Loneliness, Social Media, and Creating Community

The Sermon

In a sermon series claiming to be about Christians and Social Media, my pastor preached on the topic of loneliness. Loneliness, he said, afflicted many Americans, many Christians, many people. And that loneliness could only be exasperated by looking at social media.

It became very clear very quickly—as it does every time my pastor talks about social media—that he has no familiarity with “social media” outside of Facebook. And that while he admitted social media was a tool and therefore was what you make of it, it seemed he couldn’t see a social media that created actual interaction, actual community, actual growth.

In my pastor’s mind, the lonely person scrolls through his Facebook profile, looking at what everyone else has, and just getting lonelier and lonelier.

The pastor also made the valid points that

(1)    Lonely individuals cannot expect their loneliness to be fixed unless they speak and tell people they are in fact lonely.
(2)    If a lonely person speaks up, it’s the responsibility of the Church to rise up and meet that need.

But all of these points were couched in an anti-social media message. As if, a person could not be involved in social media and admit they are lonely. As if a lonely person is somehow making a choice between the time they spend on social media and hanging out with loving church members who want to cure their loneliness.

I listened to this message getting more and more upset. Getting angry. Wanting to stand up and shout.

Because I have been lonely in our church.

And the pastor was so incredibly wrong.

My Reaction

I don’t usually so vehemently disagree with the pastor. This was just a very specific topic, one practically designed to make me upset—though the pastor had no idea.

When I started attending our church, in around 2012, I was incredibly lonely. I was over 1,000 miles away from anyone I knew—family, friends, anyone. I had come to Albuquerque from grad school in Atlanta for a job. I lived alone, and being an introvert, for the most part I enjoyed it.

But I was lonely. It’s hard not to be when you spend every single day alone. When you work, come home, and do…what exactly?

So I did what every lonely person who is a churchgoer has been told to do. I got involved.

I went to church nearly every Sunday, not just service but the young adult Sunday School. I went to every young adult event the church held. I joined a small group, and at least two committees. I joined the handbell choir. I volunteered with a local convention—Bubonicon, and joined the Albuquerque Science Fiction Society.

But these were just…events. Things to do. Get involved, they say. They don’t ever say that keeping busy doesn’t fill the hole in your heart. Keeping busy doesn’t fill the void left by an empty couch or eating every meal alone.

I told people I was lonely. I told people at church. One or two of them even invited me over for dinner, once or twice. I remember one time a couple invited me over for pizza and to watch Captain America: The First Avenger with them and I was ecstatic. I came home and called my mom. “Mom, someone treated me like part of the family. Someone had me over and let me eat dinner with their kids and watch a movie with the family. Someone saw me, remembered what I liked, and said, let’s involve this person in our life.”

It never happened again.

I burned my hand on Father’s Day—a second degree burn that seared whenever I took it out from under the water—and had no one to drive me to the hospital. I sat on the floor of my kitchen and cried for an hour until one of my coworkers finally called me back.

So many times I was sick, and just needed someone to make me chicken noodle soup and maybe pick up some medicine for me—so I wouldn’t be the one puking in the aisle at Walmart (though I’m sure Walmart has seen worse). But I had no one to call because well….all the church people have families. They live far away. They have things to do. And to be honest, if given a choice between taking their kid to soccer practice and helping out a puking 26-year-old, no one chooses the latter.

I was terminally lonely while an active vocal member of my church, and the only thing that saved me, the only thing that was there for me, was social media.


Facebook isn’t my social media tool of choice, but it was on Facebook that I stayed up until two in the morning talking to one of my friends as she cried.

It was through Facebook my high school friend Nicole and I discovered a shared love of Marvel and began texting.

It’s through Facebook that I keep up with my college friends.

It’s through Facebook that I see pictures of my nieces and nephews.

These things don’t make me feel lonelier. They help me feel connected.


While living alone I lived tweeted every show and movie I watched. To my amazement, people just began responding. Suddenly I was never watching anything alone, but watching it with other people. And it wasn’t just my TV watching habits they cared about.

I tweeted about my writing, and they connected. I tweeted about feeling sick, and suddenly women were asking for symptoms and suggesting remedies.

I came into contact with a group of writers from Indiana, and would later learn they were all in the same writer’s group and considered me their “Imaginary Friend.”

