Are you my “friend”?

I think we need a new definition of the word “friend”. Or perhaps we need different levels of “friend.” We use the word so loosely these days that it has no real meaning anymore.

One reason we need different levels of “friend” is when we are talking to one about another. I’ve recommended that one “friend” connect in a business relationship with another actual friend. But I don’t know the “friend” very well – and I don’t want the actual friend to think badly of me if the “friend” acts strangely. I can’t vouch for him. I’ve only met him once. I know people he knows, but I’ve not personally spent much time with him.

I think Facebook has blurred the lines of what “friend” means. There are plenty of people who I think of as friends who I only barely know. I only know about their lives virtually. With some people this is how I get to know them. I’ll meet them somewhere at some gathering and “friend” them. In reality I know nothing about them. My plan is to learn more about them, and them about me, in the safe near-anonymity of the cyber world.

I’m discovering that this causes a whole new set of problems for me because I’m still working on my boundaries.

Sometimes I’ll keep someone as a “friend” who only posts to complain or argue. Maybe I’ll move them to another page that I only look at every few days instead of every few hours. Then they will comment on my page only to complain or argue. Seems like that is all they do. This reminds me of the coworker who starts of every (rare) conversation with me to say “Now, I don’t mean to complain…” and then she complains. I need balance. I really can’t handle someone who only complains. This gets really old. I’m not paid to be a therapist.

Perhaps I’ll keep someone as a “friend” who never posts or never comments or even “likes” anything. Will they even notice that I’ve unfriended them? Plenty of people have a Facebook page and don’t really use it. Plenty of people lurk too. Perhaps I need to understand that they just aren’t that into me. Perhaps I need to not take it personally.

Maybe I keep some people around as “friends” because I think they may be useful some day. I think that I may need to contact her or him, so I’ll not “unfriend” just yet. Maybe I’m thinking of people like craft supplies.

Maybe I need to edit. I do this, but perhaps not as deeply as I should. I try to keep my “friends” list to under 200, when in reality I only really interact with a tenth of that, at most.

I care, sort of. I feel like I should care. They are “friends” after all, right?

Recently I unfriended two women that I thought I should get along with, but don’t. One I met in my old church. I’ve finally come to realize that she is just an unhappy person, and I don’t care to participate in her angry world. Another person was a girlfriend of a friend of mine. She was really interesting for a while. Then she started being threatening to me. Nothing big, and I suspect she thought she was being funny. Jokes aren’t funny if both people aren’t laughing.

Rather than tell them how I felt, I deleted them. If I really cared about the relationship I would have told them how I felt. But I didn’t really care. And that was a turning point. I realized that I didn’t owe them anything. I may never see them again. And I’m OK with that.

Would it be different if I did see them often? Maybe. It gets really awkward when people confront you for unfriending them. I’d think they should get the clue and not ask, or not take it so personally, but that is probably my desire to not be confrontational.

There is nothing saying you have to be friends with anybody, cyber or otherwise. Being a friend should be a choice, not an obligation.

I have to think of Facebook as like my home. Sure, they aren’t physically there. But they are inside my head, which is far more intimate. Why would I let someone rummage around in my home who doesn’t really respect or resonate with me?

So why would I let that person in my head?

For a while I’d keep my really conservative friends because I thought that I might have a positive influence on them. In fact, they ended up having a negative influence on me. I got more bitter and cynical. I felt really tense every time they would post something hateful. So I deleted them.

I’m getting more and more protective of my space. I’m just glad that I realized that my space also refers to the space in my head.

Poem – the way of the zombie

Zombies and the way.
The Way of zombies.

Bring meat in breath. Being meat that breathes
pray the Lord has a hard drive.

It is a long road home.

Anywhere you sleep the second night
the bed will be harder.
The benefits of this is that the way home
is me saying
You are the way.

You are the way
once you wake up.

We are all zombies.
We are all dead.

We are animated meat, my friends.

