Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Friendship Matters…

Monday, October 6th, 2014

As most of us are increasingly aware, the modern or “Digital Age” has affected us in ways both great and small – some for the better…some for the worse…and most, a mixture of the two. I mean – as compared with the arduous undertaking that travel was a century ago – who isn’t grateful that our modern technology can enable us to board a plane in New York City in the evening, only to wake the next morning on a completely different continent. This modern convenience of course comes with a downside too, as borders are no longer barriers for life’s vicissitudes in a globalized age – the current Ebola outbreak being the most recent and graphic reminder.

Technology has even encroached upon what had at one time been the most intimate part of our lives even a generation ago. Take for example that most human and humane aspect of our personhood: friendship. A generation ago, your friends were those whom you saw – physically – with regularity; people whom you shared your most intimate thoughts and feelings with: “fellow travelers” who accompanied you on the journey down life’s road. Today, friends are still those that you share intimate thoughts and feelings with – but with the advent of social media, this can be done halfway down the block or halfway around the world. In fact, with the advent of Facebook, “friending” somebody has – for some – taken on an aspect of competition: while I am quite content with my collection of friend numbering – respectably I think – in the hundreds, there are those who are not satisfied unless their “intimate” circle numbers in the thousands! (must be exhausting keeping up with everybody’s news!) Add to that the anxiety that some people feel today about having the “right type” of friends – as an author recently did in The Cut” blog of New York Magazine, and the recipe for creating instances of unnecessary anxiety and modern angst about a subject that was once considered as natural as breathing is just about complete.

Blessedly, this is a playing field I have never felt the need to compete on: friendship was for me never a numbers game – I much prefer quality over quantity; and when selecting my friends I like to think that we mutually have found one another over shared interests, views and goals as opposed to more extraneous factors, choosing each other because of the content of our character to borrow a great man’s words of wisdom. I am lucky enough to live within a city and work in an industry that has exposed me to many different people of varying backgrounds, and it has been through my encounter with all of these many folks that have enabled me to see that deep down – regardless of the myriad of external differences that we all may all have – that people are people, all made in the Image and Likeness of God – whether or not we always choose to remember this and behave accordingly!

I think today – when friendship has taken on the attributes of being just one more thing to categorize, collect, and crow about – it’s important to step back and reflect on its importance. On the most intimate level, friendship is about connection….and in a world that is as fractured as ours is today – where “leaders” are more vested in keeping people apart in separate, little, controllable camps than in bringing folks together- it is exactly such connection that we need to bind up the global society so broken by strife.

I don’t think that belief in the importance of such connections is Pollyannaish at all: from my vantage, the more people are – and feel- connected with others who may be “different” then themselves, the more likely they will comport themselves is peaceable ways as God intended. It was just this past weekend – In fact – that I noticed such a “connection over differences”, right there on-line amongst the community of my friends on my Facebook wall.
This past weekend was of course the occurrence of the holiest day on the Jewish Calendar Yom Kippur – the “Day of Atonement” for Jews – where they set aside a 25 hour period to fast and atone for whatever sins they might have committed over the past year before God seals the Book of Life for the coming year where Jews believe God records His judgments. Interestingly enough, on the same weekend that Jews were holding their great fast of Yom Kippur, Muslims were celebrating their great feast Eid al-Adha – the feast of the sacrifice – where Muslims believe that the Prophet Ibrahim, in response to God’s call, prepared to offer his son Ismail as a sacrifice only to have God interceded and prevent him from offering his own son, accepting a ram for sacrifice instead. In yet another circumstance of spiritual alignment, for Christians, this past Saturday was the feast of someone who is arguably one of the greatest Saints on the Christian calendar – St. Francis of Assisi – the namesake of our current Holy Father, who has not only taken up the moniker of this great saint, but who has also adopted some of the Saint’s simplicity, compassion for those on the margins and embrace of peace. In taking on the name of this ecclesiastical superstar – who is almost uniquely admired in circles sacred and secular alike – I think Pope Francis is hoping to raise Francis up as a model of someone uniquely suited to speak to our contemporary, diverse society: a former soldier and son of a wealthy merchant, Francis eventually took on a life on non-violence and voluntary poverty as part of his conversion to a life grounded in a deep belief in God’s love and providence. A believer in peace living in a time of crusade, Francis undertook the quest for peace in the most personal way – risking life and limb in 1219 in the midst of the 5th Crusade to cross enemy lines in Egypt in order to gain an audience with Sultan Malik al-Kamil, nephew of the great Muslim commander Saladin. It was St. Francis’ hope to win the peace by a conversion of the Sultan to Christianity. This of course did not happen; however the meeting of the Saint and the Sultan left both men changed – and both convinced that Christians and Muslims could indeed encounter each other in peace. A reformer as well, St. Francis took on corrupt practices in both society and the Church at the time, addressing them in corrective ways – not primarily by words, but by actions. He is often remembered by the advice he gave to his first followers: “Preach the Gospel always…use words when necessary”….Francis was a spiritual giant who reminds us that prayers are not only just words – but that our very lives can be conduits for making this world a more gentle and livable place for all!

