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: Friendship with God

Thursday December 20 2018

Nurturing Friendships in a Cellphone World: Friendship with God

When I was nineteen or twenty, a brand new Christian, I came across the idea that human beings are created in God’s image (see Genesis 1:26). I wondered what that meant, so I began asking older Christians I respected. The answer, given to me by several different people, was that humans are rational, like God is.

In the decades since I asked that question, Christian theologians have engaged in a burst of writing and thinking about the Trinity, emphasizing the intimate relationship between the persons of the Trinity. [1] What does it mean to be made in God’s image? Today, many theologians would answer by saying that humans are created for relationships that mirror the relationship between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Being made in God’s image means that we are created to love and give and care. We are invited into intimacy with the triune God, the God of relationship, and we are invited into intimacy with each other.

I was in my mid-thirties when I first heard that revised answer to my burning question, and it was a giant aha moment for me. I had liked the previous answer. I had liked believing that what sets humans apart from animals is that we are rational. It made me feel a bit smug. I can do “rational” fairly easily most of the time.

Pondering the image of God in humans as a call to relationship didn’t make me feel smug. It made me feel challenged. It called me to be my best self, to let go of selfishness and grudges and pride. It said to me that using my rationality and intelligence as ends in themselves might be a good thing, but using my rationality and intelligence and other gifts to serve people and nurture connections with them is infinitely more important.

For the next few weeks I’ll be writing about friendship with God as a foundation for human friendships today. For this week I encourage you to ponder some questions:

Have you ever thought about the loving relationship between the persons of the Trinity as a model for human relationships? If so, in what way has that relationship been a model for you?

If you’ve never thought of this idea, spend some time pondering what you know from the New Testament about the way Jesus relates to his Father. Is there anything from that relationship you have already brought into your human relationships? Something you’d like to grow into?

The relationship between the Holy Spirit and the other two persons of the Trinity is harder to discern, but there are hints throughout the New Testament. Ponder whether there’s anything in that relationship you have already learned from or would like to learn from?

I’ll end this post with a couple of quotations that don’t mention God or friendship with God, but which I think capture the theme of the Bible’s message about our call to mirror God’s character.

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and likes you anyway, one who listens without telling and confides without withholding, who depends on you when the going is tough and laughs with you most of the time.”
       —Deborah, a retired teacher in her seventies

“The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved for ourselves.”
       —Victor Hugo (1802–1885)

(Next week: Jesus as friend. Illustration by Dave Baab. 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 website, or if you can’t access that on your phone, email me at LMBaab[at], and I’ll add you to the email list. This post is adapted from my book Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual WorldI have copies for sale at a low price, so contact me if you're interested.)

Some past posts about friendship:

[1] Among many books I could cite, I’ll mention two books by Stanley J. Grenz because the titles capture the wording used so often by theologians in recent decades: Created for Community: Connecting Christian Belief with Christian Living (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), and The Social God and the Relational Self: A Trinitarian Theology of the Imago Dei (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 2001).

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Confidence about friendship

Thursday December 13 2018

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Confidence about friendship

Despite the challenges I’ve been writing about in recent posts, most of the people I interviewed for my book on friendship were confident they knew how to develop and nurture friendships. Many expressed frustration about the implications in their daily life of three obstacles mentioned in previous posts — the tendency of electronic communication to be impersonal, busy schedules, and friends who live far away — but only a few expressed concerns that they don’t really know how to go about making and keeping friends.

The generational patterns in the interviews were fascinating. Just about everyone with whom I spoke was concerned about someone else’s use of technology in relationships, and those concerns were expressed in generational terms.

The people my age, in their fifties and sixties, told me they had learned how to nurture strong and healthy face-to-face friendships during all those years before computers. They expressed a lot of concern about people in their twenties and thirties, wondering if they’ll be able to sustain marriage and parenting relationships because they’re so used to communicating using technology. The glib, brief and trivial nature of so much online communication might contribute to superficial relationships. Can people in their twenties and thirties have long, intimate conversations? Can they share their deepest feelings?

My two sons, in their thirties, as well as others their age and in their twenties who I interviewed, are confident of their own ability to nurture intimate friendships. Several of them cited their childhood without cell phones or the internet, saying they learned how to have close friends before the age of rampant electronic communication. These young adults, however, expressed concern about teenagers. With the proliferation of such brief messages in text messages and online posts, will they be able to engage in the kind of deep conversations that nurture true friendships?

