Commonly held ideas become "memes" of our lives

Special to The Bluffton PacketJune 20, 2012 

Do you know what a "meme" is? It's the word used to describe those weird, sometimes funny pictures with sayings that get passed around through e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. Often a humorous photo of a cute cat or dog is coupled with a wise (or ridiculous) phrase that corresponds -- such as, "Mr. Cuddlington does not approve."

The point of a meme is to grab your attention and put an idea in your mind. "Meme" is a loose combination of the words "mimic" and "gene" -- referencing the replication of genetics from one organism to another. In the Internet world, it is all about the replication of ideas through argument and humor.

Many memes fall on the cruder side of things, so I recently asked the youth of our church what they thought about creating a Christian meme. As an experiment, we made our own memes. My favorite one is a picture of Jesus with dark retro-glasses on with the tagline: "I saved you ... BEFORE you sinned." The punchline really sparks good conversation.

We laughed a bit at the Christian memes we created, puzzled over others, but had a great time decoding theology in this new form of communication that is so popular online.

Ideas are powerful. They are coded in images, explained and written in our minds. They are often passed down through our families. I know mine, for instance, had a very strong idea of the man being a "gentleman" in dating, where the lady is to be treated with high regard, and love is to be tame in public but vibrant between those who are considering courtship leading to marriage. This notion affected many things, including how phone conversations in dating were to be initiated. I remember one time a girl called our home asking for me, and my mother was not entirely sure it was proper. Sometimes this created tension, but the idea became a part of me whether I lived it out totally or not.

Ideas can be like scripts -- influenced by our families, friends and popular culture -- where they shape how we perceive and react to the world around us. Do you remember the last time you were upset with a situation? Not just a minor annoyance, but something big, something that consumed your thoughts. What words came into your mind? "Life shouldn't be like this." What should it be like? "Things like this don't happen to me." Who do they happen to? "I wish we could all just get along." Oh, I know where that one came from, and it likely wasn't mom. "I'm not good enough." When is this ever a good thing?

Emotions are expressed in thoughts, which are conveyed with images and words, which we use to build who we are and where we wish to go. Despair is often the act of grasping for a description of our reality, and hope can be the ability to explain how we are going to move forward.

How do we break through tragedy or a circumstance with incomplete or unfortunate "scripting"? First, I turn to God and ask with my spirit for understanding. Then, I turn to my friends and trusted family (the good ones who listen and interject helpful words of truth and encouragement). And simultaneously, I read the Scriptures for words such as those found in Psalm 25: "Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior, and my hope is in you all day long."

Then my mind is cultivated, and my heart leaves the dark paths, and I am ready to write new ideas, passing on a better future, and my memes will be full of hope and truth and God's light.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill.

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