Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Friday, April 16, 2010


A while back, a friend of mine posted a link to a wonderful article about the nature of friendship in the 21st century. I read it months ago, but I still think of it often and would like to share some excerpts with you. (Full article.)

Friendship is devolving, in other words, from a relationship to a feeling—from something people share to something each of us hugs privately to ourselves in the loneliness of our electronic caves, rearranging the tokens of connection like a lonely child playing with dolls. The same path was long ago trodden by community. As the traditional face-to-face community disappeared, we held on to what we had lost—the closeness, the rootedness—by clinging to the word, no matter how much we had to water down its meaning. Now we speak of the Jewish "community" and the medical "community" and the "community" of readers, even though none of them actually is one. What we have, instead of community, is, if we're lucky, a "sense" of community—the feeling without the structure; a private emotion, not a collective experience. And now friendship, which arose to its present importance as a replacement for community, is going the same way. We have "friends," just as we belong to "communities." Scanning my Facebook page gives me, precisely, a "sense" of connection. Not an actual connection, just a sense

We're too busy to spare our friends more time than it takes to send a text. We're too busy, sending texts. And what happens when we do find the time to get together? I asked a woman I know whether her teenage daughters and their friends still have the kind of intense friendships that kids once did. Yes, she said, but they go about them differently. They still stay up talking in their rooms, but they're also online with three other friends, and texting with another three. Video chatting is more intimate, in theory, than speaking on the phone, but not if you're doing it with four people at once. And teenagers are just an early version of the rest of us. A study found that one American in four reported having no close confidants, up from one in 10 in 1985. The figures date from 2004, and there's little doubt that Facebook and texting and all the rest of it have already exacerbated the situation. The more people we know, the lonelier we get

But surely Facebook has its benefits. Long-lost friends can reconnect, far-flung ones can stay in touch. I wonder, though. Having recently moved across the country, I thought that Facebook would help me feel connected to the friends I'd left behind. But now I find the opposite is true. Reading about the mundane details of their lives, a steady stream of trivia and ephemera, leaves me feeling both empty and unpleasantly full, as if I had just binged on junk food, and precisely because it reminds me of the real sustenance, the real knowledge, we exchange by e-mail or phone or face-to-face. And the whole theatrical quality of the business, the sense that my friends are doing their best to impersonate themselves, only makes it worse. The person I read about, I cannot help feeling, is not quite the person I know

Facebook holds out a utopian possibility: What once was lost will now be found. But the heaven of the past is a promised land destroyed in the reaching. Facebook, here, becomes the anti-madeleine, an eraser of memory. Carlton Fisk has remarked that he's watched the videotape of his famous World Series home run only a few times, lest it overwrite his own recollection of the event. Proust knew that memory is a skittish creature that peeks from its hole only when it isn't being sought. Mementos, snapshots, reunions, and now this—all of them modes of amnesia, foes of true remembering. The past should stay in the heart, where it belongs

E-mail, with its rapid-fire etiquette and scrolling format, already trimmed the letter down to a certain acceptable maximum, perhaps a thousand words. Now, with Facebook, the box is shrinking even more, leaving perhaps a third of that length as the conventional limit for a message, far less for a comment. (And we all know the deal on Twitter.) The 10-page missive has gone the way of the buggy whip, soon to be followed, it seems, by the three-hour conversation. Each evolved as a space for telling stories, an act that cannot usefully be accomplished in much less. Posting information is like pornography, a slick, impersonal exhibition. Exchanging stories is like making love: probing, questing, questioning, caressing. It is mutual. It is intimate. It takes patience, devotion, sensitivity, subtlety, skill—and it teaches them all, too

We have given our hearts to machines, and now we are turning into machines. The face of friendship in the new century.

-William Deresiewicz

Friday, April 9, 2010


I've just started reading Knowing God by J. I. Packer. One of his first points:

One can know a great deal about godliness without much knowledge of God…In this analytical and technological age there is no shortage of books on the church bookstalls, or sermons from the pulpits, on how to pray, how to witness, how to read our Bibles, how to tithe our money, how to be a young Christian, how to be an old Christian, how to be a happy Christian, how to get consecrated, how to lead men to Christ, how to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit (or, in some cases, how to avoid receiving it), how to speak with tongues (or, how to explain away Pentecostal manifestations), and generally how to go through all the various motions which the teachers in question associate with being a Christian believer…Whatever else may be said about this state of affairs, it certainly makes it possible to learn a great deal at second-hand about the practice of Christianity…Yet one can have all this and hardly know God at all.

Yesterday I participated in TOMS Shoes' One Day Without Shoes. At first I wasn't sure if I really wanted to commit to a full day of walking around campus barefoot, but I decided to suck it up and see how long I could last braving the constantly-under-construction streets of NC State.

In a lot of ways it was a very nice experience. I spent the day enjoying skin-to-earth contact, walking around on warm bricks and cement. I felt like I was a part of something purposeful, a movement for change, a push towards action. I was raising awareness for those who don't have shoes to protect their feet from injury and disease. I was proud of myself for doing something so "good."

It wasn't until about 4:00, after I had been trekking up and down Hillsborough Street and through the Court of North Carolina, that I really started to feel my feet. I could feel the edges of every brick as my bare heels struck the ground. I winced as I hopped through obstacle courses of gravel and broken asphalt, doing my best to dodge as many rocks as I could and still managing to step on quite a few in the process. My feet felt dirty and I could feel peoples' eyes on me as I walked to class. I could tell that many thought I was just some weird girl who was especially enthusiastic about the wonderful weather we've been having recently. During my 4:30 class all I could think about was how sore and cold my feet were, and how much I just wanted to go home and soak them in warm water.

It gave me a new understanding of "walking a mile in another man's shoes."

The experience also helped me understand what Packer was talking about—the difference between claiming godliness and knowing God. As a Christian, I am quite comfortable saying that I know God, but do I really? Do I know God? I'm not talking about knowing how he wants me to spend my time. Or having a firm grasp on my theology. Or knowing the things a "good" Christian is supposed to do and doing them. Or just going through the motions. I am talking about knowing God, knowing the creator of the universe and savior of my soul.

At the beginning of my day yesterday, it was so easy for me to rattle off the reason I was walking around Raleigh shoe-less—"I'm participating in TOMS Shoes' One Day Without Shoes to raise awareness about people in third world countries who don't have shoes." I had knowledge of the need, but it wasn't connected to anything. How could it be? I had only been walking around barefoot for a few hours. My feet were still soft and relatively clean. I hadn't felt even a fraction of what millions of children feel underneath their bare feet daily.

Only after I had spent a full day walking around barefoot did I even begin to realize the gravity of what I was raising awareness for. I had to allow myself to meditate on what it means to go without shoes. Of course, I am in no way claiming that I know what it's like to live my life shoeless, but I do believe that I know better now how it feels. I think the experience mirrors what our journey towards knowing God looks like. At first knowing God feels good, we see his "good" qualities; then we realize that to know God means to know all of God, and it doesn't always feel quite so good. Knowledge of God softens us, humbles us, and molds us into what He wants us to be.

With dirty feet and a callused heart, oh my Lord, I come to thee. Let me know your nature and walk in your ways.