By Kristyn Komarnicki
As one who thrives on community in all its marvelous and messy manifestations, I was not aware until one evening a few years ago of the extent to which many people have adjusted to (or simply grown up into) a life without it. I invited a friend of mine–a woman I knew to be lonely, in spite of her membership at a flourishing church–to join me for dinner at a local restaurant. Thinking she would jump at the chance–she had often said she wanted to go out on the town with me–I was surprised to see her look so torn. She wanted to go with me, she assured me, but she didnt want to miss that evenings episode of Friends.
Confronted with the choice between spending the evening with a real, flesh-and-blood person or a group of fictional characters projected onto a screen, this woman faced a difficult struggle. I was shocked, but the experience got me wondering: Do many people feel closer to television personalities than to their own families, friends, neighbors, colleagues, fellow church members? Are people in our celebrity-obsessed, techno-crazed society really as alienated from each other as the daytime television shows and the nightly news suggest? Sadly, once I started looking around, I realized that for many the answer is yes.
If community is so attractive in theory–almost everyone tells me that theyd like to have more intimacy and more people they could depend on, and God tells us flat out that it is necessary in order to be fully human–what is so threatening about it in reality?
To be sure, relationships are hard work, requiring effort, humility, patience, and even courage. Real people can (and do) misunderstand, disappoint, and downright hurt you. A television show wont do that, nor will a cyber lover, a video game, or a virtual community of screen names.
C.S. Lewis expressed the dilemma poignantly: To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one Wrap it careful round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casketof your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemableThe only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangersof love is hell.
But, as the Beatles used to sing, Christ, you know its not easy, you know how hard it can be. Indeed, Christ more than anyone else knows how hard it can be to forge a life with flesh-blood-bone-and-nerve people. Thats why he gave us his Holy Spirit, why he taught us humility, forgiveness, and hope. Thats also why–in an unprecedented and (to be honest) shocking statement–he calls us his friends. Christ himself models for us what real love, real friendship, real commitment, real community look like:
Ive loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, youll remain intimately at home in my love… Ive told you these thingsthat my joy might be your joy Love one another the way I loved you… Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command youBut remember the root command: Love one another John 15:9-14, 17 (The Message).
So how are you spending your evening? With friends or with Friends?
Kristyn Komarnicki is editor of PRISM magazine, published by Evangelicals for Social Action.