I traveled a lot for work and discovered people wanted to have dinner with me when I was in their town.

I had people.



Miss Snark’s First Victim—a blog—hosted a “Critique Partner Matching” event. To help aspiring authors to connect with other aspiring authors. I met Jamie.

Jamie is another rocket scientist, around my age, who writes Middle Grade and Young Adult science fiction and fantasy, like me. But Jamie’s friendship didn’t just stop at reading each other’s manuscripts and giving feedback. Jamie met a need no one else had even realized I had.

Every week we watch—still to this day—Arrow together. Even though we live across the country from each other, through the power of the internet, we get on our computers, we start our recording at the same time, and we watch the same show, chatting the entire time. This grew from Arrow to include Falling Skies (while it was on) and Flash.

Watching TV as a family had been something sacred growing up. Watching a show we all loved—Stargate: SG-1—and spending the commercials talking about it. Suddenly something that had been missing from my life for a long time was filled.

It wasn’t just TV.  It was friendship. It was community. It was family.

Jamie became a part of my family.


A work friend brought me onto tumblr, and specifically into the mysterious and wondrous thing called fandom. While on this social media site, writing “headcanons” about my One True Pair, I met a woman who at the time I only knew by a tumblr name.

She was hilarious, imaginative, and pushed me like no one else ever had.

Eventually we moved beyond tumblr and to gchat. And we talked all the time.

Suddenly instead of spending my evenings alone, every day, I spent them with this awesome person, whose name was Caitlin. We didn’t live in the same state or time zone, but I wasn’t alone anymore.

Caitlin became—and is—one of my best friends. The person who I can talk to about anything: fandom headcanons, issues at work, and topics that are too TMI for most people.

It’s Caitlin who helped me through those terrifying early days of dating my now husband. It’s Caitlin that my husband conspired with when it came to planning surprises. It’s Caitlin who flies to Albuquerque every year so she can stay up with me to the wee hours of the morning for the Bubonicon Late Night Auction. It’s Caitlin who I still talk to nearly every day.


Social media did what the church failed to do. Through social media, people invited me into their homes—not for a quick dinner on one occasion but rather every night. To talk about my day, to talk about my interests, to get involved in my interests, and just show over and over again that they cared about me. More people than I can name or give credit to in a blog post: Sarah, Katie, Galen, Kat, Sam, and so many others.

This is what it takes to cure people’s loneliness. Not a onetime dinner and a movie. Not a onetime lunch. A continuing presence in someone’s life.

What does this look like off of social media? If you’re not a social media savvy person who wants to reach out to the lonely people around you?

Invite people into your life. Don’t just pat yourself on the back for helping a lonely person out once. Make someone part of your family.

Don’t tell me you’re too busy with your own family—focusing on your kids and their events or whatever. Because the only local friend I have who has done this for me has two kids of her own. But she is still there for me. There to go to lunch. There to invite me over to dinner with her family. Inviting me to the movies with her. Inviting me to weekly trivia. Helping me with learning how to create cosplays and craft. And just being all around awesome.

Lonely people come in all shapes and sizes. Young single people far away from their families, women who feel like they’re being swallowed by the title of “mommy,” men who feel like no one understands them when they talk, and older people who once had homes full of kids and now find it’s just…empty.

Reach out to people beyond the events. Form bonds with people outside of your family unit. Form community. Invite people into your life.

That is how we stop loneliness.

Rebekah and the Patriarchal Narrative

[Note all verses in this post are in the English Standard Version.]

I recently posted here my lesson on Rebekah, the wife of Isaac, famous for generally two things: (1) following a strange man back to a strange land to marry a stranger and (2) devising the plan for her favored son, Jacob, to steal his father Isaac’s blessing from her least favored son, Esau.

I feel like most Christians have agreed on the first famous act: that Rebekah was an incredibly faithful woman--a woman willing to follow God's call to leave her family behind, move halfway across the world (okay, an over-exaggeration but without mail or anything it would certainly feel that way), and marry a complete stranger. I'm pretty sure my faith isn't that strong, so Rebekah puts me to shame.

When I was being taught this story as a kid, this first act was viewed as faithful...with possible underpinnings of "of course a woman doing as she's told and being willing to follow God makes her great!" But this characterization of Rebekah being faithful was always altered dramatically when I was presented of the story of Rebekah devising the plan for Jacob, not Esau, to get the blessing.