The dozen or so teenagers I interviewed, ranging in age from 15 to 19, were also quite confident of their own ability to nurture friendships. They said they see very clearly that a person can become so focused on online communication and texting that they lose the ability to communicate in person. All of my teenaged interviewees were confident they knew how to handle that challenge. Many of them talked about the priority they place on face-to-face conversations to nurture friendships, in tandem with staying in frequent contact electronically. They said the frequent, brief updates they send and receive through texting and online social networking make it possible to begin face-to-face conversations from a point of connection. They already know the details of their friends’ lives so they can dive into deeper topics when they speak with each other.

Several of the teenagers, however, said they were worried about 12 year olds getting cell phones and joining social networking websites. These older teens worried that younger teens don’t have the wisdom to know how to deal with the impersonal nature of electronic communication, which they said is evidenced by the amount of cell phone and online bullying that goes on among younger teens.

Based on these interviews, and based on the many articles I’ve read in recent years about personal relationships in a technological age, just about everyone focuses their concern on other people’s use of technology in nurturing friendships. “I know how to cope with it all,” they seem to be saying. “But I don’t think others do.”

The comments I heard in interviews resemble the “third person effect,” documented by many scholars, where individuals believe that media have more negative influence on others than on themselves. People believe they can handle violence or pornography, but that others will not be able to cope as well.  (For example, see W. P. Davison, “The Third Person Effect in Communication,” Public Opinion Quarterly 47/1, 1983, 1-15.)

I invite you to ponder the places where you see this “third person effect” related to cellphones and friendship. I invite you to evaluate your own growing edges related to friendship. Are any of the challenges you experience in friendships related to online or cellphone communication? How has God helped you? Next week, and for the few weeks after that, I’ll write about friendship with God as a foundation for understanding human friendships.

(Illustration by Dave Baab. 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.)

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. If you read the series "Initiative in Friendship," mentioned above, you'll get an idea of what one chapter is like.

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] 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.

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Changing definitions of friendship

Thursday December 6 2018

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Changing definitions of friendship

I asked several dozen people whether the use of “friend” to refer to contacts on social networking websites is changing the way they understand friendship. All of them said no.

A good number of people who responded to my question, ranging in age from late teens to late forties, said that all their contacts on Facebook are people they already know fairly well or very well. So calling them friends is appropriate.

The rest of the people who responded to my question said that they have a variety of ways of referring to a Facebook friend who they do not know in person or do not know well enough to call a real friend. They might say “Facebook contact” or “someone I know on Facebook.” One woman said that when she refers to friends, she usually uses some kind of modifier anyway: “friend from high school,” “friend from work,” or “Facebook friend” if she knows the person only from Facebook. Many of those friends from high school and from work are also her friends on Facebook, but she doesn’t think of them that way because the connection is rooted elsewhere in her life.

Online social networking has changed friendship vocabulary in one notable way. The word “friend” has become a verb. To “friend” someone is to request that they become a friend on a social networking website or to accept their request. To “unfriend” refers to the act of deleting him or her as an online contact. In my interviews, no one used “friend” or “unfriend” as verbs for anything other than online actions. Perhaps in the years to come, “friend” or “unfriend” as verbs will also be used to refer to acts related to face-to-face friendship, but I didn’t hear anyone use the words that way.

I like some aspects of the verb “friending.” I want to encourage discussion about the ways friendship—online or offline—is like a verb. Being a friend involves significant actions of caring and commitment. The old adage, the only way to have a friend is to be a friend, is still profound and true. Learning how to be a friend, and engaging consistently in actions that express friendship, reflects the reality that friendship is more like a verb than a noun.

I believe that nurturing deep friendships in any setting requires determined intentionality and commitment. Today’s Western lifestyle creates three major challenges to friendship: the online component of so many relationships, the frantic pace of life, and the scattering of family and friends to dispersed locations. Never before have so many people conducted so many of their relationships using such a wide range of technologies that include cell phones, computers, tablets, gaming consoles connected to the internet, and many other forms of technology.

Never before has the pace of life been so frantic, with electric light making day and night irrelevant and with people racing around juggling a myriad of commitments. And never before has mobility been so rampant, resulting in families and friends dispersed to the four corners of the world. 

As you think about these shifts and challenges, here are some questions to ponder about your own friendships:

What is the balance in your life between online, phone and face-to-face communication with friends? What priority do you give to each? What do you think and feel about your patterns of connection?

What role do busyness and distance play in making friendships challenging for you? What strategies have been successful for you in overcoming those challenges?

(Next week: Confidence about friendship. Illustration by Dave Baab. 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.)

This is the fifth post in a series. The previous posts are:
Nuturing friendships in a cellphone world                
Strong opinions and responses                 
My conversation partners about friendship          
Two views about commmunication technologies            

Listening is a key friendship skill. I've got three articles on this website about listening. You can access them here.