The 10th Sunday after Pentecost

With the new regulations on data protection I have now 4 ‘work’ email addresses. I spent the earlier part of last week setting up three of them – the congregational ones – obviously Ascension but I’m also looking after Good Shepherd, Coventry and Redeemer, Harlow. It’s been a bit of a tedious process transferring addresses – the whole point of the GDPR is that organisations know what data they hold and why and how they use it. So I’ve had to set up an Ascension ‘world’, a Good Shepherd ‘world, and a Redeemer ‘world’. I am slowly getting used to opening and closing each email account – ok, not brilliant for my time usage – but it is not as long as I feared either. Welcome to the new world!

The ubiquitous nature of the cyber world, the blurring of professional and personal, the 24/7 of the media and of our own social media really does mean that, for as much as one is ‘connected’, we do live in both physical and cyber spaces. Previously I was very much localised – I exist where my body is. Ok, if I was artistic or poetic or a writer, part of me would exist away from me in time and space. Writers might be creeps to their families or utterly wonderful – and know-ing that doesn’t necessarily affect our reading of their words. Communication technology and film broadened us. The internet intensifies it. And it seems to me that our whole person – no matter what ‘hats’ we wear in society, no matter our relationships, no matter our past – is under scrutiny. GDPR seems to be an attempt to re-establish boundaries somewhat so that knowledge isn’t permission and personal data and details remain, in principle, the ‘property’ of the owner. It is a legal mechanism to try and get us all to be nice and ethical, honest and kind.

Of course, if everyone followed what God says in the 8th Commandment we’d be following the spirit of GDPR already and probably wouldn’t need it! (Ok, I live in hope!) We very much live by words – both what we say and what we hear. And the ones we hear prepare us – help us – to live with others. That is why the word ‘reputation’ is important because it shapes how people react to us but the problem is that we have very little control over it. I liken it to a smart board over our heads which everyone can read – we can’t even see it! – and everyone writes on it about us. It broadcasts the things others say about us which people then read. What is written about us maybe true or not, exaggerated or understated. The words might say more about the speaker than about us – but they are on our smart board about us! We can’t erase them. Yes, we might challenge them if someone tells us what’s written or said but the truth is we won’t even know most of the time. It is very hard to live with a bad reputation. That is why God tells his people two things – speak the truth and speak it in love. That’s what ‘not bearing false witness’ – in any situation – not just in court – is about. We are being honest with ourselves and caring for others in our use of words.

What I see is that cyberspace has words and experiences preserved in amber. Always there to be found. Our memories also preserve what people do and say but they are usually remembered in the context of an ongoing relationship or reason. Yes, the past happened but it need not shape the present. Forgiveness is not amnesia but a decision – an act – to not drag the past into the present. Yes, the past happened and it should shape the present. A promise at an altar can be made anew each day for decades. And in all this living the words we say and hear play a crucial part in the quality of our lives.

I think that is why God speaks to us. His words are always true and always spoken in love. His words are life giving. Always.