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: Who is my neighbor?

Thursday January 17 2019

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Who is my neighbor?

The story in Luke 10:25-37 about the good Samaritan is one of the best-loved stories of the Bible. The story and Jesus’ words before and after he tells it provide helpful teaching about the kind of intentionality in friendship to which God calls us.

Most readers focus on the drama in the story: the man who is beaten up and robbed, the people who pass by on the other side of the road and the Samaritan who unexpectedly gives aid and demonstrates care and concern across cultural and ethnic boundaries. I love the story in itself, but I’ve always been equally interested in the circumstances of when and why Jesus told it.

The story follows the return of the seventy, who have been sent out by Jesus to preach and heal. After the disciples come back and debrief with Jesus, an expert in the law “stood up to test Jesus.” He asks what he should do to inherit eternal life.

Jesus replied, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”

The man answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus tells him he has given the right answer. The man then asks, “Who is my neighbor?”

At that point, Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan and ends the story by asking the expert in the law which character in the story was a neighbor to the man who was robbed. The answer is obvious, and the man responds, “The one who showed him mercy.”

When the man asked, “Who is my neighbor,” he was asking who he should consider as a neighbor. After Jesus told the story, he asked who had acted like a neighbor. Jesus shifted the emphasis of the question. The expert in the law was asking him to define a category of people, the people who fit into this group called “neighbor.” Jesus instead emphasized a category of actions, the actions that are neighborly.

Our task, Jesus is implying, is not to figure out who fits into the category of neighbor so we can love them. Instead our challenge is to figure out when and how to act in a neighborly fashion, how to be a neighbor.

This story has profound implications for friendship. I invite you to ponder the difference in your life between the category of people you call friends and the actions of being friendly that you may extend to people within and outside your circle of friendship. Friendship can be viewed as a verb – maybe the verb “friending” if we can detach it from purely online connotations – and God calls us to grow in the actions of friendship.

(Next week: Friendship as action. 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 webpage. This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World.)

This is the tenth 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            
Changing defintions of friendship                 
Confidence about friendship                
Friendship with God                  
Jesus as friend                      
Friendship with Christ and friendship with others                    

Listening is a key friendship skill. I've got three articles on this website about listening. One of them won an award for an article on social justice and builds on the ideas in this post. You can access the articles here.

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Friendship with Christ and friendship with others

Friday January 11 2019

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Friendship with Christ and friendship with others

What difference does it make for human friendships that we are invited to be friends with Christ? (I wrote last week about Jesus’ invitation to us to be his friends.)

First and foremost, if our human friendships mirror the intimacy between the three persons of the Trinity, as well as reflecting the friendship between Jesus and humans, then we aren’t inventing friendship. Instead we are entering into something that is already happening and something that was patterned into us at creation because of the fact that we are made in God’s image.

Yes, the world is broken. Yes, the image of God in human beings is blurred by sin. But even though those things are true, as we grow in maturity as human beings, we grow in our ability to love and care for others. We were made for relationships; being relational was etched into us when we were made.

Second, we can expect that a relationship with God through Jesus Christ will help us grow in our ability to nurture human friendships. God’s business is relationships. Love is the hallmark of God’s personality and priorities. As we draw near to that God, the Holy Spirit will help us to grow in love, which will spill over to all our relationships.

We don’t have to strain to have human friendships. God will help us forgive, share, reach out and show compassion and kindness. We can draw near to God and expect that, over time, our ability to live in communal love with others will grow because of God’s Spirit at work within us.

The relationality of the Trinity isn’t just something we are called upon to emulate; instead, it is actually something we are gathered into. Like the shepherd gathering the lost sheep, Jesus comes to find us, comes looking for us so that he might gather us into the embrace of the divine love. When we love others, we are resting in the embrace of that love. We don’t have to generate the love. It is already there.

When we grow in friendship with Christ, when we allow ourselves to be Jesus’ friends and allow ourselves to receive his love, we will find it easier to pass that love on to others. We love because God first loved us (see 1 John 4:19).

So many conflicts between friends grow out of insecurity and pride. The more we know deep inside that we are loved, the more we rest in the embrace of the God who loves us, the more secure we will feel and the less we will need to bolster our pride. As we receive love from God, we will feel increasingly peaceful and harmonious internally, and that peace and harmony will spill over into relationships with others.

(Next week: Who is my Neighbor? 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.)

I am still trying to promote my latest book, Nurturing Hope: Christians Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century. Here's a review on that really gets what I was trying to do in the book. The author of the review, Darren Cronshaw, has written a wonderful book about the missional church, Sentness: Six Postures of Missional Christians, and he really understands the links between pastoral care and mission. If you know anyone involved in either mission or pastoral care (or the overlap between the two), please let them know about my book.

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], 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.

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