Honestly this story was presented to me as thus: Rebekah was a devious woman who deceived her poor old blind husband so her favored son could be chosen. And poor Esau didn't even do anything wrong. Poor Esau. Poor Isaac. Even a little bit, poor Jacob because his mom made him do it. Evil manipulative Rebekah. And it’s not just my teachers who served up this interpretation. For better preparing my lessons on the women of the Bible, I often turn to resources, and in this one I turned to Liz Curtis Higgin’s Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible. In the book, she presents Rebekah as not just a deceiver, but a great betrayer. She betrayed her poor feeble husband. And Jacob’s taking of the blessing is likened to Judas betraying Jesus [1]. Strong words. This was a book I studied in college Bible study, which simply reiterated what I had been taught in my grade school Sunday School classes.

So when I was preparing this story for my Middle Schoolers I was prepared to have to do a lot of...explaining...and reminding the girls that just because the woman so far that we've studied have been characterized by basically being mean to each other and laughing in the face of God, women aren't actually inherently bad. I was prepared to have to deal with this fact that all the women of Genesis from Eve on are basically petty and bad.

This was what I thought. From what I'd been taught.

In my study of Sarah a few weeks ago, I discovered that Sarah's act of laughter at learning about Isaac wasn't actually an act of disbelief. That there was no evidence to support she knew of God's promise or that these men were angels. To her they were just random men predicting a post-menopausal woman would have a child--which would make me laugh too. I was also easily able to balance Sarah's faults of her meanness to Hagar with her faithfulness to Abraham, and how she honestly thought she was doing the best for her family. Sarah, I hope, came across as a three-dimensional woman with flaws and good points.

But with Rebekah I thought the only balance would be her early faithfulness in marrying Isaac. That everything after would just be bad.

So I prepared my lesson, easily handlings the act of faithfulness, and not struggling until I got to the idea of a baby holding another baby's heel. I pulled out my commentary to see what it said about the matter and learned something--that heels could symbolize betrayal and deception. And since I already had my commentary out I decided to read ahead and see what it thought about this business of Jacob stealing Esau's birthright.

I discovered something startling.

That Rabbinic tradition holds that Isaac was blind in more than one way. Not just physically blind, but blind to his favored son's shortcomings [2]. That Esau was not perhaps the best man, and Jacob was the more righteous of the two.


Is there support for this? For Esau being not as righteous as Jacob? Well, let’s look at who Esau is. He’s a man willing to sell his birthright for a bowl of soup. This is Genesis 25:29-34.

29 Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. 30 And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!” (Therefore his name was called Edom.)31 Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright now.” 32 Esau said, “I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?” 33 Jacob said, “Swear to me now.” So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

This can possibly indicate a couple of things, but what it doesn’t indicate is that Esau didn’t think Jacob was serious. Jacob makes him swear it—a serious business in the ancient world. Esau would know Jacob was deadly serious. So we’re left with the idea that either Esau is not very bright or he just doesn’t care about his birthright. Lack of brightness is not a sin; however, lack of caring about your inheritance from your father, the son of Abraham, through whom God has established his covenant, well that’s a little more problematic.

The other thing we know about Esau is when Jacob stole the blessing, he wanted to murder him (Genesis 27:41):

41 Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”

Now I don’t know about you but this doesn’t come across to me as a metaphorical “I’m going to kill my brother” like we might say now, when really we mean we’re going to yell at them and nurse a grudge until it wears off. I get the feeling Esau was actually going to murder him. And this is supported by the fact that Rebekah immediately sends Jacob away. She sends him away—back to her brother Laban, half a world away—because she is afraid Esau might murder him (Genesis 27:42). And let’s not forget that murder of a brother is a serious issue in Genesis. There’s this whole story in Genesis 4 colloquially referred to as “Cain and Abel” in which an older brother killed a younger brother. Cain killed Abel, and God had this to say about it:

10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 

To say God was displeased with the murdering of a brother seems an understatement. He gave Cain a curse so great that Cain said it’s too great to bear.

And I’m not saying stealing of a blessing is not a serious issue, one worthy of anger, but murdering your brother seems like a reaction not in keeping with God’s idea of how one should behave.

At the very least Esau is a careless young man with anger issues. Is Jacob a perfect man? No. He has his own issues—his willingness to take advantage of his hungry brother clearly shows that. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Hosea 12:2-4, which does condemn Jacob’s struggle with his brother.

