Saturday, February 24, 2007

Is 'Facebook' pornography in disguise?

I regularly work in a famous library in my university. As a break from work, I walk in a circle around its centre where all the computers are. I noticed this week, much to my surprise, that almost every terminal seemed to be on 'Facebook' and as I looked further afield I noticed many of the laptops were also on it. For those who are unaware of this phenomena, Facebook is a virtual community (a little like Myspace) that links groups of people as 'friends' and this then initiates or builds relationship.

Or does it?

Samuel Johnson wrote " True happiness consists not in the multitude of friends, but in their worth and choice". At this juncture, I have to confess I am not on Facebook and am only too aware that there is a certain amount of irony about commenting on a blog about my reservations about virtual community. However, I have been increasingly encouraged to join facebook by people who say to me "I'll be your friend" but something about it doesn't seem quite right. Does being a friend constitute a few photo's and an email exchange or two or does this not do the word 'friend' a great disservice?

Here's an example. A friend who is on facebook noted that someone had requested to be his 'facebook friend' but was confused that this same person had made no effort to build any form of normal relationship with him in the 18 months that this has been a possibility. There have been plenty of chances to meet for a cup of coffee, chat and get to know one another, were it not for the fact that this person has consistently ignored him. So why send him a 'facebook friend' request? Well, perhaps it is just a bit of fun and you simply get to add another name and photo onto your growing list of virtual companions. This makes you look popular, functional, in touch, wanted, fun and good to be with. Or is there something more subtle at work that is not the healthy fun that it might at first seem?

Here is my leap of thought that may be a tad controversial but here goes. Is facebook not actually pornography in disguise? Is it not detached and non-committed relationship meeting a temporary need in the vacuum of the human heart without the cost and investment of what it truly means to meet someone face to face and be their friend. That's what porn is isn't it? An escape into a pretend and fantasy encounter being lived out in a false environment by other people but bearing no reality to what it actually means to be in an intimate and wholehearted relationship with someone. Is it madness to compare a voyeuristic internet sex addiction with having a bit of fun on facebook? Maybe so and I acknowledge this is an extreme, but it's a thought.

'A mirror reflects a man's face, but what he is really like is shown by the friends he chooses' advises the Proverb(27:19). I don't have many friends and I am not sure I am a very good one but those I do have are those I have walked a long race with face to face. I have seen their joy, their pain, their triumphs and disasters and we have been refined through many adventures together. I have seen them cry, heard them confess, watched them grow and change and learn. I have prayed with them and for them, argued with them and heard truth from them and they amazingly have been prepared to bear with me through the years. Someone tell me how you do friendship like that on the internet? The truth is I'm not sure you do.

'Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried. Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel; But do not dull thy palm with entertainment of each new-hatched unfledged comrade" said William Shakespeare and I think may have had a point.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Dwight and matters Israel

This has been Israel week. It started with a spellbinding sermon from Simon Ponsonby on Romans 11 (is well worth a listen so do check out the St Aldates website and it should be posted soon). In it he confessed that he had only changed a major theological position once before and this was his second. The revelation that when Paul writes 'All Israel will be saved' he might actually mean Israel and not the church, as N T Wright would have us believe. Anyway, I took this thought into my week and on Wednesday attended a conference with my dear friend and encourager Audrey which had been long since in the diary. The title was 'Israel:New Perspective' and Dwight Prior offered some extraordinary and compelling reasons for me to reconsider my supercessionist views of Romans 11. On Friday I attended my lecture on Romans with Dr Wenham and you guessed it- Romans 9-11 was his subject and Israel his focus. Do you ever get the feeling a theme is building in certain events that apparently randomly collide? I am holding off on chartering a cruise liner for the holy land for returing Jews in order to usher in the end times but the worm is certainly considering a turn.

He is some of Dwight's argument. He is steeped in the Hebrew scriptures and says that in order to work this all out we have to read, metaphorically speaking, from right to left rather than left to right. Our identity is born in particularity and the God of the bible is not abstract and metaphysical but specific. Our God is the God of 'Abraham, Isaac and Jacob'. Your question should be 'Which God?' among the many that are on offer. He points out in Romans 1 that it starts with the gospel of 'God', a phrase used three times in 1 Thes. Traditionally, as we have viewed the story through the 'Church as Israel' paradigm we have the fourfold: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation. We can in this instance, he observes, tell the story without any reference to Israel. Genesis has 12 Chapters on creation and fall and then 32 chapters about Abraham. Interesting. To illustrate he gave the example of buying a jumper from a mail-order catalogue. Once you have ordered, it is does not get sent to you directly from the manufacturer but instead is 'redeemed' through a handling house and then you receive your purchase. In this instance, once you get the jumper the catalogue becomes redundant and gets thrown in the bin. This he argues this is the danger of the supercessionst view and we are at worst able to dismiss the OT and, if not this, then certainly may be misappropriating the Hebrew scriptures if we read them through the wrong spectacles.

The bible should be read as Covenant history. We have a Creator who blesses and a Creation which is a blessing. He covenants, this is then deferred by sin and is then consummated. He suggests a promise-fulfillment hermeneutic. A particular AND a universal fulfillment. The divisiveness but not the distinction is removed. Forced uniformity not unity and there is, he says, a difference. So for N T Wright the Cross is 'the Climax of the Covenant' for Dwight it is 'the Confirmation of the Covenant'. He concludes "If you universalise Christ you will conform him to you image".

This does I'm fear a great disservice to this leanred scholar's argument but I've done my best to collect up the scribbles in my journal and make them known. Two thoughts from these reflections. 1) Read 'More' by Simon Ponsonby if you have not already (not about Israel but it is just a fie read) 2) Check out Dwight Prior. He runs the centre for Judaic-Christian studies is an exceptional bible teacher. One man he has greatly influenced is Rob Bell of Nooma fame and if you have ever wondered why Bell is so into matters Jewish, Dwight will help explain. His website is www.jcstudies.com so have a look. If you ever get the chance to here him teach then take it.

Shalom to all