Being the “Hands and Feet” on Facebook
I recently walked into a Christian coffee house and had to LOL. Why? Because this is what I observed: About 25 twenty-somethings, on break from their duties at the Christian camp where this coffeehouse was located, were jammed onto couches and sprawled around tables, all huddled shoulder-to-shoulder in their ripped jeans and hoodies. But besides the painfully hip music playing softly in the background and the occasional hiss of the espresso cart’s steamer, the room was eerily silent. You see, every single one of these Gen-Yers had a laptop open and were logged onto Facebook – chatting with friends back home, sending recent photos to family far away, even instant messaging each other in the same room. I ordered a latte, sat down in one corner, and thought to myself, “Christian community is forever different because of Facebook.”
Everything Has Changed, But Not Really
No matter what your take on the subject you have to admit, Facebook has changed everything. There are more than five million people jumping on the social networking giant every week, from middle-schoolers to great-grandparents. With well over 300 million people and counting, it is quickly becoming what baby-faced Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, calls, “The place where everyone will live their digital lives.”
As more and more of us live our digital lives on and around Facebook, how does that shift our understanding of community? And how do we respond as the church; that is, as the literal “hands and feet” of the body of Christ in a disembodied environment?
In order to answer those questions, it is of first importance that we begin to “see” things differently than perhaps we are used to. More specifically, we need a new way of “seeing” community as our new, hyperconnected world sees it so that we can engage with what God is already up to in cyberspace.
First, we must understand that “community” exists on a continuum. Often when I hear Christians describe community, I hear them describe a best friend, someone with whom they share an intimacy that involves trust based on a history of shared experiences and passions. It’s a taste of that “one-ness” that exists within the community of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and which we are included in as followers of Jesus. While that is what we are ultimately made for, we might think of that experience of community as a “ten” on our continuum. But there are many other forms of community. For example, when I’m in line at the grocery store I am participating in community. I am a tired, over-scheduled, anxious person just like the rest of my neighbors in line. This experience of community may represent a “one” on our continuum, but it is still community. And, of course, there is everything in between – co-workers, siblings, the people in the back of your church that leave early, even your many connections on Facebook fall along that community continuum.
Second, we must understand that, for most people (especially younger people) there is no longer a distinction between “real” and “online” community. It’s all part of the same experience. Whether my friends are in cyberspace or around my dinner table, they are my community. This is an important concept to grasp in order to enter more fully into the experience of community as a hyperconnected world understands it.
Listening For The Laughter
As I sat in the corner of that coffeehouse marveling at the scene in front of me, I began to notice giggles and groans and shouts across the room. It turned out my laptop-bearing, hoodie-wearing neighbors were fully engaged in community, seamlessly moving in between virtual and real-world expressions. Once again, I had to LOL.
God is already at work in the grocery line, at the back of your church, and on Facebook, and we are invited to join him in loving the neighbor right in front of us as we’ve always been called to. And if we are willing to look and listen with him, we will discover and be able to enter into the giggles and groans and shouts from across the room even as our heads are buried in our laptops.
(“hands and feet” photo by Nicki Pardo)