I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and preached on this last week, but I wanted to expand our conversation about being connected this morning and I want to look especially at what we mean by being connected before we look at how this has changed during Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns and what this means for going forward beyond Covid?’
I’m aware that we live in unprecedented times and actually it can be difficult to make sense of what is going on. It is difficult to ‘order our thoughts’ and find the language to talk about and express what we are experiencing. So, today we will talk a little about being connected and have a discussion and then I thought we would take a few minutes to read some scripture from Genesis that may help us think about ‘connectedness’ in a different way.
I want to start with three simple questions that I though could guide our discussion this morning.
- What does ‘being connected mean?
- Who are we connected to?
- How do we connect?
The multiple meanings and expressions of connection
- What does ‘being connected’ mean
- Who are we connected to?
If we talk about being connected, different people will conjure up different ideas about what that means? Just the language of ‘connection’ is complicated with multiple meanings.
Physical (in person and virtual)
One understanding of connection is that of a physical connection, but even then, there are multiple meanings. On one level, connection can mean a physical connection in terms of being present; being in another’s proximity; touch.
If we ask the younger generation (or maybe not just that generation) connection conjures up thoughts of the internet. Are you connected? Connection speed; “I’ve lost connection!”; “it’s a slow connection!” All language that has entered our day to day use over the last generation.
We connect with people we associate with; people we meet in everyday life; the bus driver; the shop keeper; people we go to church with or go to school with; the receptionist at the dentist; the GP; the childminder…..on some level we connect with many people each day.
On the internet we connect with many, many people. Some of whom we know relatively well and we us the internet as a form of convenient communication; others who we have never met or rarely meet but who form part of our online community.
We can also think in terms of social connections. Who are you connected with or to? What school or college did you go to? What family did you marry into? Or, as was rumoured to be the key question asked at interviews for a blue chip company, “where do you ski?”
Yet it is not just the upper class or the privileged that value social connections. Whether you are left or right; blue or red; a Brexiter or a remainer connects you with people. Suddenly you belong to a social ‘club’ or network of like minded people.
Work life: in work, connections become increasingly important, Network, network, and network is the mantra of the day. Academia is a relatively lonely job so when we were let loose at conferences a couple of times a year to connect with others in our field of work we were delighted. The rule at these conferences was talk to at least 6 people and come away with contact details of at least 3 you could work with.
Of course, there is the plethora of online network sites. LinkedIn and similar sites have rapidly become the way we network, but an online presence is also increasingly important – must have a Facebook page; must Tweet key points from each conference talk to others we connect with….and so it goes on.
And then there is an emotional connection. Connections with people we know and love and care about. These connections occur not just through circumstances but through choice. We don’t connect with these people just because we work with them or go to school with them, or even happen to attend the same church. These are people we have a deep connection with; people we choose to spend time with; to let into our lives; to journey with; to live with. These are deep authentic relationships.
How is our relationship with God? Our church buildings have closed. That shouldn’t make any difference to our relationship with God – and in a way it doesn’t. God never changes, God is ever present and ever lasting. But maybe it feels different; maybe some of us our beating ourselves up over that; maybe some of us feel adrift and disconnected from God. While our church building is not ‘church’ – the church is us (God’s people); the church building; our congregation; and our services are the scaffolding on which we build and nourish our faith and express our faith. When that is removed, we are bound to feel a sense of disconnection and confusion.
3. How do we connect?
I’m sure we could talk much more on what connection means and different types of connection. But I want to look now at how we connect with others and how, or if that has changed during lock down.
I would be surprised if there was anyone who could say they are still connected or connecting with people in the same way as they were over a year ago. If we see being connected as a physical presence, then that has certainly changed. We no longer have the freedom to be present with whoever we want, whenever we want, wherever we want.
For some of us, that will have meant long periods of time without seeing people; some of those people may be acquaintances who were on the edge of our lives; others will be close friends, relatives and loved ones who we miss on a daily basis.
