You Friend Me. I Friend You

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Chalice lighting

Springtime has come
The sunlight will increase
The leaves burst green from brown wood
The blossoms explode in beauty
Life is returning in its fullness to the land
May the growing light bring wisdom to your mind
And open your heart to love

Reading: The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

Message, part 1 – by Rev. Andy Pakula

I feel strange today. Strange as in not my normal way to feel. It may be a good strange. It probably is. And it probably won’t last, which may be good. Or not…

My wife, Miriam, and I spent the past week at a retreat in Italy. One of the key aspects of this retreat was advertised to be a digital detox. OK, I dislike the whole “detox” thing because of - you know - science. But let’s put that aside for now.

I spend nearly every day of my life amid a swarm of digital messages. There are emails, Facebook messages and posts, tweets, WhatsApp messages and text messages. I suppose I'm fortunate that I haven't got really into Snapchat, Instagram or Pinterest, although I have accounts on all three.

The messages come like mosquitos in a damp, dim forest.

Some fly by with no impact. Some itch. Sometimes they sting and leave me with a welt and a twinge. They are not soon forgotten. Some go right up my nose so I can't ignore them, or they impose their high-pitched whines on my ears.

But all of them, every one, grabs my attention. Ignoring them is out of the question no matter how hard I try.

I grab at them, I swat, I slap. I never get them all. They just keep coming more and more.

Even if it is a message from one of you – a message I no doubt welcome, whatever it is – there is no way to be still in myself amid the swarm.

I am so accustomed to the swarm, so used to this constant invasion, that I found it hard to imagine life without it. In fact, I feared its absence. The idea of a week with no messages was actually frightening. I could only really recognise the impact of the swarm when it was cut off.

OK, I need to admit that the digital cut-off was not entirely complete. There was no WiFi and no broadband available at all. Mobile coverage was almost non-existent, but “almost” is an important qualifier! There was a very weak signal and, for those of us like me who are hooked on the connection, it was possible to find a bit. It was a lot like the old days where everything was very very slow – like the modems we hooked up to the phone or the brick-like mobile phones. But it was something. If we left our phones outside of the window (which we did) and gave it enough time, the emails would eventually download. A few WhatsApp messages and texts came through.

Some could just be shooed away. I swatted a few.

One email arrived with a sting. More than a momentary distraction, there was a twinge that then became an insistent itch that kept my attention returning to it again and again. It wasn't a massive issue but it concerned me and it was just one thing. Without the volume of the swarm, I could watch the progress from sting to itch and, at last, to a fading away. In London, I would be inundated with messages – messages bringing flashes of communication that create joy and gratitude, frustration, worry, sorrow, and anger.

In the nearly digital-free environment, I could see how much impact a single message could have - even a small sting. It was an unwelcome intrusion. Its impact was long-lasting and changed my mood dramatically.  It made me recognise just how damaging a normal day's digital communication can be – and not just because of the stress of the number of messages, but because of the accumulation of small impacts pulling us in all directions at once.

This time, no one was expecting me to reply. I could take my time. I could watch my response. I could go slow. Normally, I would feel I had only seconds to respond and move on to the next thing. The emotional turmoil grows without there being a chance to process.

I also think that digital communication is a wonder - something of a miracle.

Along with the messages we don't want, the others come just as rapidly. The messages that cheer us, comfort us, reassure us, delight us, and show us we are not alone… those too are served up to us at speed.

As I prepared this message, I had hostile communications coming in through Facebook, inspiring and exciting plans for fighting climate change appearing through email, and the opportunity to comfort and support people in yet another channel.

Digital communication is many things. It does much good and does much ill.

Our theme now is human relations. The new means of communication make it so we can connect with many many more people – people we might never have met, people we agree with and others we don’t. We can find new perspectives, new allies, and new companions to strengthen us in our personal struggles.

Several weeks ago I talked about friendship. I said I am a failure at friendship – that I don’t have any close friends.

According to Facebook, I have 2,461 friends. Twitter says I have 26,317 followers.

Social media can tell you a lot about your friends and they about you. You can exchange birthday wishes. You can know when major life events happen. You can know about political views, geography, taste in music, and whether they are safe after some local disaster.

But social media doesn’t care whether or not your friends and followers will be there for you when you need them. It doesn’t say if you can cry together. It says you are connected but says nothing about the depth of that connection.

Which is to say that social media mostly builds connection at superficial levels of our being. It reveals what we are readily willing to show the whole world but not what is deeper within.

But let’s not jump to dismiss social media connections as superficial and extolling real-life connections as deep.

Deep relationship is anything but automatic. It takes time. It takes effort. And it means, increasingly, revealing who you really are and seeing and accepting others as they really are.

Message, part 2 - by Rev. Andy Pakula

When you see your contacts on Facebook or Instagram, they almost always seem to be living joyous, ecstatic, fun lives – all the time. That is because they have perfect lives and you are a loser – or so many of us might conclude.

It took me the first few decades of my life to discover that the faces people show in real life are not their real selves. Whether on social media or in person, so much is hidden. We show ourselves to be strong or calm or happy or successful or confident. We put on the mask of how we want to be seen.

And social media can make it easier to deceive and harder to connect. It allows us to highlight the image we want to be seen as rather than who we are. In person, there might be the occasional slip – the glimpse into the real person. On social media, the words can be polished and edited, the images can be filtered and photoshopped. We can present just that perfect facade we want the world to see.

Yes, we can express pain on social media. But even then it is curated pain, shown within the image we want to portray. There are only beautiful tears – as though anyone really has an attractive crying face?

If we are hurt, we can always spin the narrative of how it was the fault of someone else. Our suffering is not ugly and conflicted. No – social media rage is always righteous. Social media pain is always borne nobly.  

And this falseness seeps into regular life too, making us increasingly certain that we are the only ones struggling, feeling pain, carrying shame. We become ever more isolated from others - connected with more and more people at the superficial level but alone because no one can be allowed to see who we really are. We want to show the facade - the gloss - because we fear we will not be liked or loved for who we really are.

As long as we hide parts of ourselves away, we cannot enter into deep connection.

Who is being friended when we friend?

Being liked or loved for a facade is not us being liked or loved for who we really are, and we know this. We find it empty. We are told “you are wonderful”. Yet we know it isn’t our true selves being complimented, but the particular mask we wore. All it means is “nice mask”, “nice post”.

You cannot be loved for who you are until you can show openly who you are.

Let your true colours shine. Allow yourself to be seen and loved as you are.

Closing words

If you wear a false smile, we will like the smile
If you wear false joy, we will like the joy
If you wear false confidence, we will like the confidence
If you can show yourself as you are, then – only then – can you be loved.