Do you remember when social media was something only teenagers or college students were engaged in? These were the days when Facebook was called "The Facebook" and Friendster and MySpace were the most popular modes of connecting. Blogs were not commonplace. I led a conference for the Florida Baptist Convention in the panhandle of Florida a number of years ago on how to use the internet as a tool for reaching people for Christ. This was a conference for a small association of churches and the ideas of chat rooms, blogs and anything more than a cursory e-mail were hard for most of the people in my conference to comprehend.
Now, Facebook and Twitter have become so commonplace that businesses, churches, non-profits and, of course individuals of all ages are using the media to connect, reconnect or share ideas.
I do recognize the dangers of these social networks. Believe me, as a pastor, I have counseled couples who are struggling to stay together after one or both of the spouses have reconnected with old high school flames on Facebook. However, even though this danger is there, I believe use of social media is here to stay and can be a positive thing. Just today, I reconnected with a friend from high school I hadn't had contact with since 1986. One other thing I'm noticing - with all the reconnecting with high school friends and acquaintances, many of the barriers and cliques that existed as teenagers have dissolved. Well, maybe not all of them, but many.
As far as using Facebook and Twitter to connect with people about things that really matter, I believe it's a positive. I tweet regularly (I can't believe I just made that statement) about things going on in our church, family and community. It has become a way to keep folks apprised of upcoming events, prayer needs, funerals, community needs, etc.
With all the good that social media offers as far as connecting with folks, it also gives a platform for some to spread things that simply aren't true and can be potentially damaging.
Here's what has brought this to the forefront. My high school (Richland High School) is four states away from where I currently live. While a good many of those I went to school with and graduated with still live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, many do not (me included.) Since signing up for Facebook, I have been able to "friend" a good many of my old high school friends and acquaintances. Some of these are people I used to hang out with, play ball with and just have fun with. Others were simply classmates. Still others were just kids who roamed the halls between classes and I knew who they were, they knew who I was, but honestly, we didn't really know each other as friends. Then there's the group who graduated with me, but honestly I never knew them and still don't. The only thing we have in common is a Richland High School Class of 1986 diploma.
Yesterday, a former classmate (who would fall into that last category) posted some pretty crazy things about another Class of 1986 "Rebel" (that's the RHS mascot.) I caught wind of it through some other friends' postings and had to check it out. I guess the curiosity got to me. Apparently, this person making crazy postings is pretty deep into conspiracy theories and strange beliefs. I'm not talking about simply "grassy knoll" beliefs, but deeper conspiracies that have no basis in reality.
The subject this person was posting about was a friend from high school named Paul Bowers. Let me set the record straight here. This friend was well liked. He played JV basketball with me. We never "hung out" or spent a lot of time together outside of school. In other words, he would never say I was one of his best friends. I wouldn't say that of him either, but there was a friendship there. Maybe more of a comradeship. He was a nice kid, well liked by his peers and teachers and an an all around good guy. He was also brave enough, along with some other friends, to kidnap the Kip's Big Boy and let him hang out in the school's courtyard for the first week of class. At least I believe Paul was in on that. That's how I remember Paul. I have friends on Facebook who knew him a lot better than I and they have shared some pretty amazing things about him. It gives a glimpse into the type of man he grew into.
Paul Bowers graduated from Richland High School in 1986. He went on to graduate from Texas A&M University where he excelled. Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. He earned many accolades as an Air Force officer and was soon promoted to First Lieutenant.
I had not known all that Paul had achieved and only a couple of years ago when a couple of friends on Facebook were talking about "missing Paul" did I discover that he was killed in a plane crash in 1995. The aircraft, assigned to the 332nd Airlift Flight, Randolf AFB, Texas was flying from Andrews AFB to Randolph but was diverting to Alexander City Airport in Alabama (35 miles north of Maxwell AFB in Montgomery.) An in-flight emergency occurred and the plane went down - eight were killed. In honor of all, I list them here: Clark G. Fiester, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, his military assistant Col. Jack Clark II, Maj. Gen. Glenn A. Profitt II, Maj. Hubert B. Fisher, Capt. Paul Carey, retired AF Maj. James K. Horne, US Army Sgt. Pedro Mercado, and 1st Lt. Paul M. Bowers.
It is said by some who saw the event that Paul could be seen in the cockpit doing all he could to keep the C-21 Learjet from hitting a nearby nursing home. The crash occurred in a nearby forest area. Can you imagine if it had crashed into the nursing home?
There's much to be said about Paul - this friend and acquaintance from years ago. His closer friends have done well to keep his memory alive.
