Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Strong opinions and responses

Thursday November 15 2018

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Strong opinions and responses

It was a bit daunting, a few years ago, to undertake the writing of a book on friendship, because so many people have such vehement opinions about social media. I have read their forceful views online in blogs and newspapers, and in print as well. I’ve heard strong opinions from friends and family members. Opinions on the subject of friendship today, and especially the role of online communication, vary tremendously.

On the one hand, many writers have expressed their passionate opinion—usually based on their own experience—that the many new communication technologies facilitate friendships in fresh and exciting ways. All these new ways of communicating are helpful, they say, in mitigating against the busy schedules and scattering of loved ones that can make relationships challenging in our time.

On the other hand, many other writers use language like “faux,” “pseudo” or “imitation” to describe friendships today, particularly friendships with a significant internet component. They believe we have exchanged meaningful and intimate face-to-face friendships for impersonal, superficial online connections. People can’t talk to each other with any depth these days, they assert, and as a result relationships are impoverished.

As I began to write a book on friendship today, I wondered how I would navigate a path in the midst of these strong and heartfelt opinions.

I also felt daunted at the challenge of writing the book because putting friendship under a microscope seems potentially dangerous. What if it damaged my own friendships? My friends are one of the most precious gifts in my life. They have supported, encouraged and affirmed me. When times have been hard, they have listened to my endless worries and complaints.

I am thrilled at the diversity of gifts and personalities among my friends, and I feel awed when I think about their commitments and expertise in so many areas. To have a window into their thoughts and priorities is a great privilege, and to be a part of their lives challenges me to be my best self.

To analyze something almost always changes it. Scary.

But I knew I wanted to write the book. I’ve been thinking about friendships and how they work since I was a child. We moved almost a dozen times in my first 15 years, so from an early age I had to give attention to the question of how to find and care for friends. I believe the basic skills of friendship remain constant, and I wanted to write about those skills, exploring the way they apply in the global, frenetic, digitally-connected world today.

I see friendship as a spiritual practice, a place where we live out the things we believe in. Friendship is a space where our values and commitments take flesh. This is true for people of any kind of religious commitment or people who have none.

For the sake of readers who have a Christian faith commitment or an interest in seeing the connections between the Christian faith and friendship today, I wanted to discuss the ways friendship with God overlaps with our other friendships. This very best Friend can teach us a lot about how to relate to others, guiding us, empowering us and giving us the confidence and peace that undergird healthy friendships. The many biblical passages about relationships are just as relevant in the online world and in our homes, neighborhoods and workplaces today as they were in dusty Palestine two thousand years ago.

(Next week: My conversation partners about friendship. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post something new on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column of the whole webpage.)

This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. To learn about what the book covers, look here. I have several dozen copies of the book and I am hoping to sell them at low cost to people to use in groups. Every chapter ends with discussion questions, and numerous groups have used the book and told me it generated great discussion.If you'd like a sample copy to look over, let me know.

Here are prices for the United States (postage included):
     5 copies - $25
     10 copies - $40
     15 copies - $55
     20 copies - $70
Contact me at my email LMBaab[at]aol.com if you’d like to order books, or if you’d like to get prices for overseas, which are sadly much higher because overseas postage is so much.

First post in a new series: Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world

Friday November 9 2018

First post in a new series: Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world

“A friend is someone you can rely on through thick and thin, who understands you, and who would tell you the cold hard truth. A friend is someone with similar interests who you want to spend time with. A friend understands your jokes and makes you smile.” —A  definition from group of teenagers, aged 16-19

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.”—Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

The light from a clear blue sky flooded my home office as I turned on my computer. My husband was eating breakfast, and the cheerful clinking of dishes from the other side of the house, coupled with the slanting morning sunshine on the trees outside my window, made me feel lighthearted and optimistic about the day.

I found a handful of new emails, one of them from my editor at InterVarsity Press. He and I had been discussing the possibility that I would write a book on friendship as a spiritual practice in this electronic age. When I saw his email, I wondered if the editorial committee had met to discuss my proposal.

I opened the email. Great news! They wanted me to write the book.

I wrote back, telling him I was delighted and mentioning one detail I’d thought of since we last corresponded. I closed his email and found one from my brother, Mark, responding to an article about golf I had sent him the day before and mentioning his son, Ross, who was working in a hotel.

Hi there Lynne. That was a funny article you sent me yesterday. We’re feeling pretty happy here because Ross just got a promotion. He’ll have a regular shift at the front desk rather than filling in as needed. It will mean full time hours for him. 

I wrote a quick email back to Mark.

Give Ross my congratulations. And you can congratulate me, too. You’re the first person to know I’m going to be writing a book on friendship in the Facebook age. I just got an email from my editor and I’m really, really happy.

Mark happened to be online and wrote back right away.

Great news, Lynne. Here’s a story for your book. Ross found out that the position had opened up at work because of Facebook. The guy who was fired from the position did some venting on Facebook, so Ross knew he could apply. Ross heard the news first on Facebook, at home, on his day off.

I wrote back to Mark, joking about the situation and its significance for what I wanted to say in the book. As I wrote, I pondered the fact that Mark was writing from his office in Oregon, while I lived in New Zealand. My brother and I – seven thousand miles apart – were having this conversation about my book and about communication today, while my husband was peacefully eating breakfast only two rooms away from me, not yet knowing I was going to write the book.

