I had two memorable encounters with TikTok.
I was in the chaplaincy office during lunchtime one day and some of the students were discussing it. I had an idea what it was but, being a very cool and hip chaplain (!!), I managed to hide my utter ignorance and un-hipness (is that even a word?), nodded and smiled, ahh-ed and yes-ed at their chat about the latest videos they were watching. I even said “Yes!” when their questions began with “And sir, you know when….” Nope, hadn’t a clue. As soon as they were out the door, I started to google. Frantically.
The second encounter was more up-close. Mrs. Landor (our Head of RE) and myself took some of our Faith in Action students to the Lenten Youth Alive Mass in Crosby. Before we went to Crosby, we stopped off at McDonald’s in Aintree for some food before Mass (as you do). That’s when I learned the power of TikTok. Towards the end of the meal, the students were moving to different locations in the restaurant, putting down their phones and dancing in front of them. I didn’t know what to do – should I tell them to sit down or let them..er…tiktok? I decided to get them back in the bus…we were finished anyway.
We then drove to Crosby, parked opposite the church but, since we were early, we decided to wait in the bus. Moments later, the girls are up out of their seats, phones down, dancing, giggling and laughing. Mrs Landor and I stared out through the windscreen as the bus rocked and shaked to the music and dancing of TikTok. Suddenly, we weren’t too early for Mass!
If you look up the purpose of TikTok on their website, you will read this: “Our mission is to inspire creativity and bring joy.” The expressions of the girls that night in McDonald’s, the giggles and laughter in the bus in Crosby was nothing but pure, simple, harmless joy. Don’t get me wrong, there will always be negative content on TikTok as there would be on any social media or video platform but there is also so much content that provides simple joy and inspiration. TikTok, for the most part, fulfills their mission.
Joy is at the heart of the gospels. It is interesting that Jesus was often criticised by the religious authorities for his joy. He announced the beginning of his mission not with words but with a gesture – a six hundred and eighty litres of wine gesture to be exact. The prophets had always used the image of a wedding feast to symbolise the coming of God’s reign; a big banquet of food and lots of wine!! And Jesus used this wedding feast, not to show off his wine making abilities but as a way of announcing the joyful reign of God.
Just as my expectations of how joy could be expressed were challenged that night, the religious authorities struggled to understand the way that Jesus shared joy with others. He often had meals (mostly parties) with people who were looked down upon by these authorities. They were tax-collectors, prostitutes and general sinners. And no doubt, there was dancing, laughter, wine, food and music. And this is where Jesus found joy – in the most unexpected places and with the most unexpected people. No wonder he was called a glutton and a drunkard by his jealous enemies.
And joy was found in the stories he told – the joy of the father seeing his lost son again, the joy of the woman finding her lost coin, the shepherd finding his lost sheep. He brought joy to those he met – the blind man who could now see, the leper who could go back to his family after being healed, the man whose daughter was dead but was brought back to life. And finally in his resurrection – the joy of knowing that death is not the end.
God delights in joy and creativity. This is where God is to be found. We don’t often associate God with the creativity and joy of dance, music, drama, YouTube or TikTok but any means, considering it is safe, harmless and kind, by which we can bring each other laughter, hope, comfort, healing and joy are from a Creator God who loves to give us these gifts to do exactly that. Johann Sebastian Bach, the amazing composer of classical music, said that he wrote the notes but God wrote the music while Martha Graham believed that dancers were the athletes of God.
Back to that night. At Mass, Fr Simon Gore gave a stunning sermon to the young people about where we find our true identity. He spoke honestly about all the ways that our culture, especially social media, can lead us to doubt our self-worth and our self-identity. And there is no doubt that social media can lead many to compare themselves with each other, to depend on the amount of likes they get for a post as a way of gauging acceptance by others, thus causing anxiety and stress. But Fr Simon stressed to them that our real identity is found in God – we have been created and loved into existence. We are God’s children. Nobody and nothing can take away this unshakeable identity. In other words, people didn’t create us so they can’t define us. And knowing this is a true source of joy.
So what was the experience of joy that evening for our young people? A delicious McDonald’s meal shared with friends, dancing and singing to TikTok and a Mass in which they were reminded they were deeply loved.
Not a bad evening’s work.