Believe it or not, “unfriended” has been named the 2009 Word of the Year, thanks to American Oxford Dictionary. It is a word uniquely linked to online social networking. I know this because I have been “unfriended” many a time in the last 6 months or so. While you try to to care too much, it is mildly disconcerting to realize when you log in to Facebook that you’ve lost three friends — and you are not sure exactly who they are or why you have been unfriended.
James Emory White, former president (briefly) of Gordon-Conwell and also a successful write and pastor, has written some interesting reflections on the “unfriending” phenomena. He wrotes:
To “unfriend” means to remove someone as a friend on a social networking Web site like Facebook.
I found this to be an intriguing selection, or perhaps better put, observation. Particularly as the word chosen was not “friending” someone, which is the positive side of the act and just as newly minted for our vocabulary.
No, it was to “unfriend,” suggesting that as much as we may desire relational health and wholeness, we are much more prone to wallow in the mire of relational dysfunction. We do not work through the process of conflict resolution, as suggested by Matthew 18:15. We do not manifest grace toward our differences, or perceived weaknesses. And even less toward each other’s sin.
You can read the rest of his post here. It is worth reading.
In terms of reflecting on relationships, and especially Christian friendships and community, I think it is an interesting thing to think about. Obviously to “unfriend” in the virtual world is not actually a very big deal. But does it make it easier for people to “unfriend” in the real world? Have we lost the meaning and import of what real friendship and community looks like? Has it become, even in churches, just a matter of something you opt in to and opt out of — as you want?
Real Biblical friendships (and Acts 2 biblical community) is built on a foundation of agape love — and unconditional love that transcends the barriers, hang-ups, and brokenness we all carry with us. To “unfriend” is to say “I am breaking the bond of friendship, acceptance and agape love that we shared…
It is funny… in churches we talk a lot about seeking an Acts 2 community, but we ignore the clear instructions Jesus gives us on how to achieve it in passages like Matthew 18. We like the idea, but don’t do the hard work… and then wonder why our community tends to be superficial.
I know this is a long way off from what it means to “unfriend” in Facebook, but words do have meaning and can influence how we think about ideas in different contexts.
So what are your thoughts?
And you can read the whole post from Dr. White here.