Facebook is simultaneously the worst and greatest parts of humanity recorded in every refreshing detail. I go from despairing at the trivial moments we celebrate together to celebrating the creativity, compassion and wonder of humanity. This week one of my friends posted this video on their wall. It is by SoulPancake who you may know from their Kid President videos (not cool Robert Frost)
The premise of the video is simple. A box filled with plastic play balls is put in the street accompanied by a sign reading, ‘take a seat, make a friend.’ The video shows us what happened. It is simple and beautiful. It shows the of who we are as people. Strangers share the details of their lives with each other in response to questions hidden in the ball pit. Topics of conversation run through, curling, drumming, Jesus, divorce, multiple sclerosis, false teeth, football and Martin Luther King. It is nothing short of a celebration of the beauty of life.
I watched it a day after being at an event organised by our family of churches, Plumbline, in St Ives in Cambridgeshire. The speaker there, Chris Duffet, works for the Light Project in Peterborough. The Light Project exist to help people here about Jesus, that’s their whole deal. Chris also showed a video of a leather sofa he put up in the middle of Peterborough with an accompanying sign reading, ‘I will listen.’ Guess what? People sat down and chatted to him. Some of them about what we may think of as incredibly personal things.
Both video betray something about us, when someone is available to listen to us, we can find ourselves talking openly about our lives in not a very long time. There is something about this new social media age that makes me wonder if despite the claims that generation Y are self absorbed and individualistic we are actually just wanting to be listened to.
Why do we take photos of our coffee, or mention every time we go to the gym? Why do we have apps on our phones and facebook pages that tell our friends every ebook we read on our kindle or movie we watch on netflix? Why do all of our facebook walls right now contain people’s statuses that are a sad emoticon, or a rant about some painful relationship? Why do these things exist out there for all to see when we all are so sure that we are individualistic, free spirits making our own way in the world. I think deep down we know that our system doesn’t work, the more our generation is labelled as the most self focussed by media and academic paper the more I see millions of people crying out to be involved with people. The deepest cry of social media is to be listened to, to be known, and to be loved.
I had my regular coffee, catch up and line-management meeting with, our church leader, Fiona yesterday. We often end up at these meetings celebrating the fact that in church you find a community in which you can be yourself. It is in this place of being listened to, known and loved that we find true transformation. As we come together in church, gathered for the purpose of following Jesus in a community that wants to follow him, we find ourselves caught up in this wonderful thing called community. It is messy and it is painful as we work out our stuff with people who are working out theirs but nothing compares to it. It is where it is at; where the magic happens.
Jesus once said that where two or three gather in His name, that he would be there with them. I used to imagine this in some mystical spiritual sense, that he was there, standing by, watching us sing songs and then fall asleep during sermons once the adrenaline of corporate worship burned off. Actually, I think it is much more tangible than my previous imaginings. He also said that we should love each other like he loves us.
I think Jesus is very much present in the gathered church, when church gets together in a cell group, gathering, party or over coffee we begin to see Jesus amongst us. When we make some effort and take some time to love each other the way Jesus loved his friends then he is there. His kindness is there, his grace is there, his compassion is there. His acceptance of the other and his patience with those who are weak is there. When we take seriously his teachings about love and community then we see Jesus amongst us.
One of my many heroes is Mike Yaconelli. Mike was a pastor and writer who passed away about ten years ago. Mike said one of the things that church people who want to love their communities should do is to start giving people time. I think he was on to something that has become even more important in the ten years since. Life is so fast and packed with activity, constant communication and 24 hour entertainment. Yet the pains and sufferings of life have remained the same; but the time to listen to people has been filled with iphones, twitter and streaming boxsets.
I believe that if we make time for people we could see huge things happen. If we found ourselves clearing our diary to spend an hour with someone who we think might just want to talk to someone we are actually doing just the thing Jesus told us to do; love like he did. Why not try that this week. Take time to sit over a coffee, pint, or skype call and just see how someone else is doing with life. The ball pit is optional.