The internet has undoubtedly been a life saver for many. Facetime, Zoom, Whatsapp, Messenger, the telephone itself has meant we have unlimited connection with others and this had been a life line for those who are isolated, housebound, shielding, or caring for others.
Yet it brings problems to. It is a poor substitute for the ‘real thing’. While we may have much more intentional and meaningful conversations, we miss those wonderful opportune moments when we bump into others at the Funky Monkey and have a great conversation. Or when we bump into someone we haven’t seen for a long time and we catch up over coffee and a long chat.
Of course, we miss the physical contact; the touch; then hand shake; the hug…
None of this can happen online.
It has also changed the way we relate to others. The younger generation especially have had to come to terms with a strange world in which they are apart but together. The effort to keep children connected with school through the internet has been necessary for learning but what about emotional development? It is amazing that they have an open window to connect with the world whenever they want. But parents talk of their children struggling to cope with the changes this has made to how they relate to their peers. They have had to learn to live with the relentless demand to connect 24 hours a day; seven days a week with peers. Connecting with people is no longer episodic it is continual and relentless in its breadth while superficial in its depth.
Of course, one of the benefits on being connected online is that we can switch it off! Unlike in real life where ‘walking away’ or ‘not turning up would’ be considered rude; switching off or silencing your phone is a socially acceptable option.
But again, is that teaching our younger generation, and us, that connection with others can be switched on and off like flicking a switch?
Who we connect with and when, is also changing. Under normal circumstances, how we connect with people is often dictated to who we connect with who and where. For example, we do not hug and kiss someone we have met once through work and we do not usually send our closest loved ones an email to wish them happy birthday.
While the internet has amazing abilities and opportunities it has its drawbacks. Connections can be shallow, they can be intrusive without boundaries (24 hours a day relationships); can be stopped and started very easily without reason or rational. We can spend more physical time with strangers and more online time with those we love. It seems that our understanding and experience of being connected has been turned on its head.
Our church worship has gone ‘virtual’. Over the last year we have had to change the way we do things. There are many disadvantages to this; we miss fellowship; receiving HC; being present in worship and prayer with others. There are also benefits; reaching out to those who cannot or choose not to attend church; creative and new ways of worship – in some ways this has opened up the church; in other ways it has closed it down – each of us will have a different experience.
Questions to ponder.
- How has Covid-19 changed how you connect with each other?
- How has it changed how you connect with God?
Reflecting through scripture
I want to offer a way of thinking about ‘being connected’ that may help shape our experiences in a more positive and constructive way. To do that I want to turn to Genesis and the story of creation. And I want to look at creation and The Fall as a way of thinking and framing what we mean and experience by connection.
Read the following passages and take some time to ponder the reflection questions.
Made in the image of God
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
- What does it mean to be made in the image of God?
- What does it mean to be given the earth that God created and blessed?
- The Trinity as the ultimate relationship/connection. What are the characteristics of a trinitarian relationship?
Made to be in relationship with each other
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” 24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.
- Adam and Eve: connecting with each other. We are not meant to be alone but to be in relationship with each other and with God.
- We are made in the image of God and our relationships with each other should reflect that trinitarian relationship. What does that look like for us and our communities?
- If you had to describe those relationships to a stranger, how could you describe them?
8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
- To know and be known. Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden of Eden. They sensed each other’s presence; they sensed each other’s moods. They were sensitive, aware, engaged, empathic. They knew what they had done, and they knew God knew. What does it mean to know God and be known by God?
- How do you sense God’s presence in your life?
- Does being known and knowing someone depend on a physical presence?
- How do we relate to each other and with God as a connected community? As a congregation? As groups or individuals?
Adam and Eve are driven out of the Garden of Eden. But this is our disconnect from God not God disconnecting from us. God continues to be in relationship with us and seeks us. The love He shows is unconditional, never changing, eternal. Read through Genesis 4 and beyond to see that journey of humanity attempting to flourish while disconnected from God.
Final questions to ponder:
- What has Covid-19 taught us about being connected?
- Can scripture help us reimagine or reframe our Covid-19 experience of connection and relationship?
Lent Breakfast Gathering – Janine Arnott