A coyote was roaming our street. Most of the neighborhood was aware of the coyote’s whereabouts from postings on a private Facebook page, but one couple isn’t on social media. The timing wasn’t convenient or ideal, but warning my neighbors to be cautious and then listening to their struggles trumped everything else.
So I spent the morning at my elderly neighbors’ home sitting at their breakfast table talking. I ended up late to a meeting, skipping a shower to give those few extra minutes to the couple, but they needed to talk. And I needed to listen.
Eugene Peterson translates John 1:14 by saying, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (emphasis mine). Jesus moved into the neighborhood at the Incarnation, and moves into our neighborhood personally when we enter into a relationship with him. And then he moves into our neighborhoods through us, as we invite, love, serve, and listen to others.
Christ bids us to do as he does—to move in, to get close and personal with messy lives, even when it’s inconvenient, even when it’s outside our comfort zone. We are to take the kingdom of God wherever we go, hanging out wherever people hang out, whether the space is digital or right out our front door.
Loving My Digital Neighbor
On October 4, 2008, I ventured into the digital neighborhood, posting my first tweet: “Trying to figure all this social media hoopla out—facebook, twitter, oh my!”
One tweet led to another, and soon I was linked with a small circle of “followers.” In those early days, Twitter felt like a conversation at the kitchen table. Through the daily manna of tweets, I found a community of people all over the world storytelling their faith through this new technology. And for me, real relationships emerged from that tweeting community.
I remember the first time I talked on the phone to a person I met on Twitter. Though we’d known each other for a year in the digital world, we had never met in person. Nevertheless we easily slid into conversation and chatted for an hour. By 2010, I was exchanging family Christmas cards not only with family members and friends from church but also with a long list of people I only knew via the Internet.
These friendships met a deep need in me to be understood by others who found energy and creativity and ministry through technology. But when I met some of these people in person, I was reminded that something holy happens when you meet face to face. A woman had a deeper voice than I’d imagined. I finally made eye contact with a friend whose tiny avatar had always seemed delightful. These deep, rich, close connections weren’t possible through the limitations of technology.
Loving the Neighbor Outside My Front Door
Last year, I felt the nudge to be intentional in another community—the one right out my front door. I wanted to know my own neighbors better, but I didn’t know how. Coincidentally, some of my neighbors I knew only on social media, so I felt it was time to meet face to face.
I bought an ordinary wooden picnic table, painted it my favorite color turquoise, and placed it in my front yard. That’s when life changed. From day one, people started dropping by. Within hours of putting the table in my yard, someone who needed to get out of the house—a neighbor I’d never met—walked by and started to talk. We sat at the table and started a friendship. Next, curious neighbors stopped by for a quick cup of coffee.
Now a familiar sight, the turquoise table has become a meeting place—kind of like the old village well—for neighbors, friends, and even strangers, to hang out and do life together. The table has spurred a front yard revival in our neighborhood—a welcome place to gather and share God’s love.
Converging Online and In Real Life Relationships
The turquoise table represents for me the convergence of URL (digital) and IRL (in real life) communities. The lines between the two have become increasingly blurred.
Recently, a woman from out of town pulled up in a rental car and parked across the street from my house. We greeted each other with a huge hug and immediately plunged deep into conversation. Except first I had to ask her how to pronounce her name. You see, I’d never spoken her name out loud—only seen it on my Facebook screen.
Technically, we were strangers: two Texans introduced online by a mutual friend in Minnesota. A business trip brought my online friend from Houston to Austin, and we arranged to meet face-to-face at my turquoise table. My friend whose name I had spoken aloud for the first time has a turquoise table too, and we wanted to share stories and encourage one another in our efforts to get to know our neighbors better.
God created us to be in community with one another. The creative ways in which we may cultivate community are as limitless as God’s love calling us to do so. Whether we’re interacting across Twitter or the Turquoise Table—or both—we can be good digital citizens and good neighbors and love the person in front of us.
This post originally appeared at The High Calling and is reprinted here under a Creative Commons license.