship with Him, and that our fallenness is preventing this from being at present. Everything effectively groans in pain from the brokenness and the waiting. It’s waiting for our salvation. It’s waiting for humanity to be its salvation! The Holy Spirit is working in us, as we grow closer to God, to sensitise us to both the groan of the earth and the broken heart of God for the world, and working in and through us to make all things well. There’s a vivid birth metaphor running through both passages, which I haven’t managed to shift from my mind’s eye since it was first pointed out to me. Whilst the earth groans with labour pains, Christ is the first proof that resurrection is on its way – He is the head of the body, already reborn, and if the Head is through, the body has to follow – and we will pull the rest through!

This is mind bending stuff, and I can’t do it justice, so it’s worth spending time with the passages and letting them sink in to their full extent. God is saving the whole of creation, through Christ, through us.

*Every day you’re alive you change the world…