On my Facebook wall – where this weekend I wished all of my friends collectively a Blessed Yom Kippur, a Happy Eid and blessings on Saint Francis’ Feast Day respectively – I noticed how those of various backgrounds “liked” and commented to one another from various traditions, electronically crossing boundaries with wishes of good will, friendship and peace. Will actions like these alone single handedly usher in a “Peaceable Kingdom” as was prophesied in the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 2: 3-4)? I could only wish! But encounters such as these – virtual and actual – do I think help to build trust – build connection – that over the long run can help to heal old wounds, and – with concerted effort – help hold a fractured world together. What St. Francis knew eight centuries ago remains as true today as it was back then: encounters can and do change history!
In the final equation: friendships matter!

A Quandary at Christmastime: So what did Jesus really look like?

Monday, December 30th, 2013


Depending upon your opinion of – or comfort with – online communications, Facebook can either be heralded as a new-fangled version of the old double-hung door where acquaintances can electronically visit with one another and keep up, or it functions more like a harbinger of the upcoming zombie apocalypse: mesmerizing vast swaths us into a digitalized stupor which passes for today’s version of the proverbial bread and circuses which preceded the fall of the Roman Empire. For me, the social utility serves more as the former than a launch pad for Armageddon – it’s a great way to keep up with far away friends, to share photos as well as a few laughs along the way. I have also come to find it a pretty accurate social barometer of the mood of the particular moment, doing a far better job at predicting things to come in the cultural sphere then the folks on television and radio do as regards the upcoming weather (apologies to all my meteorologist friends out there).

 A recent example on Facebook serves as a pretty good case in point for this: a few weeks ago, I was scrolling through comments on my Facebook newsfeed, when I noticed that a friend of mine had put something on his personal page regarding the physical appearance of the historical Jesus. On his post, my friend – who was born in New Jersey but is of South Asian descent – had typed the statement: “Yay- Jesus looked exactly like me!” beneath the visage of a strongly built, dark-eyed man with thick features, short dark, wavy hair and a heavy black moustache and beard. The image my friend was commenting upon is a relatively famous one which was created now over a decade ago by Richard Neave, a retired medical artist from Manchester, England, who used his professional skills in forensic medicine – as well as cultural and archeological data – to develop an artistic representation of what a typical 30 year old Galilean Semitic male would have looked like at the beginning of the Christian era 2,000 years ago. What emerges from Neave’s interpretation – which he readily admits is not a “re-creation” of Jesus’ actual face as much as it’s a re-creation of what a young male face might look like for those who were born and lived in the same time and region as Jesus himself – is decidedly darker and swarthier then the standard version of what is possibly the most famous image in human history with its long, flowing light brown hair, fair skin and Caribbean blue eyes.     

Beneath the photo and my friend’s statement, many of his Facebook friends had jumped onto the band-wagon, echoing their delight that the Jesus of history had “looked like them” too – darker complexioned like my friend – many of them being South Asian, Middle Eastern or Latino. Now, I am not one of those people who feel the need to compulsively comment on all of my friends’ Facebook posts, and while I do make it a habit to generally keep abreast of what my friends put up on-line, I try as best I can not to add my own two-cents unless I have something substantive to say. And while I was aware that the originator of the photograph never intended his work to be taken as a literal depiction of the actual face of Christ, as a “justice and peace guy” it is my practice to never unnecessarily create a controversy if I can help it…especially if – please pardon the very bad pun here – I have no skin in the game. So when it came time to add my contribution to my friend’s online conversation, I took note that while I could not vouch for what the historical Jesus actually looked like as a grown man, I could venture a guess that most probably, as a child, He – much I’m sure to the chagrin of my Irish Catholic grandmothers – almost certainly DID NOT have the blond hair, fair skin and blue eyes that I had as a child, regardless of how he is depicted on the many store-bought Christmas cards exchanged at this time of year.

