On a recent trip across the water, I was in a restaurant with no in-person service and everything was ordered via an app. The novelty and newness of the experience was a heady mix resulting in over-ordering and a lot of excitement. It was a busy establishment, and it was the weekend, so I was expecting a wait for what was ordered. This was a long wait though. A through-the-7-stages-of-grief-and-becoming-visibly-hangry sort of wait. After politeness and reasonableness turned into impatience, bordering on rudeness, enquiries were made. To my disappointment, the order was never received and too much time had passed, I had to leave to make an appointment hungry, thirsty, and a bit confused.
I was in the right place (observance) and had done the right thing (behaviour/ritual) but hadn’t received what I needed. It turned out there was no connection, my order was never received and I didn’t get my dinner.
Connection might be the word that defines our moment in history. Our worlds have been made smaller, and are getting ever increasingly faster, because of the internet. Our opinions and actions are being shaped by the legitimate and fake news we see on social media from people we’ve never met, and from places we’ve never been. We are connected like never before.
We now have access to overwhelming amounts of information that often becomes too much to process on our own, and we need our networks of people to help us make sense of new discoveries and apply them to our existence. We have experienced lockdowns and closed borders that taught and reminded us we need connection with each other.
Surrounded by our culture, we are constantly being invited to a connected way of life. A connection insisting upon evidence of employment success, financial freedom, property ownership, having diverse social interests, informed political opinion, documentation of physical health, investment in mental health, romantic relationship progress, environmental awareness, keeping up with entertainment schedules (what did you think of Squid Game btw?), a spirituality linked with the ancient and talking to the modern, and the list goes on.
To display a full life, connection is required.
Generally, a life coupled to these things is a decent life. Life is for living, but it seems to require some administration.
The problem with connection-administration is the necessity for repetition. So many elements of connection can never be ‘set it and forget it’. Emotional and mental tax is quite high on the investment of connection. Managing profiles, emails, appointments and appearances is effort. Quickly the perceived benefits of connection can feel onerous. From the gateway of opportunity to a cul-de-sac of obligation, connection can rapidly feel like bearing the weight of the world we were previously very excited about exploring.
Weight slows our pace through life. Burden dictates a more considered approach to next steps, the nimbleness of a care-free bounce through the day is exchanged for a ponderous plod of caution. There are now consequences to overbalancing. What we carry can fall and break, responsibilities shift attention away from the direction of travel and onto the administration of the load. Systems become about maintaining what we have acquired ahead of making space for what connection can bring. In the doldrums of admin. the effort of connection isn’t exciting, it gets a bit flat, we can lose the sense of fun it once seemed to promise.
Fun. Who doesn’t want to be or have fun?!! Fun is subjective, I know this to be true because I am often lovingly referred to as a ‘fun-sponge’. What others enjoy I find confusing and vice-versa. Define fun from your experience and I’m reasonably sure ‘a repeating administration of duty to evidence the benefits of connection’ won’t feature in your definition.
Awareness of the value and culture shattering ability of connection fade so fast when we have to assume ownership and concede responsibility for administrating it.
Connection simply stops being fun when we see it as effort not in proportion with the reward.
“When the fun stops, stop.” Is a slogan from a ‘responsible gambling’ campaign. The slogan’s efficacy (and morality) aside, the language helps to summarise the point. Despite what we know of personal benefit, meeting needs, development, communal success and positive life change, when the fun stops, we stop connecting.
“What’s wrong with fun?” “You’re just too serious!” Nothing, and I know. Not the point.
The dots I’m trying to draw between are our relationship to how we view connection and our response to the effort required to develop and maintain it. There is value in connection that is Divine. It includes fun, and is more valuable than our efforts, but I don’t think we’re being told that often enough. I think we’re being told, ‘surround yourself with people that ‘get’ you’ and ‘if it’s too hard, walk away, protect yourself first’. There is some common sense in some of these statements, of course there is, but they are junk rules to live by. There are exceptions to every rule and I’m not advocating for abuse, manipulation, or silence but we don’t make rules from exceptions.
I’m deeply grateful for people very different to me, sticking around when things were not convenient for them to do so. We are all the beneficiaries of someone else’s grace and we are the people in possession of The Golden Rule. We can put up a better case for connection, even when it is hard to do so. Without connection what is needed never gets received and the need is never met.
Connection is the way of Jesus.
Discipleship is an invitation to connection, so the way we feel about connection really matters. If our framework for connection is to walk away from it when things cease to feel exciting, light, or meet our definition of fun, we will find community and discipleship very difficult and life very lonely.
The call of The Way isn’t drudgery and misery either though. So, what is it?
Perhaps our cultural shaping of the demands of connection aren’t the same as connection within the Kingdom of God.
In the gospel of John, chapter 15, Jesus uses language and symbols to reframe some understanding of connection. The demands of a connected life are not now the rigorous administration of displaying the right set of behaviours. Connection is now an invitation to the inexhaustible source of life. Fuel for connection is not found in devotion to a symbol, worshiping a habit, or being conformed by ritual, rather it is in connection and attachment to Jesus.
Discipleship is not the religious repetition of external behaviour. Discipleship is not membership.
Discipleship is choosing connection to Jesus.
Community and connection make sense and are eternally significant through faithful obedience to Jesus. Specifically thinking about Jesus’ words in John 15, the faithful people of God (grapes) are the evidence of God’s promise to believers (grapevine). His connection call is to abide.
Discipleship, then, is to stay with Jesus. Choosing to remain. Sticking and staying with connection.
Don’t look to the symbol, habit, or ritual, let’s look instead for each other and the value that God has decided connection anoints us with.
There has to be an attachment to Jesus in everything we do.
We will find no eternal value in anything outside of the source of life.
Attachment to Jesus is greater than hedonism, stronger than Gnosticism, and more powerful for life change than escapism.
Attachment to Jesus is through faith and our faith is worked out in connection with each other. When you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, when your life feels like a performance for approval, when you are looking to someone other than Jesus to validate you, please don’t disregard the Kingdom connection of community as too much hard work. Abide. Stick with it. Stay with it even when it doesn’t feel fun. The true value of connection isn’t our cultural tide turning or advancing technology - it is Jesus.
How will we respond to the invitation to connection? Start a connection revolution, invest less in externally giving strangers evidence you’re alive and instead breathe deeply the air of new life from connection to Jesus. As you breathe out again, refreshed and renewed, give someone a call, grab a coffee with someone, read John 15 with somebody and rest in a life-giving connection that is worth the effort to stay with. When connection is made, communication gets through, needs are met and the Kingdom of God comes to earth.