Saturday, October 29, 2011

Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World - Lynne M. Baab


Baab gives careful thought to friendship and technology.

Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World
Author: Lynne M. Baab (www.lynnebaab.com)
Publisher: IVP Books
Pages: 185

Something like disapproval crept into my heart when an out-of-town family member announced on Facebook that they were done using it as a means of communication. It was not the decision to abandon it that bothered me; someone might do that for legitimate reasons. It was the implication that Facebook is a superficial form of interaction that has little value.

Not being comfortable with phone calls to this person, the Facebook posts provided a means for me to have some contact. I am often more comfortable communicating by email than by phone. One thing that makes Friending by Lynne Baab so praiseworthy is that she encourages readers to recognize and respond appropriately to different communication preferences.

She rises above seeing communication changes in terms of good and bad: “Making blanket critical statements about the technology used to communicate today is pretty easy to do, while discussing ways to reflect love and compassion with various new forms of communication requires more creativity. The latter is urgently needed today” (49).

Throughout her wonderful meditation on the larger theme of friendship, Baab avoids the extremes of outright rejection of new technology and uncritical acceptance. She sees the potential benefits, “These means of communication can do much more than put relationships in a holding pattern until a visit happens. Like letters in years past, they can actually build relationships and nurture intimacy” (48).

As someone who cares deeply about relationships, and is intentional about cultivating them, Baab continually shows through the use of Scripture, personal experience, and interviews with a broad spectrum of people, just how good it can be. In particular, 1 Corinthians 13 and Colossians 3 are like frameworks that she uses to make numerous applications.

This is an excellent resource on relationships, and not just on the human level. It includes our relationship with God and how the faith that comes through him is worked out in our daily interactions. This book is a keeper for any who desire more meaningful connections.

Aside from offering a wealth of wisdom gained through experience and knowledge, Baab often inspires and writes beautifully. In writing about initiative, she observes, “Love carries its own reward. When we act in love, when we take initiative to show kindness and compassion, we are mirroring the character of God as shown to us in Christ Jesus. Every time we do that, we are participating in God’s work of transformation in us. Even if our act of kindness isn’t received very enthusiastically, we will be blessed if we trust that God’s love is shaping us into the people we were created to be” (100).

The book is by the author’s own admission not an exhaustive treatment on the subject. However, she does cover numerous subjects, some that seem quite novel to me. I don’t think I have ever read about rhythm and pacing in relationships. This looks at the frequency of our contacts. It includes knowing when to pull back or end a relationship. In such cases, “Keeping compassion and kindness on the front burner, even when making a decision to step away from a friend, limits engagement in destructive practices like gossip” (149). This is important because friendships sometimes blossom again.

In the latter part of the book, Baab makes liberal use of a study contained in the 1992 book by William K. Rawlins titled Friendship Matters. The study explores contrasting components of a relationship, such as instrumentality and affection, or independence and dependence. For example, “William Rawlins believed that a friendship with a strong component of affection will be stronger than a friendship focused primarily on function (instrumentality)” (139). On the other hand, Baab reminds us of a point made by C. S. Lewis “that shared interests can function as a foundation for friendship” (139). These and other dialectic comparisons make for fascinating exploration.    

Each chapter concludes with helpful questions for reflection, journaling, discussion and action. The appendix includes more of the same, grouped by category, on topics not covered in the book.

It shows what a vast subject this can be and an important one. Relationships, as mirrored in the Trinity, are at the heart of the Christian faith.
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