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The Opposite of Isolation is Relationship

Jacob said, [to Esau] “No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God-- since you have received me with such favor.” Genesis 33:10

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

I recently received an advertisement from a company that supports churches; the opening line in large letters read “Create Relationships with Automation.” Now I’m no luddite, but I had to burst out laughing. Any way you read this sentence still yields absurdity. Even “through” automation, I can’t possibly create real relationships. I feel as if I’m in a strange novel set in post-apocalyptic times, or a C.S. Lewis commentary on the trajectory of secular self-understanding. More and more, we rely on technology to fill our time and mediate our interactions with others. But they are static and partial, and mechanical at best. For some reason, they feel easier to us, so we shrink back from actual, personal, face-to-face, human relationships. They may be easier, but are they better for us? Are they even real?

 

All this “connection” comes at the same time as a widespread increase in mental illness, insecurity, and deep, deep isolation and spiritual atrophy. More and more we realize that what we need are the messy, difficult things we call human relationships. But if we’ve hid behind screens for so long, do we even know how to be in relationship anymore?

 

Easier is not always better. Real human relationships require vulnerability, investment of time and energy, actual physical presence, accommodation, healthy assertiveness, respect, curiosity and courage enough to disagree and stay engaged, and commitment beyond our microsecond attention span. All this sounds like a great expense for those stuck behind screens. But these are the kind of life-giving relationships to which God calls us. Read the messy but grace-filled saga of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 27, 32 and 33. The investment and sacrifice of Christian relationships are life giving. The opposite of isolation is relationship.

 

God knows this about us. I think human history has known this until now. But even more so, God knows how our relationships can be destructive or life giving, and how our self-orientation can be isolating and destructive (and self-destructive). So he not only teaches us how to live and love, he comes to us in Jesus to live with us and to love us. Jesus personally touched people, personally healed people, and personally gave his suffering and death for us that we might be free from the traps of our own brokenness. Jesus came to bring us life—not just in heaven, but life and vitality here in this messy world, through the rough and tumble of real, live, non-automated, face to face, human relationships.

 

That’s why Christians are called to generosity and self-sacrifice—even loving our enemies. That’s why we practice confession, repentance, forgiveness, amendment of life, and reconciliation with each other (not just pleasant concepts, but the hard work of putting them into practice in real human relationships). We live this way so that we might enter more deeply into the divine life that God has given us—and thrive!

 

God bless you in your lenten journey with messy, face to face, priceless human relationships, transformed in Christ.

 

Yours in Christ,

 

-Tom

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