Much is said these days about the addictive quality of social media — with good reason. In my lifetime, I have witnessed the addictive quality of television, the internet and the 24-hour news cycle. As teenagers, our parents said we were addicted to the telephone — the dumb one attached by wire to the wall. As the first owner of a radio in his neighborhood, my grandfather experienced the addictive power of radio. Even reading has an addictive quality.
I have been known to use all of the above as a substitute for, or a shield from, social interaction. It isn’t easy to be painfully shy or socially inept. Sometimes, we’d rather see ourselves as loners, nerds, or bookworms. Social skills must be learned, and I played hooky from that school by burying myself in bookish distractions and gadgets.
Fortunately, a career in journalism forced me to interact with others, and with ministry, I have become “addicted” to interacting with other people.
I caught a waitress dancing as I left the restaurant yesterday. Her embarrassment was short-lived, because I started dancing, too. I talk to people in checkout lines. I unabashedly ask for names, declare my memory bad and ask for names again. I once embarrassed a new friend by praying for the meal in a restaurant, and I offered to stand on the table and preach to the wait staff and customers. A painfully bashful boy has become an intrusively social adult — and I like this better!
Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue. He and his disciples were NOT illiterate or ignorant. Jesus read people like we read books: “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.” (John 2:23-25) He taught his disciples to do so as well — but with love, empathy, and goodwill. Most of all, Jesus taught us to get personal with God, to fall into God’s embrace and bask in God’s love.
Jesus also taught us to put things in their proper place. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
Books and computers are things, not people. It is good to use them to learn about people, to express kindness to people, and to serve others. But these things are no substitute for field research. The goal is people; things are good that bring us closer, and not so good if they isolate or insulate. Don’t let any Thing stand between you and real people, in real life. And don’t let any Thing or Person stand between you and God, the source of all life.