The Lord has an indictment against Judah
    and will punish Jacob according to his ways;
    he will repay him according to his deeds.
3 In the womb he took his brother by the heel,
    and in his manhood he strove with God.
4 He strove with the angel and prevailed;
    he wept and sought his favor.
He met God at Bethel,
    and there God spoke with us

I’m not a strong enough Biblical scholar to say too much on this, and I don’t have a commentary on Hosea. However, it seems clear to me Jacob’s struggle with his brother is condemned but his struggles with God—his wrestling of an angel and his seeking of favor—are lauded. But I also feel those things are connected in these verses. He strove with his brother and with God—it’s the same inquiring and unsatisfied mind that led to both. Jacob was a flawed man who sought God. (Which isn’t to say Esau couldn’t have been the same, but I don’t think Jacob is ever described as having murder in his heart.) And if I look back at those verses about Cain, it seems that is a sin God takes quite seriously.

Maybe the Rabbinic tradition of Esau’s lack of moral fiber isn’t entirely without merit.

This all leads me to so much thought. As I was taught this story, Isaac was right because he was the man, even though he was just as guilty of favoritism as Rebekah. Even though it didn’t seem he consulted his wife about who should get his blessing. The prior characterization of Rebekah in this story is that of faithfulness. Not deceit. So why suddenly would she become deceitful? Because she favored Jacob? Her love of her son was greater than her love of God? That seems unlikely. After all, this was a woman willing to leave her entire family behind for God. And sure, the love of a child is greater than the love of a sibling or parent (so I’m told), but…leaving your whole family behind to travel basically by yourself to a strange nation to marry a complete stranger because God told you so is a far greater act of faith than anything Isaac has done in Genesis.

Or is it more likely that it was Isaac whose love for his son blinded him to God’s will? That Isaac was blind to his favored son’s ways? After all, we’re talking about Isaac here, the man who didn’t learn from the stories of his father, and pulled the same “lie and say my wife is my sister” business (Genesis 26:7). Isaac who the Bible says favored Esau because Isaac “had a taste for game” not because Esau had a stellar character (Genesis 25:28). Isaac is far from a perfect man.  So maybe, Isaac wasn’t just blind literally but blind metaphorically. But Rebekah, the mother who raised them, saw all. And since she was merely a woman, Isaac wouldn’t listen to her.

Everything going forward in the Bible from here hinges on Jacob being Israel, that he is the father of the Jewish people. He had the blessing, not Esau. And is it really possible that a mere mortal woman could thwart the God Almighty’s plan? Or is it more likely that Rebekah was still as faithful as ever, not blind to the truth, and she did what she had to do to stay faithful to her God—to ensure God’s blessing and the divine inheritance from Abraham continued through the son worthy of that blessing.

Who chose Jacob as the father of Israel? God or Rebekah?

Or as an early Christian leader, (we’re talking 350-ish AD), John Chrystostem put it: was it “a mother’s affection, or rather God’s design?” [2]

The apostle Paul supports this reading, that it is God who chose Jacob and Rebekah’s actions were in accordance with God’s plan, in Romans 9:

10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means!

But it’s perhaps the book of Malachi, which Paul is referencing here in Romans 9:13, which is most condemning:

2 “I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob's brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob 3 but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” 4 If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’” 5 Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!”

It seems pretty clear that God chose Jacob. That Rebekah could not have thwarted God’s plan. If God wanted Esau to be the progenitor of his chosen people, he would have chosen him.

It seems to me Rebekah made the right call, made the faithful call, and did what God wanted her to do. She did not deceive her husband for her own gain, but to save him from his own folly. She did not just secure a future for her favored son, but secured a righteous future for all her descendants to come. Rebekah is not the villain of this story; she is the hero.

I think my Sunday School teachers growing up taught me wrong. That they were deceived by the idea that a man who leads and makes a choice—like Isaac choosing Esau—is doing right, while a woman who makes a choice and uses the only means she has (deception in Rebekah’s case) to bring about God’s plan is doing what is wrong. But the text does not support this.

My eyes have been opened.

It’s amazing what you can learn teaching Middle School Sunday School.

