by The Rev. Catherine Fransson
Friending: Real relationships in a Virtual World. Lynne Baab. IVP Books 2011. 185 pages.
True to form, Lynne Baab has offered us another practical and informative book that places our texting and email frenzy in the world of faith and finds compatibility there. Author of Sabbath Keeping and Reaching Out in a Networked World, Baab names the suspicion that email and texting, not to mention Facebook, are not real ways of maintaining friendships. Then she turns that suspicion on its head.
Using her own experience as a child who moved often (she now lives in Dunedin, teaching pastoral theology at the University of Otago), she has had to make new friends and nurture old friends for years. She says the issue is not that technology determines the depth and health of our relationships. Technology is neutral. We are the ones who give email, texting, and entries in Facebook meaning.
Media is vilified by some and embraced fanatically by others, not unlike the telephone nearly a hundred years ago. Yes, dynamics are lost in email (voice tone, facial expression) and body language is lost on the phone. Yet these still are vital media for our maintaining relationships of all kinds over vast distances, greater than ever in our history.
Baab finds inspiration in scripture. What faith brings to technology (or good faith in those who claim no stated belief) is practice such as that described by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians: Love is patient; love is kind. And Colossians 3: …clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another…forgive each other. Friendships maintained by email, text and Skype require the same values and skills that all relationships do. For those of faith, kindness and patience dictate how friendships are maintained whether they are on Facebook or face to face. Baab then offers a series of chapters on friending skills: Initiating, Listening-Remembering-Praying. Asking-Giving-Thanking. Sharing-Caring-Being together and apart. Pacing-Choosing. Accepting- Forgiving. “The challenge in friendship isn’t to figure out who is a friend,” she asserts. “The challenge is to grow in the ability to act like a friend.”
After exploring good relationships and those which helped her grow, Baab offers a final chapter on her experience of living in New Zealand. The distance has changed the intensity of some relationships and made her acquainted with loneliness she hadn’t experienced for some time. She concludes, “Befriending loneliness more intentionally has been a healthy spiritual endeavor for me.” Indeed, since Jesus called his followers friends (John 15:12-17) and the model of God’s love for the world was “patterned into us at creation because…we are made in God’s image,” faith teaches us how to care for ourselves whether alone or with others. These skills grow with practice.
With questions for reflection, journaling, discussion or action at the end of each chapter, Baab leads us to ways of sharing our own experiences, often a source of spiritual growth. Lynne Baab concludes, Every act of friendship, whether it is well received or not, transforms us into people who know a little bit more about love, who understand a little more deeply what it means to be a neighbor to the people around us. Friendship transforms us, even as it brings healing, reconciliation and warmth to the world.