I first noticed them when I looked to the other side of the field. They were sitting across from each other at the picnic table with their forearms resting on the table; hand over hand, heads bowed and silent. I have seen them countless times since then at coffee shops, restaurants, and even my own kitchen table, together but disconnected. Who are they? They are the countless individuals (of all ages not just adolescents) and families that are so engaged with networking and maintaining the worlds they have created through smartphones or other electronic devices that they are disconnected from each other. And, if we are truly honest with ourselves we have probably done it too at tables, in chairs along the sidelines of our children’s games or even out of our chairs snapping pictures to post on Facebook or Instagram instead of being present in the moment watching the game and cheering on the team.
Have we become so focused on ourselves and the worlds we can create with our fingertips that we have lost touch with the world around us? These worlds are so appealing and so tempting because we choose whom we fill them with and gain a sense of belonging without the messiness that real face-to-face relationships can hold. We can fill these created worlds with people that agree with our point of view and share similar interests and if they do not we can remove them from our world with just a tap of the finger. Much easier than the messiness and personal effort needed to maintain relationships with those in our physical space. Many try to meet both their social and emotional needs by tapping into these loosely knit networks rather than tight connections that are formed when we are drawn into relationships with others around us. Can a winky smiley face emoticon or “LOL” really have the same meaning as sharing a cup of coffee with a friend, a huge ear-to-ear smile and gut-busting laughter?
So what does it mean any more to live in community? Have we lost the ability to see the beauty of differences, the beauty in the diversity of God’s creation? Our differences are not what separates us, but exactly why we are drawn into relationships and community with others by the Spirit. In these communities each member and their unique Spirit given gifts are equal yet distinct, interdependent and complementary, a gift from God (1 Corinthians 12); God’s love extended to us so that there may be a non-divine reflection of Godself here on earth. Drawn together into a beautifully woven tapestry of relationships and sharing in each other’s lives and experiences, caring, loving and leaning on each other. Relationships are not easy, they are not black and white or clear-cut, they are messy and complicated at times but it is that messiness that adds the color to our lives, beautiful and rich and well worth the work. It is through these relationships that we are equipped and grow, functioning as the body of Christ, building it up in love that we are designed for to participate in God’s mission for all of creation (Ephesians 4:16).
What I wonder is have we become so accustomed, dependent and even captive to a culture that promotes abundant lifestyles and conformity as the keys to happiness? Have we become so busy pursuing happiness that the abundant life offered through Christ and the rich Spirit created community is overlooked? Technology is wonderful at connecting people separated by geography, but when it replaces face-to-face interactions and genuine messy relationships it is the thief that has come to steal and destroy the abundant life (John 10:10) found in communities.
I would like to challenge you to just put the devices away, walk away from them or turn them off for just one hour and engage in the life going on all around you. At home, at work, at the athletic complexes, at the coffee shop, anywhere. Then just listen and interact with others. After an hour grab a pen and paper and write down in 144 characters or less what you experienced. My guess is you will have a hard time including all the rich descriptors to go along with the individual facts and logistics of the world around you. They will be lost, cold, sterile and empty just as the richness and abundant life found in community that is lost when we become captive to the same technology that can simultaneously connect people across the globe and disconnect them from life.