References (other than the Bible):
[1] Higgs, Liz Curtis. "Chapter 5: Rebekah the Mother." Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible: Flawed Women Loved by a Flawless God. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook, 2007. N. pag. Print.

[2]Mathews, K. A. Genesis 11:27-50:26. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2005. Print. The New American Commentary.


Theology as a Rubik's Cube

Sometimes I think I should have been a Bible scholar.

I was raised fairly feminist for a Southern Baptist. My parents told me I could do anything I wanted and encouraged me in my path to become an engineer.

Yes, I could do anything…except go into the ministry. That was a thing for boys, boy who would walk confidently forward during the alter call and tell the pastor they had felt “the Call.”

The call to ministry was for men, unless I felt interested in leading children or women, which I did not, or practical things like feeding the hungry. All good and necessary things but what I hungered for was the esoteric—deep understanding of the Bible, history, and theology—a realm firmly and always for men. (It’s interesting to note that the only women I remember going forward for “the Call” were to be missionaries, never because they felt called into women or children’s ministry. I don’t know if you were even allowed to go forward for that.)

I’m not a Bible scholar. I am an engineer, and I love my job and my career path, so I don’t anticipate a job change. But one of the reasons for this blog is to ponder and study what I feel led to—whether it’s the practical or esoteric.

For those of us, though, who are not Bible scholars, I feel like we often fall into one of two camps about the deep esoteric theological discussions. (1) It doesn’t affect your day to day faith so why does it matter at all? (2) The deep questions trouble us so we avoid them lest we find out something that would make us contemplate God differently from how we want. (There is a third option—we think we know everything already and for us there is no mystery in God or the Word. This position is mind boggling to me, so I won’t address it.)

I get this. What does it matter if predestination or free-will is the truth in my day to day life? I still feel as if I have to pick out my own socks, so every day I will pick out my own socks. The answer to the question doesn’t affect how I live my life.

On the other hand, contemplating the question makes us uncertain and when simplified in the way those of us who are layman can understand, makes us afraid of what we might discover. If everything is predestined what does this say about God’s character? If everything is free-will what does this say about God’s sovereignty?

(It should be noted that the predestination/free will debate is merely an example and not all inclusive of the esoteric questions that exist. It should also be noted that these questions way over simplify this debate and complete ignore the concept that God is outside of time and space, but that is a post for another time.)

For some reason, when someone not Called into the ministry or academia starts asking these questions people immediately assume you’re “doubting.” They assume that either you are currently in doubt and seeking answers OR that seeking answers to esoteric questions will lead to doubt. (I find the latter particularly troubling since it seems to indicate our faith does not hold up in the face of study.)

For me at least this is not the case.

I always wanted to be an astrophysicist (which I'm not, I chose the more practical path of engineering, but that is neither here nor there). Two of my favorite classes in college focused on Planetary Science and Space Plasma Physics. I have a desire to see how things work, to understand the natural laws that govern our existence, to marvel at the beauty of the math that holds everything together.

Theology is no different.

For whatever reason God chose not to reveal Himself in a way that is crystal clear to our modern minds. Our Bible is a collection of books of different genres and not a clear and straightforward textbook on theology. Why is this? We can talk about the limitations God imposed on himself by using men to write his holy book. We can talk about Jesus and how he chose to reveal himself to the disciples, the way he couched his words. But I think God knows us, he knows our nature.

He gave us mysteries to be wrestled with because we are like puppies who need a bone to gnaw on to keep us occupied. Because we are by nature curious and seeking creatures, instead of giving us a straightforward toy, God gave us a Rubik’s Cube.

I think of the mystery of theology similarly to how I think of a Rubik’s Cube. I have never been able to solve one on my own. But I believe the cube has a solution. I have faith it can be solved. But I’m also not satisfied with someone showing me how to do it. I must figure it out for myself.

Does this sometimes lead to frustration? Yes. Does this sometimes to lead to doubt? Maybe, I know I’ve doubted that Rubik’s Cubes actually have solutions sometimes. But at my heart even when expressing frustrations and doubt, I believe there is a solution, and I believe God gave this cube to me so I can play and wrestle with it—not so I can put it on a shelf and ignore it.

My theology is not a porcelain doll which can only be looked at and never played with lest it break. It is a rough and tumble Rubik’s Cube that I can drop down the stairs, disassemble, reassemble, and still have the same toy that I know has a solution even if in my life I never find it.