online neighbors

So I was listening to WBEZ the other day (I’m currently addicted, so much so that I go online to listen to them when I’m not driving around Chicago-land), and they did this whole special on Chicago neighborhoods. A lot of interesting topics were brought up that I won’t go way into, but I did want to blog about it today. 

I noticed a lot of people bashing the online world as a key destroyer of human connection.

“Kids now-a-days don’t know how to have an actual conversation that doesn’t include texting or tweeting.”

“We are an isolated society that finds fulfillment in meaningless connections over the internet instead of face to face interaction that used to be so valued.”

“Once upon a time, when someone on the sidewalk flashed you a grin, it was considered a friendly gesture…now, it feels more like a confirmation of crazy. People, it seems, tend to be fearless online but increasingly terrified of face-to-face interactions.”

Being a blogger, and (I’ll admit) a constant pinterest, facebook, and twitter user, I can’t say that I whole-heartedly agree.

Chances are, since you are currently online reading my blog instead of hanging out with your neighbors, you probably also consider the world wide web as a community of sorts. It is a place to connect with people, have conversations, find out about other people or news, share ideas, and get new ideas. With how many million people follow me on pinterest alone (slight exaggeration there), I know that these online tools and social networks are highly used by many members of American society and even the world society at large. To say that all connection on these sites is meaningless is a bit absurd.

However, I do understand where some people are coming from when they blame social networking on the decline of neighborliness. People probably know their “friends” on facebook better than they do the person who lives across the street from them, and kids are getting better and better at finding ways to pass the time by sitting in front of a computer instead of playing outside with the kids down the block. Also, I have come to find that pinterest provides a false sense of productivity when people are “pinning” cool crafts and recopies instead of making them in real life. It’s even possible to feel a false sense of church community by all of the sermons and Christian blogs available with the click of a mouse, and I know that this can cause some major issues when it comes so socializing and community.

However, even before we all had laptops can could listen to John Piper on our iphones rather than attend Sunday service, there were issues with “genuine connection” and true “neighborliness”.

Some suggest that the specific decline in neighbors knowing one another had more to do with architecture than anything else. Houses and apartments were built with back porches rather than front porches, and yards were fenced in rather than open. This made people more seclusive…. or was it the other way around? Did people gradually get more successive and then all the sudden start building their houses to reflect that?

Also, air conditioning and cable tv. We sit inside to entertain ourselves and stay cool rather than sit out on our front stoop to see people walking by and getting to know our community.

Then of course, there is always the issue of race. Many people began to break off and away from certain neighborhoods because of different ethnicities moving in. Ever heard of “white flight“?

One of my theories is this:  People have become self-reliant and have placed a seriously high value on their own individuality.

While I think its great that so many people have so much self-esteem and are so confident in their abilities, I don’t know if this ideology is justified by Christ, or by our genuine human need for community.

Our culture has convinced many of us that serving ourselves is the most important thing and it teaches us that independence is a quality we should admire and aspire for. But this distorts the truth about Christ’s selfless sacrifice and his emphasis on communion with others.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that we all should take time to be alone and to seek our God alone to become refreshed and renewed in his Truth, but what I won’t buy into is the lie that loving others and creating community requires my own self-confidence and self-reliance to be supremely fed.

Jesus had friends that he hung out with (reject friends at that!). Jesus knew people and talked to people, and they were usually the ones that no one else wanted to be seen around. He ate and drank with people (and actually was persecuted in part because of this fact) and wherever he traveled, he loved the people there and gave them his time. He did not come to be served, he came to serve. He did not build up his walls so he could worship God all alone and rely on himself, but he humbled himself. He had the woman at the well, who no one would talk to, give him water. He asked John, his cooky cousin, to baptize him. He asked his disciples to prepare the passover meal and get him a donkey. He was not self-reliant, and he totally could have been because, well, he’s God.

Now I know I’ve gone off on a little tangent here, but mainly, the point I wish to make is this:

Community is important, but there a many different kinds of communities. Jesus had his apostles, friends, his family, his church, and then his followers who were spread about the land. We have our friends, our friends, our family, our church, our facebook profile, our blogring… whatever. It’s clear that we need people. We need connection. We need others to be with us and in communication with us.

God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” I think he was dead on….well, he is dead on about everything really, but this part is no exception.

How about you? What do you think of online communities? How can we make our social networking connections meaningful and Christlike? If you have any insights, ideas, or revelations, please let us know by posting a comment. I’d love to hear your input, as always!

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