“I have called you friends…” John 15:15
I can’t remember exactly when–but somewhere back around the turn of the 21st Century, the pastor of Northland, Dr. Joel Hunter, spoke about how God was building His church via the internet. I didn’t know what to make of that statement at the time as I had barely entered the cyber-age myself. However, I have considerable respect for Dr. Hunter’s opinions, and I recall him making that statement more than once. I also recalled him saying back about 1994, that he’d just gotten his first computer and “couldn’t wait to surf the net”–whatever that meant. The internet and its possibilities were terra incognita to me.
In 1998, my friend Stan Hahn got a new computer and gave me his old 486. I got an ISP and for about six months was “online.” However, this hand-me-down computer was so maddeningly slow that in six months I think I turned it on no more than a dozen times and perhaps sent 3 or 4 emails. I was paying $20. a month for the ISP and their dial-up modem. I’m not sure I even tried to use a search engine for research. Heck, I was such a techno-dunce that I didn’t even know how to find porn. After six months I figured I was wasting my money, so I unhooked it and exited the digital-age for two more years.
But I knew eventually I’d have to get a computer. I knew that some of the insurance companies I bill in my practice were eventually going to require on-line billing, but I found a million excuses for putting it off–and they all boiled down to I didn’t want to spend the money and then go thru the aggravation of learning how to use it. Finally, December 13, 2000, I broke down and got one. Office Max had a sale going on and I got a pretty good deal. Stan went with me to buy it and then hooked it up for me–good thing too, left up to me I would have struggled just to get it out of the box, much less unsort the cables.
The first dozen times I turned the computer on I felt like how one of the “cargo cult” natives in New Guinea must have felt when they saw things come down out of the sky and bring white people amazing presents. It did strange things, made strange noises and seemed to have a mind of its own. It did things I didn’t want it to do. It seemed possessed by an evil spirit–I didn’t rule that out. At the time I was writing the second draft of my first book, and I found word processing on the computer so intimidating that for six months after I got it I was still writing on a typewriter. Stan had written a book using his computer way back in 1998, and he kept insisting that once I got the hang of it I’d find writing, and editing while I wrote, an absolute breeze. He was right of course, but it took the better part of a year for me to overcome my cyber-angst.
For me, one of the best things about finally getting on-line, was being able to carry on an active dialogue with my old friend and mentor out in Oregon, Dr. Del W. Jones. Del and I had carried on a snail-mail dialogue about our respective spiritual journeys since 1988, and the instant communication of emails caused our correspondence to flourish.
I’m not a tekkie and more and more I’m realizing that I’m oriented as much to the 19th Century as the 21st. Still, Dr. Hunter’s words about how God will build His kingdom echo in my thoughts. He gave us a real heads up on where the internet could lead.
Fast forward to 2010, and a movie The Social Network about the 19-year-old Harvard code-writing guru Mark Zuckerberg–the guy who in 2006 saw the possibilities of Facebook and ran with it. I’m not sure why, but the movie painted him to be a thoroughly dislikable Asperger-ish little goon. Anyway, he was the alpha-male nerd in a pack that developed and promoted Facebook–first at Harvard and then at other universities–and taDAH, the age of social connectivity was created. “And God saw it and it was good.” Well, I don’t know about that, but He can bring beauty from ashes, and what was meant for evil He can use for good.
I had to plumb the depths of my own Timeline to recall when I first joined Facebook. It was March 2008–exactly five years ago. I joined for no other reason than my friend GeorgiaAna suggested it. I had read a bit about social networking, mostly MySpace, and thought it was something pretty much just for teens and young adults. Its possibilities were lost on me. I was skeptical, but Georgia suggested it might be a way to promote my writing.
Now, I realize I had no life before Facebook. My Timeline starts at 2008 and then the next stop down is “Born”–that’s a lot of years to be a nobody. It was not that many months ago I was forced to use Timeline for my profile page. I was not happy about it. When you’re old, forced change is unwelcome–but within a couple of weeks I was liking Timeline and I apologized to Mark Z. in writing on Fb for ever doubting his wisdom.
