Friendship, listening, and empathy: A Prayer GuideTwo Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Nurturing friendships in a cellphone world: Strong opinions and responses

Lynne Baab • 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] 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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