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: Jesus as Friend

Friday January 4 2019

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Jesus as Friend

Last week I described the life-changing moment when I began to understand the implications of a new way of describing the image of God in humans. Scholars increasingly describe God’s image in us as our capacity for relationship.

I had another aha moment about ten years later. I was sitting in a rental car at a California beach on a blustery winter afternoon, reading the Bible, on my circuitous way from the airport to a conference. I read John 15:12-17, a passage that was familiar to me. This time I saw it in a new light.

On his last night with his disciples before his death and resurrection, Jesus said,

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

Jesus calls us his friends! For some reason, on that day, the impact of that statement stunned me. I sat in my rented car in the cold wind, watching the pounding waves, pondering the significance of this invitation to friendship.

Friends have a level of equality with each other, and Jesus affirms that he can call us friends because he has revealed what his Father is doing, so we’re not in the dark about God’s purposes and plans. Yet this friendship is characterized by obedience as well. We are commanded to obey Jesus, but the command here is really more of an invitation. Jesus invites us to enter into this new thing that the Father is doing and that Jesus is making known.

In these verses, Jesus’ command to obey him is an invitation into the relationship he has with his Father, a relationship of obedience and submission. Jesus submits to his Father, and we submit to Jesus, a submission in both cases characterized by knowledge of what the Father is doing, not blind obedience. This submission is part of a loving, caring, intimate relationship.

In fact, Jesus invites us into the friendship he has with the one he calls Father. My two aha moments are connected to each other. We are created in the image of a God who lives in love: the three persons of the Trinity eternally intimate with and devoted to each other. That love spills over to us. We are loved, and we are called to love. We are invited into friendship with this God, and Jesus Christ is the one who makes that friendship possible by dying, and being raised from the dead, to reconcile us to God.

Throughout the ages, numerous Christian theologians and writers have described salvation in Christ as entering into friendship with God. In fact, in John 15, Jesus talks about laying his life down as a significant component of his friendship with us. Beautiful hymns and poems, dating from almost every century of Christian history, describe friendship with God and often relate that friendship to salvation in Christ. In a few weeks, in one of the posts in this series, I’ll quote from some of those hymns and poems so you can see them.

(Next week: Friendship with Christ and friendship with others. 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. This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World.)

Happy New Year! Here are some New Year’s posts I’ve written in the past to help readers reflect on the transition from one year to the next.

     Two postures for entering into the New Year          
     Jesus’ model of hearing God’s guidance          
     Prayer as listening to God: Looking back on the past year          
     How to use the prayer of examen to look back on the whole past year (a post I wrote for the Godspace 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]aol.com, 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]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.

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.

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Two views about communication technologies

Thursday November 29 2018

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Two views about communication technologies

My sons represent two significant viewpoints about friendships and new communication technologies. My younger son believes that this is the best time in human history for friendships, simply because of the many options for staying connected. “I can be on a business trip in New York City,” he said, “and I see something in a shop window that reminds me of a friend in Europe. I can pull out my cell phone and flip him a text message. Or I can send him an email or instant message with him. I can post something on Facebook or on my blog that I know that friend will like.”

All those varied forms of contact, he believes, make it possible for us to begin from a point of connection rather than distance when we see friends face-to-face. He notes that the variety of ways to connect provides options for people with different communication preferences to find one way or a few ways to stay in touch that suits them. He is convinced that all of this makes friendship alive and vibrant in our time.

My older son enjoys the variety of ways to stay connected as well, but he has concerns about them and is generally less optimistic than his brother about their benefits. He believes we are shaped by the communication technologies we use the most. He is concerned about the brevity of cell phone text messages, updates on social networking websites and even emails. He believes they nurture glib and flippant communication styles that damage meaningful communication and inhibit depth in relationships, particularly over the long haul.

“Have you ever noticed,” my older son said, “that the actors in movies from the 1950s all seem to talk in rich, plummy tones? They sound like radio announcers, which is understandable because they all listened to hours and hours of radio during the Depression and World War II. Their communication style was shaped by what they heard so often. In the same way, people who watch a lot of TV seem to talk in sound bites and expect everyone to be beautiful. Just watch. People who send a lot of text messages and post short, offhand comments on Twitter or Facebook are going to be shaped by that style of communicating.”

Scholars call his viewpoint “technological determinism.” [1] This school of thought asserts that the communication technologies we use determine the way we use them; each communication technology has its limits, and those limits shape the messages and ultimately shape the person sending the messages as well. Much of the negative discourse about online communication and smart phones comes from the technological determinist perspective. Because cell phone texting and most internet communication eliminate non-verbal cues that convey emotion, technological determinists are deeply concerned that significant aspects of human communication are missing when certain communication technologies are used.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the view that technologies are inherently neutral, that the content we put in them gives them form and meaning. My younger son’s optimism about the all the wonderful ways to stay connected today has some parallels with this “technology is neutral” way of thinking

Heidi Campbell, a researcher who studies the way religious communities and individuals in them use new communication technologies, argues for a middle ground. She notes that people of faith — like everyone else — have always shaped different communication technologies to suit their own needs. [2] The printing press, telegraph, telephone, TV, movies, the internet and smart phones have been, and are being, used strategically to meet the goals of organizations and individuals. She believes that any technology does not totally determine the way it is used. Her research indicates that people bring their own priorities, goals and passions to communication technologies and shape their use in unexpected ways.

Yet, at the same time, she agrees that each form of communication encourages some styles of interaction and makes other styles more difficult. She believes that online communication is excellent for conveying information; however, depth, emotion and intimate connection are harder to convey online. Heidi Campbell believes, as I do, that nurturing deep relationships that have a significant online component requires intentionality and commitment.

Ultimately where we land on the spectrum—of technological determinism versus technology as neutral—is not the most significant issue with respect to friendship. Communication technologies are what they are, and they are what we make of them.

Meanwhile, this series of blog posts focuses on friendship: what friendship is, and what we make of our friendships. It’s my hope that this series (and perhaps also my book on friendship) will help you explore all sides of the spectrum and come out the other side with deeper, richer experiences of friendship in all its fullness.

(Next week: Changing definitions of 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 is the second series about friendship on this blog. The first series was called "Initiative in Friendships," and you can read the first post here. Just click "next post" at the bottom and you can work your way through the series of seven posts. Here are three of my favorite posts in the series:
         What Mary might have missed                    
         Different ways of initiating                   
         A gift given to me by initiative                             

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]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.

[1] “The medium is the message,” Marshall McLuhan asserted in 1967 in the book with the same title. Neil Postman made a similar argument in 1985 in Amusing Ourselves to Death (New York, Penguin, 2005, twentieth anniversary edition).
[2] Heidi Campbell is the author of two significant books that explore the way religious communities use the internet and other new communication technologies: When Religion Meets New Media (London: Routledge, 2010) and Exploring Religious Community Online (London: Peter Lang, 2005). The opinions attributed to Dr. Campbell in these two paragraphs come from interviews with her by the author, November 14 to 18, 2009.

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