That brings me to the point of this posting. One of the dangers of social media is that it can give a platform for anyone with any ideas. I'm all about free speech, believe me. It's a uniquely American right. As a son of a retired Air Force Major and friend to many active duty and retired military, I know the depth of commitment made to protecting our freedoms and Constitutional rights by our military men and women. So, I'm not about eliminating someone's right to free speech.
That being said - social media still seems to legitimize crazy ideas. Once this former classmate started posting his theories about Paul's death, it became apparent that he had struck a nerve among a group of forty-somethings who dared not let their friend's life be besmirched with lies and "crazy" talk.
I saw something occur through social media yesterday that I had never seen before. A group of people with a common link (in this case a high school experience, common friendship with one man, a common sense of decency) come together to make sure that these false statements didn't go by unchallenged. I am proud of the way these friends stood up for the memory of a fallen loved one.
This is a different type of posting than I normally make here on my blog. This one won't be copied to Baptist newspaper sites or other religious postings. This one doesn't have anything to do with church health, family issues, current ministry opportunities on our area or even random things like college football, basketball teams or other leisure activities. This posting is about making sure that the truth is known and fought for.
It may not seem like a battle for truth, but it is. When one lie (in this case about a friend) is left unchallenged - it gains legitimacy. Now, some make the point that if left alone, it would go away. That may be the case at times, but there are situations where you cannot just continue to sit on your hands an keep your mouth shut. When injustices are being done, good men and women must step up. Whether it's fighting for the honor of a friend who has passed away or other atrocities that occur in our world (children going hungry, parents abandoning or abusing their children, women being abused, homeless being ignored, slave trading around the world, etc.) good, Godly people must step up.
I'm reminded of what our student ministry is focusing on this year with their "Worship + Justice" theme. Well, that's a posting for another day.
So, folks, we must stand for what is right and true. Truth results in freedom. That is biblical.
"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." - John 8:32 (NIV)
OK, enough preaching for one posting. Here are some photos and a Senate Resolution about Paul Bowers. Would I call him a hero? While we were in high school? No. He was a Big Boy kidnapper (just a joke folks.) Now, oh yeah. Paul is a hero. The word "hero" is thrown around a little too cavalierly nowadays, but I believe after reading of Paul's efforts to steer clear of the nursing home and to live with integrity, the world fits. (Thanks Krissy Wall for the resolution info.)
In Memory of
First Lieutenant Paul Bowers
WHEREAS, The Senate of the State of Texas joins the citizens of San Antonio in mourning the untimely death of First Lieutenant Paul Bowers; and
WHEREAS, Paul Bowers was born October 24, 1967, in Odessa, Texas, to Joseph M. and Joan G. Bowers; his mother died when he was 10 years old; and
WHEREAS, He graduated from Richland High School where he was a member of the National Honor Society and Young Life and played junior varsity basketball; and
WHEREAS, He enrolled at Texas A&M University in 1986, joined the Corps of Cadets, and was a member of Squadron One of the Air Force Reserve Officers' Training Corps Wing; he was voted "Most Athletic" and was a member of the prestigious Texas A&M Freshman Drill Team; and
WHEREAS, An outstanding student and a leader in his class, Paul became company commander in his senior year and was the recipient of the Texas A&M University Distinguished Student award; he was accepted in to the United States Air Force pilot training program, and after graduation from Texas A&M University, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force in 1991; and
WHEREAS, Paul Bowers was dedicated to his work as a pilot and was fourth in his pilot training class at Vance Air Force Base; he was later stationed at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio where he received the 1995 First Quarter Outstanding Pilot award on April 14, 1995; and
WHEREAS, First Lieutenant Paul Bowers was a man of many talents and interests; he excelled at water sports and enjoyed his work on an old home he was remodeling; he was pursuing a master's degree in environmental science at the University of Texas at San Antonio at the time of his death; and
WHEREAS, An exemplary and distinguished young man of courage and tenacity, Paul Bowers gave willingly of his time to others, and his warmth and engaging personality will not be forgotten by those who knew him; and
WHEREAS, Paul Bowers lived his life to the fullest, and he leaves behind memories that will be treasured forever by his family and many friends; now therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the Senate of the State of Texas, 74th Legislature, hereby extend sincere condolences to the bereaved family of First Lieutenant Paul Bowers and, be it further
RESOLVED, That a copy of this Resolution be prepared for the members of his family as an expression of deepest sympathy from the Texas Senate, and that when the Senate adjourns this day, it do so in memory of Paul Bowers.
President of the Senate
I hereby certify that the above Resolution was adopted by the Senate on May 17, 1995, by a rising vote.
Secretary of the Senate