Connected but Alone #2

Hi all,
This week I have a confession to make. But first let me tell you how I got myself into that situation.

Barb and I were flying out of Billings, Montana in July, making our way to Tulsa via a change of planes in Minneapolis. Barb took the window seat and I got the aisle, and as we got settled a young man in his late twenties took the seat in the row in front of us, directly in front of Barb on the window.

Montana has a lot of ranches and therefore cowboys, and this young man looked the part, except he had a baseball cap instead of cowboy hat on. But if you’ve been around ranches and cowboys you know that a cap often replaces a cowboy hat when in public away from home – it doesn’t scream ‘cowboy’ if you are in the big city and away from the ranch.

I took stock of our flying companion. He was definitely a real cowboy: Short hair neatly trimmed, baseball cap, round tin of chewing tobacco in his hip pocket, clean and new or newer tight jeans ‘boot cut’, which means the pants legs flare a bit to be able to fit over his dress cowboy boots. Large silver belt buckle, plaid long sleeve shirt western style even though it was July, and he called the flight attendant ma’am. Yep, the real deal. I wondered why he was going to Minneapolis, but I soon had my answer.

As soon as Cowboy sat down he asked the flight attendant for a beer, which she delivered promptly – while we were still sitting at the gate! Then he began texting, and being right handed, his phone was clearly visible to me in the space between the seats. His thumbs were flying on his Blackberry and he was holding it in such as way that just screamed an invitation for me to eavesdrop on his conversation.

Sorry, Lord
So I did. The first text I saw said ‘You always criticize the way I dress. You always criticize me in front of my friends.’ The name over the text was something like ‘Jenny’, and he responded with something like ‘No I don’t, we’ll talk about it when I get there’. I realized I was reading an argument between boy friend and girl friend, and felt embarrassed but all the more curious at the same time. They weren’t using abbreviations and symbols, they were writing out each and every word with full punctuation; it was a real texting conversation, and I was violating their privacy.

I said something to myself like ‘You know you shouldn’t be reading his texts, but sorry Father, I’ll pray for him if that makes it any better’ as I chuckled to myself at the instant recognition of the stupidity I just prayed…(enter short prayer for Cowboy and Jenny)…then resumed stolen glances at their conversation.

Cowboy wouldn’t let it go, like he was going to adequately explain via text messages why he was critical of his girlfriend’s clothing on their last date and why he criticizes her in front of her friends, when he knew he was going to have to turn the phone off in about 5 minutes…

I felt like telling him the first thing you do to get out of a hole is to stop digging! Just apologize, learn that she is feeling insecure about you and her relationship with you, and shut up already or no one will be there to meet you at the airport dude!

But nooooo, he had to respond….so then she brought up how critical he is about things she says, her choice of restaurant they ate at on their last date – and he responded that he was just trying to help her and how she comes across to people – and like a World War I pilot getting shot down in one of those old biplanes, he was going down in flames fast.

Soon I was in his world, my mind whirling for answers, waiting to see how Jenny would next respond. My pulse quickened, I tried to switch my attention to the airline magazine in my lap I was pretending to read, but kept glancing up at his texts…hurry Jenny they’re about to close the door!

I briefly toyed with the idea of confessing to him my eavesdropping and offer to give him advice, but thought the better of it. About that time the door of the plane shut, all electronic devices were turned off and stowed, seat backs were in their upright position, we learned for the umpteenth time how a seat belt buckles and unbuckles, and off we flew.

Another Beer Ma’am
As soon as he could turn his phone back on, airplane mode I assume, he did, reading and re-reading the text conversation with Jenny though unable to transmit or receive, and going through 3 more beers in the process. As soon as we landed the phone was back on normal mode, and the texting began again. I prayed more earnestly and honestly this time for him, because I figured with 4 beers on the plane and Jenny waiting curbside and the text conversation they’d had 2 hours earlier, he needed prayer!

Vicarious Living
My sin of eavesdropping on Cowboy and Jenny allowed me to live vicariously through them. Vicarious is defined as “Living as if through someone else, not experiencing it yourself, but using someone else’s experiences as your own.”

Through them I was able to relive past arguments Barb and I had when we were in our 20′s, when I was just learning to stop digging when I argued myself into a hole…(alas, I’m still learning that one) by reading their texts I was back in time to when our sons were children.

I Connect, Therefore I Am
People have lived vicariously ever since Adam and Eve sat around the dinner table telling their kids what it used to be like in the Garden of Eden. It isn’t necessarily a sin (though like any God-given gift, it can be used to sin); in fact it is a God-given part of our imagination. Books, movies, TV, radio, the Internet and more, tap into our imagination and people live vicariously to some degree as part of entertainment.

But today, with so many ways to connect to people, many have taken those once-in-a-while vicarious moments and turned them into a lifestyle. As a result their life is ‘out there’ in cyberspace, while neglecting people close to them. Some are so ‘out there’ they have forgotten who they are, what their real priorities should be, and have even lost social skills with real people.

Experiencing God Vicariously
In a few years we have gone from only living vicariously for 2 hours on Saturday at the matinee movie to vicarious living as a lifestyle, involved in peoples’ lives through social web sites, ‘friends’, tweets, and more. Our emotions flow just like a real relationship, though we can keep ‘friends’ at a distance. We feel what they feel, we worry and pray, we rejoice with our virtual friends. We are living vicariously through them.

We then go to church and expect to experience God vicariously – through the worship, the preaching or teaching, the overall experience. Sadly though, most experience church rather than experience God, which is the result of being in ‘vicarious’ mode. Their relationship with the Lord becomes hollow and they don’t know why. Church is boring, they don’t know how to connect in worship, the Word, they don’t feel His presence.

You Can’t Experience nor Know God Vicariously
Their walk with God has the same shallowness as their relationship with their Facebook friends and for the same reasons: Relationships work best in person. To say it another way, you can’t truly know a person (or God) if you only experience them vicariously.

So people search out the prophet for a word, the meeting where angels are being seen, the holy goose bumps and more, all to experience something real in their faith life. Christians you think are solid suddenly wonder if God is real – all because their faith has been a vicarious one, not genuinely knowing the Lord. They’ve lived their faith life through the eyes and ears and experiences of others instead of truly knowing the Lord and the Father themselves.

And that’s where I’ll pick it up next week…for my house church friends this should prove to be a good study and discussion for this week if you should choose this topic. Until then, blessings,
John Fenn

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