Thursday, January 12, 2012

Facebook and Community

Facebook has become quite the cultural phenomenon. One indication that something is popular and successful is the number of attempts to copy it. I like Facebook, in fact I have it open in another window as I type this. Because of Facebook, I have reconnected with folks I went to high school and college with as well as former students. It helps Jan and me keep up better with what is going on in our son's and daughter's lives. It is a good way to keep in touch with family and former friends and acquaintances.

Facebook becomes a problem when people use it to try to replace real friendships. It is relatively easy to pile up a lot of "friends," especially if you have lived a few years and known many people. While these "friends" may have been friends at one time, if the only contact we have with them is on a social networking site, I question whether they can really be called friends. Unfortunately, this is not limited to those whose friendship was based on common interests, work, or school. I can see how those might have faded after a while as interests change, and people moved away.

This way of seeing friends also exists in the church. It manifests itself in mega-churches, where many members are acquaintances who have a "relationship" with hundreds of folks who they may see once a week or so. It also manifests itself in those who actually use Facebook as a substitute for real friendship and community. Those of us who follow Jesus are more than just "friends." We are brothers and sisters. We are members of one Body. We are members of one another. We are called to live in community.

I don't believe that we can recreate the first century church, nor should we. We live in different times, with different issues. But I do believe the attitude the early Christians had is the same attitude we are called to. They were devoted to Jesus Christ as the King who gave himself for them and was in control of their lives. They were devoted to each other, taking Jesus at his word when he said that love was laying down their life for their friends (how many would lay down their lives for "friends" who they only deal with online).

Living in real community doesn't necessarily mean that we move into a house together or set up a commune. It does mean that we are devoted to those God has brought into our lives because we are devoted to Christ and because we have the same Father. It can be messy and difficult. It is easy to type "praying" on a Facebook status. It is harder to pray in person with that person. It is harder to sacrifice time and effort to help that person. It is harder still to meet that friend at the police station, hospital, or morgue when something has gone terribly wrong. How many of our on-line friends could, or would do that for us. How many would lay down their lives for us.

We are called to follow Jesus. He didn't just click on the "Like" button for us or leave a nice comment on our status. He lived to show us how to live and then he did the ultimate. He laid down his life for us, his friends. We are commanded to do the same. It can't be done on-line. It must be real life.

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