I am a deeply relational person. I love to study, teach and write. But I would much rather spend time with a friend, or several friends, than do any of these other activities. For as long as I can remember I have sought solace to think, read, write and pray. I am comfortable alone. But I cannot stand being alone for too long. I have to be with people. I like people, or at least most people. I thrive in relationships. I suppose this is one of the reasons why I feel deep pain when people attack me or make statements about me that are unfair or untrue. Counselors tell me that I should never let these things bother me so deeply. I try to listen but it is hard. You would think at this age I would not give a rip but I do. Some of this problem is plainly rooted in my sinful perfectionism but some of it is simply due to the fact that I do care deeply about people. Sin and grace dwell in the same person. What else is new?
The Internet allows me to be alone, to have access to knowledge and to think and grow. It also allows me to reach out to people, some of them I know and some I only know via on-line contact. I will continue to do both of these so long as I can remain focused and balanced. It will never replace “real” face-to-face relationships with my Internet relationships, so long as my health and age allow me to be with people in person. But I have found that the Internet can support my friendships and even create new opportunities for new people and new growth in my life. This blog has given that to me with scores of people all over the world. What never ceases to amaze me is when I meet a person for the very first time and this person already knows more about me, and my way of thinking and living, than some of the people that I have known in person for many years. This happens to me almost every week now. I meet a person and we have an instant, and meaningful, conversation. Why? These social networks have worked positively in amazing ways.
Like every new technology this one can be used for good or ill. For Christians there is no doubt as to how we should use these networks and technologies. We must learn to use them with all the virtue of a truly Spirit-filled life. We must use them in ways that treat civility as extremely important. In fact, we can do even better than civility. We can use these new forms of communication and social networking to show the love of Christ to each other. If I didn’t believe this I would stop writing these blog posts today. I would shut down my Facebook account and stop the Tweets.
As I mentioned yesterday conversation about community has become hugely important to Christians these days. Some of this has come about because of the Internet and some of it influences the use of the Internet. A number of factors drive this conversation, some of which I mentioned previously. The abiding question about community, however, is clear: where will this conversation and discussion take us as the church?
Will the church become more and more self-centered or will it become the missio Dei? Will we simply replace old forms with new ones and then celebrate diversity in the process? Will the twenty-something adults become mature disciples who pursue spiritual formation and kingdom lifestyle or will they be satisfied to walk away from institutional forms and gather in homes to protest what they see as our failure? And what about all the church drop-outs (of all ages), those dear people who have been burned by one church after another and have now simply given up on the church? I know people in all of these categories and identify with their journey and their struggle very deeply.
I long to see young Christians embrace the ancient-future faith of historic Christianity in the context of intentional community. And I long to see missional-ecumenism become a movement of renewal in the church, a movement that unites Christians in Christ and his kingdom.
This movement will not focus on “my” church or “your” church but on the one holy catholic church of the creeds and the Scriptures; e.g. John 17, Ephesians 4. This movement will not promote triumphalism, whether Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox. It will exalt Jesus Christ above all else and lead us into the worship of the triune God. It will unite us in the mystery of a community centered in the liturgy, which is literally “the work of the people.”
A spate of wonderful books on Christian community, and the related topics that I have addressed in these two blogs, has flooded the book market in the last few months. The ordinary person doesn’t know where to begin to get a handle on these resources. The very best suggestion that I can make is that you visit the Web site of my friend Byron Borger. Hearts and Minds Books, located in Dallastown, Pennsylvania, is the finest such Christian book resource I know. Not only do they have the books you want but they have the service to provide you with careful recommendations about the book(s) you are looking for in terms of a particular situation. Byron recently wrote a blog on books about community. You will see a number of new titles in Byron’s list as well as some old ones. I counted twenty-four titles in all. My favorite old title, a classic in my mind, is Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. Byron wisely includes it in his list. You will find a wide assortment of suggestions on Byron’s blog and you will find that he is a wise counselor who knows what is being written and by whom. Check it out.