Every few months or so I hear from a colleague, or read in an article, or am challenged by a friend that virtual/digital community isn’t REAL community. You know, Facebook friends aren’t REAL friends. Twitter conversations aren’t REAL dialogs. Instagram pages, Pinterest boards, blogs, list serves, etc. aren’t REAL community.
And I’m going to shock some of you:
“Facebook friends” aren’t my real friends. According to my Facebook profile I have 549 “Facebook friends.” Facebook has co-opted the term “friend” from our casual vernacular and claimed it to mean something technical within its platform. I do not believe that I have 549 real friends. However, among those 549 human beings, the ones that sit at their desks, on their couches at home, or at tables in coffee shops and engage me in fun, meaningful, challenging, supportive, authentic relationship are my REAL friends. And it’s amazing how often and deeply I am able to connect with them via the TOOL of Facebook! Instagram pages and Twitter feeds are not my community. However, the real live people whose hearts are beating and souls are stretching across time and space to me through their pictures, thoughts, resources, ideas, etc. using the media and tools hosted on the internet, such as Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Foursquare, etc., are indeed my REAL community.
These people are also my church. Our church. In my experience and understanding of church, including Jesus’ declaration of Peter as the “rock” of the church, church resides in and among and between the people, not in the buildings or internet platforms that connect them. When I was a local church pastor in rural MN, our youth group, and their parents, communicated almost exclusively via Facebook messages. I counseled a teenager through an awful breakup via text messaging one night. The new fellowship area’s design was inspired by photos of other church parlors shared on Pinterest boards. I continue to have theological debate with colleagues regarding baptism, stewardship planning, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, and how to set appropriate rental rates for non-profit groups who want to use church buildings via Facebook pages. These people are our church, and Facebook, text messaging, etc. are the ways we have found to connect with one another.
I agree, that I (we) need REAL community. I agree that REAL community isn’t a plastic box or powered by electricity. However, these tools are incredibly helpful in the task of connecting with other human hearts and souls in this day and age. I am eternally grateful for the creativity of the Holy Spirit and the wide variety of ways that She continues to draw us all nearer to one another and therefore closer to God. I love when I run into my REAL friends in person at worship on Sunday morning, at occasional retreats across the country, when serving on boards and committees of non-profits I care about, etc. and our relationships are deepened by our conversations in other ways and times. I also celebrate in the mystery of God who is bigger than I can explain or contain, and trust that even those folks who I will never see the whites of their eyes in person, I may still call my real FRIEND, even my real CHURCH, because of the way we have been in community with one another along this journey of life and faith together.
I love my REAL friends because we exchange REAL love and build REAL community together. And as explained beautifully by Margery Williams in The Velveteen Rabbit, “And once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
Blessings for the Journey,