Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


 Recently on the plane, I was seated beside two teenagers who were having a very animated conversation. From what I heard, they were into social networking. One of them said, “I’ve just unfriended Ashley?” 

“Oh really? Why?” replied the other.” Oh she’d been annoying me with her tweets (Twitter) but this time in FB (Facebook), she really messed up. Our friendship is over! I say, over as in OVER!” 

And she proceeded to tell her companion about what Ashley did, even though she knew, I was overhearing it.After her rant, her companion said, “Good for her. She deserves to be unfriended.” 

When I reached my destination, I could not wait to find out if there is a word “unfriend” in my old Oxford Pocket Dictionary and I could not find it. There is a word “unfriendly,” an adjective which means “hostile or antagonistic.” But the word “unfriended” that I heard is a verb. 

So I googgled “unfriend” in my computer and I found it in Wikipedia, the internet encyclopedia. Actually, I found two words ---“unfriend” and “defriend”--- which obviously mean the same thing.

The definition of unfriend in Wikipedia is this: “Unfriend is the act of removing a friend from your Facebook account.” It goes on to explain, “Compulsive people prune their Friends List periodically, removing people they no longer have contact with. More often however, unfriending is done when a particular friend’s update or self-promotions become so annoying that you can no longer stand hearing or reading them…You may also unfriend someone when they piss you off.”

One example of the use of the verb is this, “Suzy thought Joe was being rude, so she had to unfriend him from her page.” A story is also told of a Facebook fan who committed suicide because someone had ‘unfriended’ he. The last words she entered in FB and Twitter were , “OMG, I was unfriended!” 

And she jumped from a six-storey building!

I think it is unfortunate that friends can be tossed aside with nothing more than a few taps on a computer keyboard simply because they annoyed us. Scriptures tell us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are all imperfect, we all make mistakes, we all stumble and fall, we all annoy others, we all mess up. I would not be surprised if God gets annoyed with us. But what if God “unfriend” us? What if by the a stroke of God’s keyboard, we get stricken out of God Facebook?

The age of computer has given us plenty of opportunities to communicate. Often we act, in the words of Bill Gates, “with the speed of thought.” We write our message via email, text, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and many other social networks. We respond in matter of minutes. The problem however, is that when we read emails or tweets, we do not see the person and could not read his or her facial and bodily expressions. Sometimes they are tweets which are not necessarily for us. But we judge the message based on what we read. And without having seen the person at the time that he or she sent the message, we can get pissed off and decide to “unfriend.”

 One of the pop songs by Joan Osborne, that is very popular among teens, says in part “What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us, Just a stranger on the bus ,Trying to make his way home?” I don’t know if Osborne has some theological training but here song definitely smacks of the doctrine of incarnation. This Christology is one of the great mysteries of our faith. God became human like us. Like an alien from outer space, He came down and became one of us. Had he not been annoyed with Peter and James and John and the other fisher-friends who were of little faith? Had he not been annoyed by Judas who opposed and betrayed him?

In the Old Testament, God had wrestled with the temptation of ‘unfriending’ His chosen people. Israel’s idolatrous tweets, self-promotions and Facebook pages, were, pardon the term “pissing Him off.” One of God’s prophets, Elijah said that God’s people were “limping in two opinions.”  God, Elijah contended, wanted black and white, not gray: “If God is God, follow God; but if Baal is god, follow Baal.”
 In the contest of miracles on Mount Carmel, Elijah executed what he thought to be God’s “unfriending” but only to find out that God was not willing to “unfriend.” Because God did not “unfriend” God’s people, their limping dance continued.  (Read 1st Book of Kings, Chapter 18).

Another prophet of God, Hosea, accused Israel of being unfaithful. Not only were they unfaithful; they did not know they were unfaithful. The prophet said that the people did not know, or they forgot, that the gold and silver and the oil, they lavished on Baal, the false god of prosperity, comes from God. Hosea announced that they “will be destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6).
Hosea learned, however that despite their unfaithfulness, God was not willing to “unfriend” them. Listen to the soliloquy of God:

 “When Israel was a child, I loved him and out of Egypt I called my Son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to the images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms, but they did not realize that it was I who healed them, led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love….But how can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not carry out my anger, for I am God, not a man, the holy One among you. I will not come in wrath.” (Hosea 11:1-9) 

In other Scriptures but in similar fashion, God says, “I will not leave you, I will not forsake you…for I have inscribed (tattooed) you in the palm of my hands.” (Hebrews 13:5, Isaiah 49:16)

I think it is quite liberating to know that while God has become “one of us” God is also “not one of us.” Unlike the two teenagers on the plane, God would not unfriend us no matter how much mess we make of our lives. God’s forgiveness, love and grace are always ours, despite our nasty Twitter tweets, Facebook updates and MySpace entries---and even our You Tube actions. All of us mess up, all of us are imperfect, and all of us err, one way or another. But no matter how much we mess up, God’s love for us is unconditional. We are God’s BFF ---best friends forever!

“BFF.” Maybe that is the kind of godly relationship that we should have one with another, as we build and keep community. As human beings, as family, even as Christians, there will be issues that divide us. But if we treat each other as BFF, we will be slow to anger and quick to forgive. 

We will disagree but will be civil in our disagreements. We will argue but not raise our voices in anger to drown the other’s. We will listen more and hear beyond what was said. We may still mess up  but will be assured that our BFF are there to forgive and to lift us up, not trample us down. And when our margins collide, we will be justified.

When we practice BFF as a Church and as God’s People, then we would indeed be instruments of healing in a broken, hostile and ‘unfriending’ world. As the hymn says,  “They'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they'll know we are Christians by our love.” Amen.

 (A homily of Fr. Fred Vergara delivered at St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church, 2197 Jackson Avenue, Seaford, NY 11783, April 22, 2012)

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