I can’t remember who suggested that I read Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Network and How They Shape Our Lives – How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do but thanks, if it was you.
I remember a parishioner once explaining to me why she and her husband would be sending their daughters to an expensive private school instead of the (very good) public school in their suburb. “We want them to make the right connections because it will help them for the rest of their lives.”
Picture Buffy sitting beside Margaret in Italian 1 which leads to Buffy spending a semester in Rome during college with Trevor who went to summer camp with Margaret and through Trevor, Buffy meets George who marries Buffy’s cousin Addison.
The more prosperous we are, the more this kind of thing happens mostly because privileged people have broader experiences (summer camp, trips abroad, college) and more opportunities to branch out. Not true if you’ve spent your entire life in a single small town with the same people and nobody every moves in or out.
Connections-by-privilege happen to me too. I was at a funeral reception in Chicagoland for a wonderful older man whose spouse had died the year before where I’d met her sister who grew up in my home state and – as it turns out – I went to high school with her niece and nephew. And at the funeral reception I met her grandson who was best friends with my own nephew back in N.C. And maybe we are all cousins.
Christakis and Fowler in Connections point out that our social networks can be dangerous (“75 percent of all homicides involve people who knew each other”) and social networks can save our lives (” I gave my right kidney to my best friend’s husband.”)
The great thing about the Church is that we have the opportunity to make connections with people we would not ordinarily know. I was once the pastor of a congregation that included a member of President Reagan’s staff, a refugee from Vietnam, three Sufi Muslims from Turkey, several homeless men, an undocumented construction worker who didn’t speak English, and people who spent their days inventing secret things for DARPA. These folks most likely would not be spending time together if they weren’t part of the same church.
It makes me wonder:
Do our social networks look like the Kingdom of God? Are we connected to people who “can help us for the rest of our lives” as well as people of different races/religions/generations/socioeconomic groups/tribes?
- Are we connected to any immigrants?
- Are we connected to any refugees?
- Are we connected to anyone who is homeless?
- Are we connected to anyone who is mentally ill?
- Are we connected to anyone who is unemployed?
- Are we connected to anyone who speaks a different language?
By “connected” I don’t just mean that we met them once. Have we invited a broad spectrum of people into our homes and into our lives? Imagine how different the world would be if we made connections with people we privately disparage or judge or fear?
Our connections are everything. They impact how and what we eat, how we spend our free time, and how we see the world. Being honestly and deeply connected to God makes the biggest impact of all because God is the ultimate Connector. Jesus was connected to all kinds of people – including those that nobody wanted in their network.
I believe that it’s a spiritual practice to notice people who are not in our social networks and to care about them. Maybe we could even connect.
PS If your church is comprised of people just like you, there could be a problem in your definition of “outreach.”