I started with about 40 friends and for many months that was about it. Most days I didn’t bother to check Fb activity. It was just a footnote in my life, a curiosity. After about two years my list had doubled to around 80. It plateaued in 80-100 range for many months, and even then it seemed odd to share my life with so many people–but I was finding that folks were seeking me out–old high school classmates, friends of friends and folks I was barely acquainted with. I drew the line at total strangers. I thought it odd that some of my “friends” had friend lists of 500 or more. I got friend requests from young people who had friend lists numbering over a thousand and I got the impression that with some it was a race to see how many one could get–like cannibals collecting shrunken heads.
Around the end of August, 2010, I started a WordPress blog. I was inspired by a new friend, Heather, who was a blogger and who had also written a book. She was having a lot more success as an author than I, and her Fb friends list was several times the number of mine. I started posting my blogs on Fb and made it a point to fatten up my friends list. I was also finding that amidst the daily dreck on Fb there was some serious Christian content–devotionals, music videos, blogs and inspirational quotes.
The next leap forward for me came in the Spring of 2011, as I and a group of others from Northland’s Celebrate Recovery program began planning a mission trip to Sunnybrae, a Teen Challenge drug rehab in Scotland. I “friended” Gordon Cruden the pastor in charge of Sunnybrae, and began participating a bit in life in NE Scotland. It was eye-opening. I saw pics of Sunnybrae and thru pastor Gordon’s posts got some feel for what was going on with the program. I also became acquainted with the odd Doric accents of NE Scotland. Pastor Gordon’s friends commented on his posts in words, spellings and colloquialisms that echoed their speech.
And at almost precisely the same time I started attending an “organic” church that met in homes. This was a group of about 15 adults and a smattering of teens and kiddoes. Our church, The Church at Orlando, had a Facebook page, and what struck me was that the fellowship was on-going during the week–there was dialog, and prayer requests that went beyond our Sunday meetings–there was a lot of affirming and encouraging one another during the week. It was in that moment that Pastor Joel’s prediction about God building His church thru the internet became real to me. With that in mind, in November, 2011, I started a page on Fb called Joy_Together. The idea was to post upbeat Christian content with the goal of ministering to folks in some fashion–sort of my contribution to Kingdom building. It has about 120 members. Not exactly a smashing success, but then I’m not very good at promoting things. Anyone reading this who’s not a member feel free to join and post stuff. I also joined a page suggested by one of my Scot’s friends, the Net Church Group–several hundred members scattered all over the world but brought together as Jesus-followers. In that and similar pages one can really see the Lord building His church.
At last count I had 298 friends on Fb. They are a motley bunch for sure–having practically nothing in common other than some very tenuous link to me. About 30 or 40 of these friends I’ve never set eyes on and likely never will in this life–many live in the UK, a smattering in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. About a dozen are old high school classmates, and in some sense we have become far closer online than we ever were in high school–back then I was pathologically shy and not sure that anyone out of my narrow circle of other outcasts liked me much. Beyond my friend’s list there are another couple dozen who regularly comment on other’s posts and so I’ve gotten to know them a bit. About a dozen are graduates of Sunnybrae and I particularly enjoy hearing of their successes and ongoing spiritual growth. I’ve prayed for people and situations that I had barely a clue as to who they were. I’ve looked at the pics of Portsoy, Past and Present–a little town on the North Sea which I’ve never visited–tho, last summer our team was sightseeing in Pennan about 10 miles or so up the coast. I grew up in a Lake Erie town, Port Clinton, Ohio not much bigger than Portsoy, Aberdeenshire, Scotland and there is something about this little community that I can identify with. When I was a kid some of our neighbors on East Third St were commercial fishermen, and I would imagine that’s the staple of Portsoy.
About 50 of my “friends” appear to never be on Fb, or at least they never post anything or comment, and so I’ve given some thought to culling thru my friends list and “defriending” those who are inactive. However, you never know–maybe someone would open up Fb for the first time in many months and see a blog, an encouraging comment, some humor, or a devotional that was exactly what they needed to see at that moment–and so I’m reluctant to defriend any of my inactive buddies. I’ve been defriended a couple of times and it doesn’t feel good. And I know that God isn’t building His church by defriending people.