I have had multiple conversations both on and off line in which on-line relationships and conversations are said to be of a lower quality or have less importance than face to face relationships and conversations. I’ve seen numerous posts decrying Facebook and our addiction to it. I’ve also had my fair share of experience with small groups, care groups, home churches, and fellowships large and small. My personal experience doesn’t line up with the verbiage praising “real” face to face engagement over the “less authentic” on-line versions. So what’s a body to do?
I’d love to have some of my on-line friends over for a nice dinner and a glass of wine. I’m sure I’d enjoy laughing together more than laughing a couple hours later with my computer at something someone said…I mean wrote. The human touch is inviting. The trouble is weeding out the little irritations–the sound of her laugh, his constant interrupting, the over zealous protection of the furniture, or the lack of consideration for personal boundaries–is much MUCH more difficult in person. I don’t have to listen to the ladies go on and on about the latest diet or hair-do nail polish color. I don’t have to listen to the men talk about football, or basketball, or baseball. I don’t have to hear how well Sally did at the science fair or how great a speller little Johnny has become. I don’t have to mentally judge myself over and over during all those kinds of conversations and feel guilty or embarrassed or unsure or frustrated or seriously lacking.
The limited scope of on-line relationships helps me feel accepted–ACCEPTABLE. And, I’m much more capable of accepting others, even those I know would eventually grate on me in person. Does this make me a shallow person? Well, I don’t know about making me shallow but it does sort of point out where my shallowness resides. My hat goes off to the people who can do–face to face–what I am just starting to be able to do on-line: see others as equals, not be consumed by self focus (how I do and don’t measure up), and sincerely want to know, understand where someone else lives.
I recently posted the following note of encouragement to a new comer in an on-line group I belong to. As soon as I posted it I began thinking how beautiful it would be to find an in-person fellowship which functioned in the same way as the group I was describing to this new comer.
You will see a lot in this group. We are all in such different stages of our journeys that you are bound to find someone to walk with on the trail. At the same time, in the midst of feeling tired and knowing you are on a steep part [of the mountain] you’ll hear some of us whooping it up and wonder if you’ll ever feel like that, ever get to taste the cool refreshment of a mountain spring. You may even “feel” judged because you haven’t reached that point in your journey yet. Yet it is true, none of those who seem to be having an easier time or seem to be farther along in their walk are judging. We just don’t always remember, in the moments of our celebration, how it felt to be hiking a steep rocky path or what it’s like to get off the trail and lost in the trees. At times you may be convinced you don’t want to keep hiking. It’s too much work and the part of the forest you’re stuck in at least gives you shade. But I promise, the view just over the rise is worth the effort. The ways in which you can impact those behind you [on the trail] or still debating if they’re even willing to go hiking will make each painful step forward worth the effort. The energy you’ll receive when your lungs fill with the fresh air of love and acceptance and you know you’re standing on the top of a mountain with your son IS WORTH THE EFFORT! Bless you, _______. And know you don’t have to climb the whole mountain today.
I believe Jesus is the head of the fellowship I talked about in the above post. This group has pooled resources, flooded members with notes of sympathy, encouragement, and congratulations, and even held face-to-face get-togethers in different pockets of the country. I just don’t happen to live in a particularly accessible part of the country or have the resources to go somewhere else. And so, I personally long for a physical manifestation of the heart of this community, a physical manifestation of the heart of God.
Don’t get me wrong, I am blessed to have these ladies in my life, these ladies with whom (because of the on-line nature of our group) I am not made painfully aware of my dowdy clothes, lack of make-up, or disinterest in wallpaper. These ladies LIKE me on Facebook. They encourage me in what I have to say and share my pain without judgement. I am blessed! But I know that someday, perhaps when I am more ready to be a manifestation myself, I’d like to enjoy a face-to-face fellowship that looks like my JBTB community.