I would have completely forgotten about this internet exchange on my friend’s Facebook wall we’re it not for the fact that no more than one week later, the cable-news networks and  blogsphere experienced a near nuclear meltdown when media personality Megyn Kelly – on the December 10th episode of her nightly news program “The Kelly Report” – made a remark in response to an article in Slate magazine regarding the desirability of a more racially diverse depiction of Santa Claus in the popular culture. Addressing this suggestion, Kelly asserted that not only was Santa Claus “just white” – but that Jesus Christ was too! Predictably, both the internet and the late-night talk shows exploded in response, the discussion running the gamut from ridicule to condemnation. For her part – in response – Kelly acknowledged that since the controversy took hold, she had learned that the question of Jesus’ actual skin color was “far from settled”, and went on to claim that the segment itself was “tongue-in-cheek” and just an attempt at humor, and that the entire episode “would be funny if it were not so telling about our society”, ending her comments by casting herself as the most recent casualty in this proxy battle of the ongoing “war on Christmas – the irony that this entire affair was occasioned by preparation for the birth of a child that we have come to refer to as the “Prince of Peace” seemingly having been lost on just about everyone on both sides of this “battle-line”.

So much has already been written about Kelly’s unfortunate comments as well as the responses to them that I feel I have little myself to add except to say that I do wish that she had not felt the need to conscript Our Lord and Savior into her defense of a particular ethnography for Santa Claus. That stated, I do think that in her defense of her comments, Kelly was onto something when she said that the entire affair was very “telling about our society” – although I suspect that the insights I have gleaned from these events differ significantly from those that Kelly might hold. What strikes me as particularly interesting – incredible in fact – is that from Facebook to the cable-news networks this entire controversy was premised on the actual, physical appearance of Jesus (and for that matter, Santa too): his skin color, his eye color, the texture of his hair, all attributes that the original sources of our information about Jesus – the Gospels, the Letters of Saint Paul -are conspicuously silent on. Having – to our present day knowledge – never sat for a physical portrait during His lifetime and based on the original texts and sources, the best that we can EVER get at what Jesus (and in fact, most of the figures of the Bible for that matter) looked like when He walked the Earth is an interpretation through the eyes of artists – from the baby in the manger up through His Resurrection.

I don’t think that this silence on the part of the Gospel text as to Jesus’ physical appearance was an oversight on the Evangelists part: no, in fact, I think this was a way to show that Jesus did not come just to redeem a particular people, but instead that His redeeming mission was for the benefit of all human-kind.  In fact, I’m sure of this: my certainty based in the words of Jesus Himself in the Gospel of Saint Matthew. While the Gospels themselves are silent as to WHAT Jesus physically looked like, they are equally clear about WHOM Jesus looks like. In response to the question of: “When did we see you Lord?”, Jesus reminds us that He is made visible in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill and the imprisoned. If we want to see Jesus – to really see Jesus – we need not only look at the figurines of the precious child in the manger in the beautiful Nativities that sit beneath the Christmas trees in our homes and the alters of our Churches, but also at the often confused, unwashed and unkempt men and women whom we encounter on the streets on our way to and from those places.

This kind of active “seeing” is never easy, as most residents of major metropolises will tell you – the goal of navigating a city street is to arrive quickly at your appointed rounds and avoid eye contact, limiting your vision to notice only those things essential to the accomplishment of your purposes. In advocating that we embrace a more engaged kind of “seeing”, I put myself first on the list of those who need to do a better job; for you see – right before Christmas this year – I am pretty sure that I did encounter Jesus Himself, although I am not particularly proud of my response to Him. I was busy running one of the million errands which we all do on the run-up to Christmas Day, and I was rushing to the post office right before it closed. As I scurried to slip into the entrance before staff locked it, a short, stocky figure who looked to be in her mid-thirties appeared in my path. It was a particularly cold day, and I remember that she was inappropriately dressed in wearing just a beat-up looking spring jacket over a stained velour jogging suit, as she turned her large, dark eyes towards me and began to speak:  Excuse me sir…” In response, I quickly apologized that I had no change on me, and rushed past her into the revolving doors, but not before hearing her pleading response to my pre-emptive:  “That’s not what I was going to ask you…”

Her words stayed with me as I strode up the escalator, proceeded to the Post Office window, mailed my parcels, and got some cash out of the ATM machine. Once downstairs and back outside, I searched for her up and down the block, eager to share with her some of the cash that I had just taken out of the machine so she could get something to eat, something better to wear against the cold, to find out what it was that she wanted to ask me – but she was gone. Giving up my search, I closed my eyes and asked for forgiveness, hoping that when my time on Earth is done, and when I meet that woman again at the Gates of Heaven as I am sure I will, that she takes the time that I did not to hear my requests, and have mercy upon me.

It’s funny, but while we all may want a Jesus who looks like us – acts like us – IS like us, perhaps WE NEED a Jesus who is none of those things, a Jesus who will challenge us to do better both at Christmastime and throughout the coming year as we strive to help build His Kingdom here on Earth as it is in Heaven…

A Blessed Season of Christmas to you all, and God’s Blessings in the New Year.