The past couple weeks, I have been pondering connections. The ending of connections in CPE, the effort to maintain some of them. The effort to stay connected with those who have taken new calls or gone out on internship. Re-connecting with those back at LTSG, and making new connections with those who are just coming to campus. My parents who come to PA for the summer, are headed back to FLA. My daughters, one returning to High School and one just starting, are focused on where their connections are. Calling, texting, IM-ing, emailing, Facebooking, blogging. Our striving- We all are seeking connections in our lives. In the world of Facebook, we join and leave groups, check to see who is available to chat, and write on each other's walls. For what are we searching?
People who share something with us. People who understand what it is like to be us. People who can affirm that who we are or what we do is not in vain, but valid. In our ever faster paced world with technological advances and in modern developments where we can leave our hermetically sealed climate controlled domain for our climate controlled transportation where we drive alone with only the music we want to hear, where we can in so many ways choose “our” world at work and in leisure, there is still that yearning for connection. Just look at many vehicles and you will see our efforts to connect. The ribbon car magnets that urge support our troops, exhort awareness for autism, breast cancer, the local sports team, or so many other causes we communicate are important to us, and we hope to others. The T shirts we don, the bracelets we wear, and for the more extreme, the body art we adorn ourselves with, all proclaim this desire to be known, understood and affirmed, and to connect.
In one extreme case, I now know a man who has the multi-colored puzzle piece autism ribbon tattooed on his neck- he is raising a son with autism. I see them walking through town, some days more of a struggle than others. We have spoken – because of the tattoo. I have heard a sliver of his story, and no he is no longer just some eccentric-looking guy, but a person with a story and a connection. His tattoo practically screams- “See me, see us!” Because if you slow down and look, you'll talk and I can share what my world is like. And then you can't walk on like it never happened.
This human desire for connection and awareness has also manifested itself in the many support groups and awareness events that raise money for the things that impact our lives: ALS, MS, COPD, CHF, ADD/HD, AIDS, MD, CP, and many others. Behind all of these initials and acronyms are the lives, trials and triumphs of real people. Real people who in the absence of connection may feel destined to struggle alone. And because their struggle is not a defined event of getting sick and getting better, they are often isolated by the lack of constant support they may need. But in many ways, many of us give of our time and energy to rally, advocate, and raise support, sometimes with fierce intensity- for our “connections.”
From the other perspective, so often in my own life, and those of my friends and family, I know that it is only when someone we know and love, a friend, neighbor or family member, fellow parishioner, co-worker, is confronted by a struggle that we can personalize what is like to be a: person with cancer, mental illness, auto accident rehabilitation, perinatal loss, .. the list goes on. It is when we can put a face on the situation that it becomes “real.” Like the Velveteen Rabbit who only became real when he was truly loved, these experiences only become real for us when we can see one of “our” people as affected. Once this happens, we may become energized, compassionate, prayerful, understanding. No longer nameless, faceless issues, no longer “someone else”, no longer able to be seen in black and white terms. Because we have a personal connection.
This past semester in seminary this concept came to light in yet another variation, in class when we were discussing the doctrine of sin. What came to light was how much harder it was to criticize the lives or decisions of others when we knew someone who had to confront an issue- decision making among the poor, issues of sexuality, abortion, for example. How much harder to think that the mirror of the law, as we may have previously interpreted it, was one we wanted to gaze into. Because these were people WE knew and loved, not just someone else, and we knew their story.
God knows each and every one of us, and knew us before we were formed in the womb, and we are created in God’s image. So I wonder when we think about ourselves and those we meet, and those we have never met and we contemplate the hard decisions we all make in our lives, does God see us with the eyes we use when gazing upon those we do not know, or with the eyes we use when it is someone we know and love, one of our “connections”?
I think it is the latter, the eyes of a loving parent, who desires a connection with us as much as we seek connection. With eyes that experience the same anger yet anguish we experience when we see the lives of those who matter to us. A God who loves first, and constantly. A God who calls us to see everyone as someone with whom we have a connection. Maybe if we tried to live this out, we would be slower to judge, quicker to love, understand and support, and to do more than just observe, but to reach out for yet one more connection.