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The notion of friendship is under broad review. A highly mobile and increasingly busy society—rootless, some might argue—means that most of our relationships can't depend solely on face-to-face contact to flourish. The increasing prominence of the virtual landscape—where the language of friendship has been co-opted to describe relationships ranging from intimate to meaningless—requires that we become fluent in ever-expanding relational technologies.
It's never been easy to be a friend, but it seems to be getting tougher by the nanosecond. In Friending, Lynne Baab collects the insights, hopes and regrets of people from across the spectrum of age and life circumstance and syncs them with the wisdom of the Bible.
Using Colossians 3 and 1 Corinthians 13 as touchpoints, Lynne shows us how we can celebrate and strengthen our relational ties while continuing to practice the timeless discipline of friending in our time.
Two interviews with Lynne about Friending:
Three brief YouTube videos by Lynne about friendship:
Reviews"A Practical and Informative Book." Review by Rev. Catherine Fransson »
True to form, Lynne Baab has offered us another practical and informative book that places our texting and email frenzy in the world of faith and finds compatibility there. Author of Sabbath Keeping and Reaching Out in a Networked World, Baab names the suspicion that email and texting, not to mention Facebook, are not real ways of maintaining friendships. Then she turns that suspicion on its head.
Using her own experience as a child who moved often (she now lives in Dunedin, teaching pastoral theology at the University of Otago), she has had to make new friends and nurture old friends for years. She says the issue is not that technology determines the depth and health of our relationships. Technology is neutral. We are the ones who give email, texting, and entries in Facebook meaning.
Media is vilified by some and embraced fanatically by others, not unlike the telephone nearly a hundred years ago. Yes, dynamics are lost in email (voice tone, facial expression) and body language is lost on the phone. Yet these still are vital media for our maintaining relationships of all kinds over vast distances, greater than ever in our history.
Baab finds inspiration in scripture. What faith brings to technology (or good faith in those who claim no stated belief) is practice such as that described by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians: Love is patient; love is kind. And Colossians 3: ...clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another...forgive each other. Friendships maintained by email, text and Skype require the same values and skills that all relationships do. For those of faith, kindness and patience dictate how friendships are maintained whether they are on Facebook or face to face. Baab then offers a series of chapters on friending skills: Initiating, Listening-Remembering-Praying. Asking-Giving-Thanking. Sharing-Caring-Being together and apart. Pacing-Choosing. Accepting- Forgiving. “The challenge in friendship isn’t to figure out who is a friend,” she asserts. “The challenge is to grow in the ability to act like a friend.”
After exploring good relationships and those which helped her grow, Baab offers a final chapter on her experience of living in New Zealand. The distance has changed the intensity of some relationships and made her acquainted with loneliness she hadn’t experienced for some time. She concludes, “Befriending loneliness more intentionally has been a healthy spiritual endeavor for me.” Indeed, since Jesus called his followers friends (John 15:12-17) and the model of God’s love for the world was “patterned into us at creation because...we are made in God’s image,” faith teaches us how to care for ourselves whether alone or with others. These skills grow with practice.
With questions for reflection, journaling, discussion or action at the end of each chapter, Baab leads us to ways of sharing our own experiences, often a source of spiritual growth. Lynne Baab concludes, Every act of friendship, whether it is well received or not, transforms us into people who know a little bit more about love, who understand a little more deeply what it means to be a neighbor to the people around us. Friendship transforms us, even as it brings healing, reconciliation and warmth to the world.
Lynne Baab, who has a PhD in Communication, is an American writer currently working in Otago University’s Theology Department. She’s the author of several books published by the Alban Institute that focus mostly on congregational life, and of books and bible studies (published by IVP) relating to spiritual life such as the areas of fasting and keeping Sabbath.
This new book comes in the latter category, and, in spite of its subtitle, is perhaps more of a primer on friendship itself than one that focuses only on friendship in the modern digital world. While its discussion of the ways in which we use email, texting and Facebook (amongst other means) is valuable, I found its discussion of how we make friends and how we nurture those friendships to be, for me, the core of the book. Lynne has been thinking about friendship as a subject for many years, partly as a result of having moved cities a number of times while growing up, and even more so now that she’s moved to New Zealand after being established in a community for some three decades in Seattle.
The book is loosely divided into two halves: the first discusses the impact of technology on friendship (including an instrument that now seems very ‘normal:’ the telephone), and the second looks at the ways in which we make and maintain friendships. While the first half is useful in thoroughly counteracting the oft-held notion that technological means of keeping up friendships are inferior and do little to enable the growth of friendships, the second half is the one that teaches the real value of friendships, what they can be, how we can best hold onto them, and even how we sometimes need to let them go.
Friendships seldom arise of their own accord. Sometimes two people will hit it off in a surprising fashion, but without an ongoing intentionality of maintaining that initial spark, the friendship will wither. Lynne’s discussion of the ways we need to ‘work’ at maintaining friendship, whether it’s in using all kinds of ongoing contact (and this is where texting and Facebook and the like come into their own), or learning how to listen, or being gracious in the bumpy patches, or learning when to make time for other people and when to give them space, is full of insights that help us think about how we function in our own world of friendships – or lack of them!
Throughout the book there are extracts from other people’s emails, letters and conversations on the subject of friendship. Many of these state positively that in spite of the difficulties, friendships are still a prime need in our lives, and that it’s essential to foster them. Lynne’s book is a great encouragement to do so, and is very helpful in its suggestions and recommendations of ways to do this.
