Over the last few months – we have experienced community at its finest. I'm not sure what the last 7 weeks would have looked like without the support of friends and family who have been helping us and praying for us and keeping our heads above water. Those around us have given us meals and food, walked the dog, done the washing up, helped pack up the house for moving, done food shops, showered us with presents and cards, prayed for us, cleaned the bathroom, folded laundry, given me lifts when I couldn't drive, shared advice, helped teach me to feed and to bath Jasper, hoovered, checked in on me, given Moses baskets, prams, car seats, clothes, baby carriers and generally got me to leave the house and the flurry of laundry and nappies to get some fresh air and have adult conversation. I am so incredibly grateful for the flesh and blood people who have carried me through these weeks and recognise how different life would have been without them. Community has been the unsung hero of this last season.
Sadly, I think community is a dwindling thing today. We are the most connected society ever to exist – I can see what my cousins in Canada are doing at the press of a button, I can FaceTime my friends the other side of the Atlantic, I can share in jokes and banter with colleagues, family and friends continuously throughout the week in whatsapp groups, but there are also a whole bunch of aspects about technology that act as a barrier to connection.
It's not just smart phones and Internet that have isolated us, historically most technological advances have brought with them isolation as machines replace people and automation replaces interaction. Tony Reinke talks about this in his book "12 ways your smart phone is changing you":
Heat – gathering round a fire gave way to central heating, which pushes us to all the corners of a house
News – Gathering together for local news at a pub gave way to the reading of newspapers, creating a paper wall shielding our faces from one another.
Video – The community cinema gave way to a large shared television in each families home, which gave way to portable televisions, and now to personal LED TVs in every bedroom.
Music – attending a live orchestra performance on a Saturday evening was replaced by a stationary phonograph (or record player) in the family room, which was replaced by a large transistor radio, which was replaced by a boombox with open speakers carried on the shoulder, which was replaced by a walk then click to the bout, which was replaced by a tiny iPod clip to the sleeve. Music went from a social community experience to a shared family experience to a private earbud experience
There are a whole load other areas where this is true too – transport evolving from public modes (like steam trains and buses) to personal cars, refrigeration meaning food won't spoil so food can be saved for personal meals instead of inviting others to join the meal to minimise waste. An increasing the technology has led to increased isolation.
Now there are loads of wonderful things that technology has done over the last weeks to build community – an online meal rota that friends put together to help us, sending photos and videos to family in whatsapp groups, friends sending NHS articles or links that might be useful for us – these were helpful and a blessing to us. But they were an extension of community, not a replacement.
I want to get grow in community this year, become a better friend, a more connected family member, more present in the lives of those I love & I want to bless them like they've been a blessing to me over the last weeks. To do that means that I want to be intentional about how I use my phone. I don't want to spend time using it to wander the maze of our friends' and acquaintances' projected identities, navigating what part of myself I want to present. I don't want to use my phone to numb and distract from relationships and people that I'm present with in a room, or to try and impress people with projections of myself that are a little over-generous. I want to use it to make much of Jesus and to to love people. To genuinely connect with family and friends, to have conversations with those far away, send prayer requests, to confirm schedules for meeting up in real life flesh and blood.
Now, I'm not about to throw out my phone. As with anything – knives, marriage, bleach, cars – it can used for good or it can be used for harm. Our job is to use these tools for good, to build God's kingdom and to learn to love a little better through using them.