Was something wrong with this picture, I wondered. Not everyone can say their husband is their best friend, but I can. Was I slighting my best friend, who happened to be in close physical proximity to me, to have this online discussion with my brother, who I also view as a close friend – located in that moment on the other side of the world? Or was this simply a normal aspect of life today?

The new communication technologies of the past two to three decades have shrunk our world. People far away are present to us with an immediacy that was unimaginable only 30 years ago. What are “real” relationships in this new context? What are the characteristics of healthy, life-giving friendships in today’s world? What choices and skills are necessary to navigate these new realities?

This is the first post in a series adapted from my book Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. Next week I’ll write briefly about some of the strong opinions about the questions I just posed, plus look at some of the aspects of friendship that can be viewed as a spiritual practice.

(Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post something new on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column of the whole webpage.)

This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. To learn about what the book covers, look here. I have several dozen copies of the book and I am hoping to sell them at low cost to people to use in groups. Every chapter ends with discussion questions, and numerous groups have used the book and told me it generated great discussion.If you'd like a sample copy to look over, let me know.

Here are prices for the United States (postage included):
     5 copies - $25
     10 copies - $40
     15 copies - $55
     20 copies - $70
Contact me at my email LMBaab[at]aol.com if you’d like to order books, or if you’d like to get prices for overseas, which are sadly much higher because overseas postage is so much.

Connections between the Bible and prayer: Sensory prayer in Revelation

Thursday November 1 2018

Connections between the Bible and prayer: Sensory prayer in Revelation

Through my childhood, in Episcopal and Anglican churches, incense played a role on special occasions. The priest would walk down the center aisle swinging a chain with a metal ball on the end. Inside the ball, incense was burning, and the smoke came out of cleverly shaped holes in the ball.

As I child, I was never sure if I liked the weird smell of incense. But it definitely signaled something about holiness to me.

Fast forward fifty-some years to the ordination of my colleague, James, to the Anglican priesthood. The ordination was held at St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Dunedin, New Zealand, and during some of the prayers, James lay face down on the marble floor.

How are incense and laying face-down related? Both draw on images of prayer in the book of Revelation.

In Revelation 1, the writer, who identifies himself as John, says he was “in the spirit on the Lord’s day” (verse 10). He hears a loud voice, then turns and sees an extraordinary vision of Jesus standing among seven lampstands, with white hair, eyes of flame, feet like burnished bronze, a sword coming from his mouth, and seven stars in his hands (verses 12-16).

John says, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (verse 17). This posture of awe and submission is echoed in many ordinations in the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions. I was privileged to see it when James was ordained.

Chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation contain the powerful letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor, Jesus’ confronting and comforting words that are still relevant today.

Revelation 4 describes a vivid scene of worship involving precious gems, thrones, flashes of lightning, a crystal sea, four strange creatures singing “Holy, holy, holy,” and 24 elders who “fall before the one who is seated on the throne” (verses 3-11). So again, worshippers are showing their devotion with their whole bodies in a position of submission, awe, and trust.

In Revelation 5 a drama unfolds. A scroll has been sealed with seven seals, and a mighty angel looks for someone worthy to undo the seals. No one in heaven or on earth is worthy, except for the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who is also the Lamb. As the Lamb takes the scroll, the four creatures and the 24 elders again fall before him and sing, each hold a harp and a golden bowl full of incense (verses 1-8).

The incense is identified as the prayers of the saints. In Revelation 8:4, incense is again connected with the prayers of the saints. In my childhood, when the incense was burned in church, I wish someone had told me about this symbolism.

Because of many excesses in the Roman Catholic Church of the late Medieval period, the Protestant Reformers tried to return to simple expressions of faith: grace alone, faith alone, the Bible alone as a source of authority. This was often accompanied by simplifying everything: no art in worship spaces, no incense, no laying face down during ordination services.

I’ve been heavily influenced by both the Episcopal/Anglican heritage of my childhood, and the grace-oriented, Bible-focused faith I learned in my early adult life in various Protestant settings, accompanied by very little art, incense or other sensory-focused experiences.

In recent years I’ve been asking myself this: What does a rich prayer life look like when it draws on all bodily senses? How can smells, taste, touch, bodily movements, and art contribute to prayer? How can we grow in bringing our whole bodies to God in prayer?

Revelation offers a few answers to my questions, and, as Revelation always does, raises yet more questions.

(Illustration: Dave Baab’s interpretation of Revelation 1:12-16. Notice the seven lampstands, which Jesus in Rev 1:20 identifies as the seven churches. In the painting, Dave has broken up the continents and put one lampstand on each continent, symbolizing to Dave the reassuring reality that the church on every continent belongs to Jesus, and that Jesus will keep the light burning in and through his church throughout the earth. Also note the way Dave represented Jesus’ white hair, golden sash, bronze feet, and the seven stars in his right hand. I have the original of this painting hanging right beside my desk, reminding me that Jesus is Lord of the Church even in the midst of decline, scandal, conflict, and discouragement. Many times the painting has brought tears to my eyes.)

If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column of the whole webpage. Previous posts in this series:

          Connections between the Bible and prayer    
          The character of God and prayer      
          The context of the Lord’s Prayer                
           Instructions from the Apsotle Paul                   
           Paul's prayer in Colossians                        
           Two prayers in Ephesians            
           The prayer in Philippians                  
           Paul's thankfulness                       
           A story of healing motivated by the instructions in James