In the last couple of months, I’ve had drinks with an old friend from school that I hadn’t seen for twenty years (yep, I know that means you can figure out how old I am) and lunch with someone I shared a house with while at uni.
Maybe you’re really good at keeping friendships going, but in both of these cases I hadn’t seen either of them for a long time. In fact, I didn’t even know where they were until I found them online.
Facebook brought me back in touch with my uni housemate and, for the last three years, we’ve been meeting up occasionally for the best conversations ever. And Twitter was the intermediary for me and my schoolfriend. I had heard nothing from him since leaving school even though we were really good friends back then, but now we’ve found each other online we’ve discovered we live in the same area and can meet up easily.
It’s pretty obvious that social media is all about connection (you’d learn that in Social Media 101 if there were such a thing), and helps us to forge the most unlikely alliances and friendships. I follow lots of politicians and journalists on Twitter and it’s fascinating to see their banter, across opposite sides of the House, and to wonder whether and how these conversations happened before social media.
You don’t have to agree with someone to be able to work with them or to be friends with them. You’d think that would be obvious, but we all know it’s not. And we’ve all got stories of how difficult it can be to try to do it. Especially, sadly, in the church.
But in the book of Joshua, we see one of the most incredible stories of unlikely co-operation. In chapter 2, which those of us brought up in church will remember well from Sunday School (and especially the splutters and sniggers as we competed to be the one to read aloud verse 1 ‘spies from Shittim’), Rahab becomes the star of the show with her hospitality in harbouring the spies.
Of course, she’s not your usual churchgoing hero. She’s a prostitute.
Her role is hugely important, and she’s able to help them because of where she lives. And she seems to have a good idea of what’s going on, so who knows? Maybe her work meant she knew a few people in high places.
She’s the right person at the right time, even though her life is completely different to most other characters in the story.
And in each of our stories, individually and in our churches, we have people who are completely different to us.
Or if we don’t, maybe we should.
Because if we only ever work with and learn from people who are similar to us, aren’t we missing something?
One of the most passionate advocates for the role of the local church in helping people release themselves from poverty I’ve ever had the privilege to meet was a guy in Uganda. He talked for ages about how the church had brought together everyone in the community to talk about their hopes and dreams for the future, their past experiences and the things they wanted to change.
He waxed lyrical about the power of the church in inspiring, challenging and encouraging people.
He pontificated at length (it really was a very long speech) about the potential of people from many different backgrounds working together.
And he identified tangible things that had changed in the village as a result of the local church’s involvement: new businesses, better education, organised grassroots advocacy.
He was a Muslim.
He hadn’t converted to Christianity and he had no plans to do so. He just thought the stuff the church had helped people achieve was incredible and now he’s a leading light in those community activities.
If the story we’re telling and the work we’re doing is all we hope that it is, and if it’s ordained by God, isn’t it big enough to include people outside of our little world?
And if we’re using social media to help us do it, there’s loads of potential right there for finding people – perhaps rather unusual people – to join with to make it happen.