My friend Lynne Baab has a new book out – Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World (IVP). Via an array of stories gleaned from many dozens of interviews, Lynne, who has a PhD in communications and who blogs at Gathering Voices, maps the ways that new technologies and social media are changing the form that many friendships take (even the word ‘friend’ itself has become a verb), threaten to both cheapen as well as promote friendship, and invite us to reassess the nature(s) of friendship itself. She wants to know what makes friendships work, what actions initiate and nurture friendships, why nothing in friendships is permanent, and what does it look like to be a friend in a world shrunken by new communication technologies. Lynne, who is a Facebook devotee, writes with great enthusiasm and warmth, in a very personal style, with a complete absence of academic jargon, with an open Bible, and with an eye on practical concerns. Don’t expect here a treatise on friendship in the manner of a Seneca, or an Augustine, or a critical discussion on the use of technology itself, as that offered by Jacques Ellul – it’s simply not that kind of book. Each chapter concludes with a set of questions for reflection, journaling, discussion or action that could well serve as the basis for group discussion, or a conversation among friends.
(This review originally appeared on Jason's Blog, Per Crucem Ad Lucem.)
Like 600 million people around the world and 10 million other Australians, I’m a Facebook user. Facebook has helped me connect with high school friends, keep in touch with family and friends living far away, discuss spirituality and theology, ask for advice on gardening and parenting, share photos with family, connect people with church, and communicate with other networks in which I have an interest.
It has its downsides – it adds to information overload, can become obsessive, increases expectations of accessibility, and lacks non-verbal conversational cues. The reality is I can’t have deep friendships with my 1,143 FB friends (who’s counting?). But just as I need a few close friends, a lot of acquaintances help me make the most out of life. Friendship is a gift and is part of who and what we are created for. When communication technology can enhance relationships I welcome it.
Lynne Baab, a Presbyterian minister teaching pastoral theology at the University of Otago in New Zealand, wrote Friending to bring together some of her key interests: friendship, spiritual formation and communication technology. She explores how the internet enhances or detracts from friendship.
Baab writes as someone who appreciates the strengths of new media and communication technology but is also aware of its drawbacks. Her book brings theological reflection and Biblical teaching relevant to friendship and online communication (drawing especially on teaching about love in I Corinthians 13 and Colossians 3, and reflecting on stories of friendships between Mary and Elizabeth, Jesus and his followers, and David and Jonathan).
It is a helpful commentary on how a diverse range of people use or don’t use different forms of electronic communication (drawing on interviews with dozens of people of all generations, from children to pensioners). And she offers practical suggestions on how friendships are formed and sustained.
Whether in the real world of face-to-face or internet communication, we cultivate friendships by putting ourselves where people gather, expressing care, saying thank you, praying for needs, catching up over coffee, listening intently, being vulnerable, asking for help, giving gifts, spacing contact, accepting differences and forgiving mistakes. Baab encourages initiative in these aspects of friending and tells stories of she and others put it into practice. We live in a world characterised by busyness, mobility and electronic communication. It is important to understand how these features influence our friendships. Friending is a helpful guidebook for anyone who wants to understand and make the most of relationships in the virtual world.
This review was originally published in Sight. Darren coordinates leadership training with the Baptist Union of Victoria, pastors Auburn Baptist Church and has space in his life for more FB friends and so invites you to friend him at www.facebook.com/darren.cronshaw
Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World
Review by Brad Smith, associate pastor at Makiki Christian Church, Honolulu, Hawaii
Those familiar with earlier books by Lynne Baab will be pleased but not surprised by this latest offering. It combines insights from the Scriptures and from secular academic sources, interspersed with lots of personal stories from her own life and that of her many friends.
Much of the material in the first five chapters on technology and friendship could not have been written twenty, ten or in some cases five years ago. Baab avoids one size fits all generalizations. No, Facebook and texting do not automatically lead to superficial relationships, but one needs to use them wisely. Yes, twenty-somethings are more likely to text than are seventy-year-olds, but there are many exceptions to the generational stereotypes.
Chapter 6, “Friendship With God,” and the last seven chapters on the nuts and bolts of friendship include examples from biblical times and on up to today. Baab includes such topics as Initiating, Listening, Praying, Forgiving, Being Together, and Being Apart.
Each chapter includes a series of thought-provoking questions that encourage personal or group study. Several ways to profit from this book immediately came to my mind while reading it.
The first chapters helped me, someone who learned to be a friend before the computer age, to understand the value of recent technology in strengthening or even forming healthy friendships. Those who never remember a time without e-mailing, texting, and Twitter would find the same material helpful in reflecting on the pros and cons of these technologies. Parents and children (or grandparents, too) could have fruitful conversations on these chapters.
The latter chapters serve as a springboard for those who want to think more deeply about friendship in their lives. For some, the material helps to clarify what went wrong in a friendship, or why their friendships don’t seem to last. Others will welcome ideas on how to reach beyond their current circle of friendships, and how to protect and nurture friendships. Those stressed with the felt obligation of keeping track of too many friends might be intrigued by Baab’s suggestion in the last chapter to consider befriending loneliness.
So pick up a copy, read it, ponder the questions, and perhaps get a few copies for your parents, your children, your friends, or your study group.