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!

In the Garden.

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God blessed them, and God said to them… “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything he had made, and indeed, it was very good…The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it… Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone, I will make him a helper as his partner”…  The rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh or my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and they were not ashamed.

                                                                                                      –Excerpts from Genesis

Dennis and I have planted a garden outside of our home. It seems rather providential timing that we also began to read Genesis together in this new, fresh time of our lives. Genesis is the beginning story, where everything is set up and created. The creation story, as it were. I am finding simple lessons here as well as discovering the same old truths we all knew in our brains since sunday school, but knowing and hearing them be spoken in God’s own words which are written on our hearts is an entirely new experience. Perhaps I’m just feeling new about everything, but like our garden outside, I am very aware of the growth required in this transition period of time in my life. And it’s a wonderful reminder of where that strength and ability to stretch comes from, as we water seeds and read about the first humans before us.

First of all, I just want to point out that Adam and Eve were commanded by God to be Vegetarians in the Garden of Eden. (Shameless plug for veggie-eaters like myself and promoting such eating habits :-)They ate the plants of the ground and the fruit from (most of) the trees. Later God does allow people to eat animals, but it happens outside of the perfect world of the Garden when almost everything is peaceful and perfect.

However… there is that snake. God is all-powerful; nothing happens outside of his power and will, and yet he allows the snake to exist in Eden, the snake who tempts the woman and man into the first sin of the world. How and why could he allow this. It is this fact that makes me wonder if The Fall was necessary. If we were truly meant to leave Eden, and leave the perfect life of the Garden.

Perhaps our fall was tragic, but God meant it to be so, just the way he meant his Son’s death to be painful and tragic as well. In this case, Adam and Eve graduated from the Garden and into the rest of the world. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

Another thing I noticed: God puts man in the Garden to till it and keep it; he gives us work. Here and not God also gives us work. We are all meant for what God has in mind, but many make the mistake that it is one thing. I know that God called me to be an actor when I was 16 years old, and the I know he called me to drop it entirely in order to teach when I was 21. Now, who knows? God may call me to become a crossfit trainer or a mural painter. His calling changes, and we never know what we are made to do until we begin to do it, by the work of God’s hands.

In Eden, work was enjoyable. Man and Woman had dominion over all creation and were required to take care of it and keep it. This was work. After The Fall, work became less fun and enjoyable and rewarding, which leads us to now. Now, all anyone does is work, and it’s not always enjoyable. God doesn’t call us to live in perfect peace anymore. Just look at Jesus’ life. Jesus was completely perfect, and yet, people hated him and killed him. We are called to die in such a way as well. To die to ourselves.

Another thing I have noticed. Woman was created from Man. Woman was designed from the beginning to be the Man’s helper. Now, this may sound demeaning of women in some ways, to say that a woman is only meant to help a man. But help is a huge thing. The bible talks about help in a lot of different ways, but mainly in regards to God being a helper, the Holy Spirit being a helper, and as the Woman being a helper. Yet, the way I see it, if God is a helper and the Holy Spirit is a helper, then it must be a pretty big deal to be a helper to men. And men need help. That is why a husband clings to his wife when he leaves his mother and father. He needs her, in a similar way he needs God. God designed it to be this way and so it is very good.

During our first year of marriage, I have slowly become aware of the innate differences between men and women; how they think, act, organize, process, fell, and express ideas or emotions. I have also seen how this directly connects to The Fall.

To the women he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of the ground you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The man is meant to lead, but women always resist the vitally important roles as helpers and try to take control by manipulating just the way Eve did when she gave the fruit to her husband. Men are meant to lead, but they often shy away from this responsibility the way Adam did when he went along with his wife’s sin. We are cursed with these same tendencies today. Women often want to feel powerful and in control, and often this leads them to sin. Men often want to be irresponsible and childish and this often leads them to sin. We are living today with the same tendencies as the very first humans had, and it was their punishment that now we face. Women will desire after her husband, and also after his role. Women are often needy in this way and appear to be clingy and emotional beings because of this. Men are called for more work, in which they sweat and are not rewarded highly for their pain and toil.

How incredible to see where it all began. To see not only my likeness to Eve, but also to God. In Genesis, God shows all sides of himself. The vengeful wrath of God as well as the merciful, regretting, and covenant-building God. He has both qualities of man and women in him, which is why, I find, that Marriage is so beautiful.

The two shall become one flesh. Marriage is meant to be holy, I am finding. It was designed to make us more like God and encompass all of his beautiful perfect qualities, both masculine and feminine. The bible said that we were created in God’s image, both male and female, and so God (even though we call him a “He”), is also feminine in who He is. The only thing that got in the way of Adam and Eve being the perfect humans was sin, and this is true today. Sin is the only thing that drives two people away from one another. Sin is the separator.

…..

I have been deeply convicted as of late. I have not been guarding my thoughts, and so my words have become poison rather than words that encourage or build up. I noticed it when I began writing letters to my students. The Holy Spirit was working as my incredible partner to help me see each of my students in the best way possible– the way God sees them and loves them dearly. This practice was incredible. I felt like a gardener, watering each child’s heart and confidence and mind. Where even the driest, hardest, and mealiest soil laid, I could grow a plant to bear beautiful fruit, so long as I looked at each of them through the lens of Christ. Christ died for people who hated him, but he did it because he loved them dearly. Although I was not dying for my students, I know that some of them weren’t exactly fond of me, nor had they been nice, polite, or even civil to me. It would be so easy to lash out at them or even ignore them, but God gave me the patience and positivity I needed to write them words of encouragement and love.

I realized yesterday that I need to apply this same practice to my marriage and friendships. Relationships need caring and love. They need to be fed and watered and cared for just like plants in a garden do. God called us to do it with plants and animals so long ago and now he calls us to do it with our partnerships, friendships, marriages, children, families, and any relationships at all. Nine months ago I made a vow to my very best friend to see all his failings as examples of God’s incredible grace, to love him actively as I actively peruse Christ, and to strive to see him in the way God sees him, as a beautiful image of his Son. Nine months later, I have fallen so many times, in the same way Eve and Adam fell so long ago.

But I have newly inspired hope.

I know God has moved people tremendously through my hands already. Not by my own doing, but by his. I know that he can continue to do so in each relationship I have here on this Earth. In doing so, He is tending to his own Garden and making it grow in his Son and in his Truth.

I am so blessed to be a gardener on this side and anticipate when I can also do even more rewarding work in heaven.

I am:

newly inspired and driven towards God and his garden.

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