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A few years ago, a young mother posted some political points on her Facebook page. Other people from her church commented both negatively and positively and the whole exchange left the young mother so shaken she left the church. I did not find out what happened until weeks later when I asked if anyone had seen them. Since I really don't keep up with the large stream of information that goes through Facebook, I was uninformed. I missed them. 

It reminded me of the books of John in the New Testament. John, the elder, says he wants to share more about the glories of Christ’s love at the end of his first letter, but he wants to do it face to face. What did he share with them about the mysteries of Jesus when he met them? We may have some idea, but because we did not meet him face to face, we do not know. The whole theology of the incarnation can be summed up as Jesus, the God incarnate, wants to meet us face to face. There is a power to meeting face to face.  Are we losing the power of this claim as we start to lose this to the faux connection of Facebook?

An essay in the Atlantic, Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? asks us what our social network technology is doing to our human connection. Have we substituted interactive for engaged? The research says we are more disconnected from each other even though we are more interactive with one another. We share photos of what we are doing and our friends comment on them. And we are lonely. A web of friends seem just a tweet away; the art of face to face communication that animated John seems like a dream from the past. Simply sitting and talking, noticing the million shades of color the human eye can take, the wonder of conversation, have been replaced by the filters of Instagram. Fifty years ago the church was the center of life where people went to find ours to connect face to face.

Facebook makes us all performers. We can get a chance to recreate ourselves in photos, sharing things that catch our attention, and a chance to share what we think of others. It is a powerful platform to share information about ourselves.  Sharing information, though, differs greatly from dialog. The great Jewish theologian Martin Buber had three forms of dialog. First is the shared monologs, or people take turns telling the other what they think without any listening when not on the stage (sounds much like our political discourse or hearing two guys argue about sports). The second simply was the sharing of information. Facebook excels at this form of communication. The last form of dialog happens in what he called a I-thou connection, a deep connection where even silence lives pregnant with meaning. It is the third type that John needs by wanting to meet face to face. Without such connection, a deep spiritual food, we starve into a state of despair. These connections are where, I as a Christian, discover Jesus.

Challenge:
In the next week, go meet a friend and wonder who they are, and the uniqueness of the color of their eyes. It can be a profound form of worship.

6 Comments

  1. I imagine there are people who substitute human contact for cyber contact but I think most people have had relationships blossom through social media.

    Shut ins, sick, infirm, the elderly, home makers and baby makers, etc…have whole new possibilities for connection like never before.

    I get the angst about technology but I’m not sure it’s all based in actual practice. In the real world communication and relationships are always multifaceted and have many contact points.

    Most relationships we have with people are not deep and personal and probably shouldnt be…but are really more practical and functional.

    Learning to find healthy ways of balancing online life and face to face life is a new discipline that I think requires a new category in spiritual formation. We have great opportunity in the digital dawn to engage people and help the celebrate, manage and cultivate healthier relational circles.

  2. Tracy Simmons

    As an Internet/social media/Web junkie, I agree Eric. It’s a different kind of relationship though. One can’t replace the other, I think both are needed in today’s culture.

  3. Ernesto Tinajero

    Eric,

    I agree with you in many ways. What scares me is that technology gets in the way of deep connections. While we probably shouldn’t or in reality couldn’t have deep relationships with everyone, technology might be making all our connections shallow. I say this not as a Ludite, but join many researchers including Dr. Shirley Turkle (an early proponent of online communities). Her recent Ted Talk is revealing http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together.html .

  4. Yep both are needed in certain contexts. I think many, the majority in fact are pseudo-relationships and that’s perfectly fine. I can’t ‘be with’ many people and even when we are with people in a smaller group it’s limited. I think the whole issue of community often approaches idolatry. We’re moving from the great omnipotent “I” to the mighty “Us”. I grow weary of being told I need to be continually guilty for some new layer of human living. Food, transportation, communication, friendships, technology, spirituality, politics, gender & sexuality on and on it goes. I’m not saying you are doing this Ernesto, I think your observations are right on. I’m just ranting a bit on the kill joy folk who are always bemoaning something from their cranky rocking chair. Drop Facebook? Really, because some relationships are less cared for than others?

  5. Ernesto Tinajero

    Actually, I can see how you thought this. The title has me asking people to ditch Facebook.

    My original title was “When did we see you, Lord?” my thought is not that we should reject Facebook, but realize that it is not a substitution for actual face to face connection that John saw as so important. We can say the same thing about letters, phone, or email. They are communication tools not communion tools. I share on and use Facebook, but if I what to connect with a person, I call them and meet for coffee. My challenge was not about turning off Facebook, but go am meet another face to face.

  6. I agree but I’m forever thankful for Facebook and Skype which keeps me connected to my missionary brother in Thailand and keeps us connected to our ministry work there in almost real time. I can commune and communicate with him, we talk, pray, raise funds, tell stories, encourage and challenge one another via social media and technology in a way that wasnt
    possible in past decades. Plus there’s the whole 3rd person element to all this online stuff the multiplication of information, impact and potential change via people ‘looking on’ while others interact is an untold element in all this social media stuff too. Whatever the case, good post, my thoughts are not meant to be combative, just firing off a few thoughts. Keep it up..

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