Unplug yourself to come alive.
That TV, that movie, that fashion, that style,
they chain you down, tie you up,
leave you breathless and brainless

Zombies, all of us.

Turn it off
to turn inward
and outward
and onward.

Disconnect to connect.

Skeletons in the middle class
Home page
Home run
Run away
Wake up.
Come alive.
Come outside.

The water is wonderful.

Let me baptize you
with your own tears
you’ve kept inside
for so long.

Walk in healing

Have you noticed the number of walk-in medical care places? They are popping up in grocery stores, in pharmacies, and strip malls. They are urgent care, quick care. They are fast – no appointment. It is designed to be easy and available for people who don’t have primary care doctors or don’t have insurance.

Why not have a faculty for quick care for other needs? Spiritual, mental, emotional – these areas need attention too. There are plenty of three a.m. crises that happen. What if you need to talk to a counselor and it is past office hours?

It isn’t severe enough to need a crisis hotline. You aren’t about to kill yourself. Those phone lines are the equivalent of the emergency room. Sometimes it isn’t just an emergency, it is just inconvenient.

And sometimes the issue is just too big or too heavy for friends. Sometimes friends are helpful and sometimes they are a hindrance. Sometimes the issue is so personal, so embarrassing, that you need to talk to a stranger.

Just like with primary care providers, some people don’t have primary faith providers.

These places could also do other services that people need, like performing marriages. There are plenty of people who don’t have a faith community that they belong to. There are plenty of people who feel betrayed by the church, but still want the rituals.

We humans need rituals to mark transitions. Graduation is more than just finishing high school or college. There is more to it than just getting a diploma. We dress up, have special words, and there is a meal afterwards. We know something different has happened, that we are different. The ritual helps us to know that. Sure, people could get married at the courthouse, but sometimes they want a place where they can invite their family to see them get married and to wish them well.

While I’m all for the idea of the idea that every person become self-reliant to the fullest extent possible, there are some things that we can’t do for ourselves. I reject the idea of hierarchy in faith – I believe that we are called to walk together in our faith journey, not be lead like sheep. I believe that everybody is called by God, and everybody has special abilities.

But sometimes we can’t do it all ourselves. Sometimes we need a compassionate listener. Sometimes we need someone who can listen to our pain and help us find a way out of that hole. Sometimes we need someone who can say “that sucks!” or “that has to be hard for you” or “take a nap and call me in the morning.”

You need to be able to validate the other person’s feelings and experiences, to let them know that they aren’t going crazy, that life is in fact really hard right now.

It isn’t easy to be a good listener. You have to show that you are interested. You have to be patient. You can’t get distracted. You can’t start telling people how it is so much harder for you. That is the worst. Bad listeners are like my aunt, who when you say “I may have cervical cancer”, she says “my daughter had a bad case of melanoma last year.” Don’t be that person.

You can’t go into this to tell people off or tell them what to do. I know way too many people in ministry who think that is what they are called to do. Being a good minister is about kenosis. It is about emptying yourself out and letting God fill in the space. Being a good minister is about being like a shaman. It is about connecting the here with the there. It is about reminding people that “there” is right here. Being a good minister is like being a musician, where you can “translate” the needs of the moment into a song that is healing, except it is with prayers.

This all takes a lot of practice. It takes a lot of faith.

Not everybody wants to be a minister, in much the same way that not everybody wants to be a nurse. Not everybody can handle the intimacy of the soul or the body when it is exposed. So while I think that everybody is called by God, and that everybody can minister in their own way, perhaps there are some people who are just better suited to be good listeners. I think that everybody needs healing, whether it be physical or metaphysical. There is a lot of healing found in just being able to listen, and I mean really listen, to someone else.

Perhaps that is what we all want. We all want to be heard. Perhaps those phone sex lines aren’t about sex at all, but about connection. Perhaps that is why bartenders and hairdressers are so sought out. It isn’t for the beer or the bob cut. It is for someone to listen.