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‘Friend’ is Not a Verb: Author Explores True Community in New Book

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Dialogue from a recent conversation overheard in a workplace break room as two friends scroll through separate social media accounts without making eye contact with one another.

“I can’t believe it!  I have more than 1,000 friends on Facebook!”

“That’s awesome.  How many of them do you actually know?”

“Maybe half.”

“Maybe half?” 

“Yeah. It seems weird that I have all these friends and don't actually know them.”

Despite living in a hyper-connected world we are now more disconnected than ever. People we consider to be our ‘friends’ have seemingly become nothing more than a profile photo that pops up once in a while ‘in our feed’.  And it is there that we become envious of our ‘friends’ living lives that seem so much better than ours … but are they?

Author Joe Battaglia believes that true community does not come in the form of scrolling through our social media pages but through real life relationships rooted in love, connection, and acceptance instead.  In his latest book, Unfriended, Battaglia provides simple, time-tested advice to find our way back to real relationships with real people.

I recently sat down with Battaglia to discuss whether hyper-connectivity has any redeeming qualities, what authentic community looks line in the 21st Century, and how Jesus factors into the social media equation.

What was the catalyst for you to write Unfriended?

I write about things that bother me in culture. Over the past couple of years I've been really concerned about the disintegration of what I consider real community. It just became so much a part of what I look at in life because I come from a very Italian background where life was all about being with people, being with the family, and being with each other. 

You begin to see how all this began eroding. The Internet for certain is part of the issue because many young people think that that constitutes a community. And so I thought I really ought to look back into Scripture, which is always my north star. I always try to build my principles of how I live around Biblical principles and use Jesus as my model. As I got into what constituted true community, I found that the intersection of communion and sacrifice are integral to having that true community. I saw much of that lacking in our world today. We keep to ourselves. We stay in communities that we develop online. So we begin to think like the same people. We look like each other. We act like each other. 

That has really enabled our culture to become more introspective than the ability to look at the Word. So, I thought, this is wrong. Let me write about it. Let me use Jesus as my model and see what constitutes real community.

Why do you think we are more disconnected than ever?  Due to technology shouldn’t we be more connected? Do you think being hyper connected has any redeeming qualities too?

I don't think it really does because it's not about having a connection in some amorphous way. It's all about connecting viscerally with someone. It's all about connecting with who they are, what they feel, what they feel about you, what they feel about life. 

That kind of intersection allows us to think about the things that we are, enables us to think about life. It confronts us so that we have to deal with it. And it's often the things that people are unlike each other that draw them together. It is often conflict, which brings people together and not separates them. We have eliminated the very things that enable people to become friends, be involved in someone's life, which is not always pretty. It is often those kinds of things that build relationships, relationships build community, and community builds society. Society builds a culture. When you destroy the very foundation of what constitutes a true society, that's why we see what we have today. Hyper connectivity is not the same as community.

What is your definition of true or authentic community?  In practical terms, what does that look like?

It's the opportunity to sweat alongside somebody, sense eternity and their soul, which is very similar to mine. To look into their eyes and see how they feel. Sense their passions that may even correspond to mine and to enable us to enjoy differences because it is the differences in us that can draw us together. All of these elements are what constitutes real community. That enables us to find out about ourselves. That's always what it's about. It's enabling us to know ourselves better in the context of somebody else. And if we deny ourselves the opportunity to intersect with people, then we deny ourselves the very thing that makes us who we are.

In your book you write about the concept of plurality. Why is it necessary to appreciate and encourage differences of opinion, or plurality?

The motto on our coins and our currency is e pluribus Unum, right? We understand that as one from many, literally translated, it's from the many one. It's the same thing. 

The Founding Fathers and those who established this country, which was certainly providential, understood that it's really diversity that establishes oneness. Not diversity in the politically correct sense, but the diverse intersection of individuals who help one become strong. I use the metaphor of the redwood trees in California. They're so huge and big you would think they have a really big root system, but they don't. They have a very shallow root system. And the key to them not being toppled over in strong winds or storms is that all the roots are intertwined. They provide a stabilizing opportunity for everybody to stand strong. That's what plurality does. When we intersect ourselves and intertwine ourselves with the roots of others that are there to help us stand, we become stronger and are able to withstand all the things that come against us. I use the parable of Jesus with the woman at the well, intersecting in her life on purpose, a Jewish man going through Samaria intersecting with a Samaritan woman was unheard of, but He becomes part of her life at that point and said something to her that makes her go back and tell people. 

The principal here is, unless we go out of our way to be with people unlike us, they won't go out of their way to tell people about us.

Based on what you have been just describing, why should we use Jesus as the model for the kind of community we need?

Number one, He established himself as the one who created community. From the very beginning there was the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In my book, I say this is the first community. He helps us understand the heart of the Father. In John 17, Jesus in his high priestly prayer could have asked the Father anything on our behalf. But He only asks for one thing … that we are one. Well, why do we think Jesus asked for oneness? 

Well, that must have a lot of importance to God and to Him because it is the very thing that embodies the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit from creation. There is a power to being one with someone else. Unless we become one with others and we have this plurality mentality about us, than we are by design interceptors of individuals. We need to be with others different than us and unlike us so that we find out about us and we enable people to grow. Jesus is always a great model because he did that. So I felt why not look to Him as the one around whom I build these principles and am then able to apply them?

As an author, what is the one thing you would like people to take away from reading Unfriended?  What is your greatest hope for the book?

That they buy my book! (laughs) A little levity is good.  Seriously though, I hope people take their time and absorb some of the things in there. In the book, I have things that they can do at the end in order to allow themselves to break free from that which has enslaved them to their anonymity or to their online cowardice. I would like my readers to be involved with people, get on the road and do things that will intersect you with people.  I always hope that whatever I write helps people to think first before they act because at least you have additional thoughts from which you can then design your own plan. So, I'm not telling you what to do in any of my books. I always say, think about this. 

If you've not considered, consider it, and then allow God to help you understand it. And if there is a need to change, then you can change.

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