I stopped by some xanga sites tonight. It’s always interesting to see what everyone says. Part of the reason why I stopped using xanga was that I couldn’t quite figure out if people were talking to me or to themselves, and whether or not I was talking to other people or to myself. It seemed proud and self-serving (for me) from time to time, and I didn’t like that. “Online journal” is not a sensible phrase. For me to use xanga with integrity before God, I had to consciously decide that I was speaking to others, and not to myself. Otherwise, things were just a bit strange and unnatural, it seemed. An opportunity for the flesh, to be sure. So because of that, and because of time, I stopped. So why post now?
I’m concerned that relationships and communication between Christians are becoming increasingly shallow. As I read various entries tonight within the TMC blogring, I felt like I didn’t know people whom I actually do know in person. I think that this is because people “talk” so much more openly in an online arena than they do in personal, face-to-face relationships. I think that it’s due to our image-consciousness. Having a sort of online personality makes us feel safer in opening up, because no one is sitting five feet from us causing us to be awkward, and demanding of us more than an emoticon to show how we’re doing. The danger in the online arena is that we become people who reveal our hearts to each other only in impersonal, ‘safer’ media like xanga, but who don’t wholeheartedly pursue relationships of equal depth with the guy or girl across the hall from us. I remember being the RD of Slight and walking the halls at night. Often I would walk into a room and 4 out of the 6 guys would be on their computers typing away on Instant Messenger. Almost every time, they would glance up at me and maybe offer a quick “Hey” before going back to typing. I don’t judge them for that — I was the one interrupting. But it showed me how often the online arena was used for communication at the expense of personal, face-to-face interaction. I know this because IM was *always* going in Slight. The blessing of IM is that you can “talk” to your friend on the East Coast, and can do so for free. The downfall of it is that you may learn to have far more significant conversations on IM than you ever do in person (I say this because I’ve done it, not because I’m assuming something). We must be honest — talking on IM feels much safer and guarded than talking in person does. Online, you can hide. Or fake. Or have an alter-ego. Or avoid your personality quirks or something about your physical appearance that you wish were different. In person, those games are much tougher to play. On xanga, you can pour your heart out for whoever feels like it to read. In person, you have to wrestle through who you want to talk to, wade through that person’s counsel, be exposed before them as you weep or laugh or show your anger or frustration. On xanga, you’re not subject to anyone’s questions that might expose your heart. In person, everything’s fair game for a Christian brother or sister to ask a good, heart-oriented question about. Online, you can pick and choose what you show people about yourself. In person, you can still hide things, but more of you is there to see. You’re exposed. And this is good, for yourself and for others.
I don’t know that this entry is making any sense, but I feel compelled to try. Perhaps an example might help: A friend of mine (TMC student) whom I love dearly is socially awkward to an almost paralyzing degree. In some of our conversations about his “anti-social” characteristics, he told me that because he was so anti-social and feared social interaction, he thought that God was perhaps calling him to more or less relegate his life to online interaction because he could communicate naturally there. For him, the online world is a fantasy land in which he is a completely different person than he is in person. But it’s simply an escape hatch out of his intense battle with a fear of man, a fear which dominates him and which Christ wants him to have victory over. The much more biblical option for my friend would be to fast from his computer for six months, to engage in as much social interaction as possible, to dig into the Scriptures regarding the fear of man and his identity in Christ which does not depend on what people think of him, to confess his struggles to brothers in Christ for support, admonishment, and prayer, and to seek counsel from some older mature men who can push him on in the battle. I feel compassion for my friend, because I was once, at least to some extent, where he’s at. But he needs repentance, not an online community.
Now, this is a more extreme case than many. I’m not saying that everyone who has a xanga site fears man. By no means. But I am surprised that I can find out so much more about a person by what he or she writes on xanga than I have ever found out in person. When I read xanga entries, I am surprised at the spiritual depth that some of you have, but I am disappointed that I have never seen that side of you in our personal interaction. I am saddened that the surface that I see in our personal relationship does not expose the heart that you truly have when you’re sitting in your room and feeling free to open up your soul. We are not good at communicating with each other. We just aren’t. Rare is the person who asks good questions, and good follow-up questions, and listens. Rare is the person who is willing to speak truth even when it makes the conversation uncomfortable. Rare is the person who is content enough in Christ to forget about his own personal quirks and his thick glasses and his zits that he was petrified to see when he woke up. Rare is the person who eagerly pursues relationships with his brothers and sisters in Christ, relationships that are saturated with God and with heavenly things. Why is it that in a place (TMC) where Christ is supposed to be the center, it can be so hard to start up and sustain a good, healthy, normal spiritual conversation in which people really open up their hearts and souls and reveal their fears and passions and joys and hardships? Why do we struggle to get deep in conversations? And is the online arena helping us or hurting us? This is not an anti-online-communication post. But it is a pro-personal-communication post.
So please, friends, bless me and bless others with your authenticity in personal relationships. Put more of your heart on your sleeve so that others can see what God is doing in your life. Trust in God, and dare to be as open in person with your brothers and sisters in Christ as you are on xanga when you don’t know who’s listening in. It is far easier to go online and read people’s xanga sites and to know them that way than it is for you to ask the girl across the hall from you to go to coffee because you get to know her, and then to proceed to battle through the awkward silences and quirky habits and contrasting personalities and to ask good questions and give good answers and to fight to focus your conversation on Christ and to laugh together and cry together and to realize that you don’t need to fear each other because the Savior your share in common has conquered all that you would ever need to fear. And in those moments, you really know her — your sister, and your friend. A person, not just a screen name.
God has written to us and revealed Himself to us in that way. But what was the most meaningful way in which He revealed Himself? Jesus Christ, the person. “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature…” (Hebrews 1:3). “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life…” (1 John 1:1). And what do we hope for? “… they shall see His face…” (Revelation 22:4).
Jesus Christ died so that we might have fellowship with the Father, and so that we might one day see Jesus Himself face to face. Likewise, He died in order to reconcile us to each other. Yes, let us take advantage of the media of phones and screens and internet and blogs in order to fellowship together. But let us not live so “safely” as to do that only. Let us not cheapen God’s reconciling grace by filtering our fellowship through technological media. Let the wine of our fellowship be undiluted, and let us be drunk with the joy of sharing together face-to-face in mutual confession and encouragement and support and prayer and weeping and rejoicing. Why will marriage not exist in heaven? Because the intimacy of the relationship that I share with my wife Cindi will fade in comparison with the intimacy of the relationships that *all* of us will have with each other in heaven as we share in Jesus Christ our Savior.
Is not one indication of our love for one another that we want to see each other? Paul said to the Thessalonians after having been away from them for only a few months: “But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short while — in person, not in spirit — were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. For we wanted to come to you — I, Paul, more than once — and yet Satan hindered us. For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20). Paul’s love for the Thessalonians and his joy in them was proven by his desire to see their face. And who hindered him for a time from seeing them face to face? Satan.
Finally, isn’t personal relationship what we long for with Jesus Himself? “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:13. We want to see His face. Because when you see someone face to face, you know them. Know each other, brothers and sisters. Yes, by xanga, but as much as possible in person. And may our fellowship be sweeter and sweeter every day.