“Now you may join the Elks, my friend,
And some may join the Shriners.
And other men may carry cards
As members of the Diners.
Still others wear a golden key
Or small Greek letter pin.
But I have learned there’s one great club
That all of us are in…”.
–J. Pierrepont Finch, from the musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”
The following (as I hope won’t be too obvious) is my first foray—faithful yet faintly faltering– into the wonderful world of Web-logging.
My theme for this initial effort (settled on after a couple of recent false starts) is a personal take on relating, both online and off, to society at large. Or, as Frank Loesser’s lyric puts it (albeit somewhat cynically): “the Brotherhood of Man.”
Now, please don’t get me wrong. I do take comfort (especially since joining Facebook—whose merits or lack thereof are a whole other topic) in a general sense that “we’re all in this together.”
In cyberspace social networking and in “real life,” I appreciate company and companionship and – as 12-step recovery programs call it—sharing of “experience, strength and hope.” A remark at the office or at the gym or in a diner or a class or even a bus stop can lead to a conversation in which there is great value—sometimes just in communication itself, which surely is a gift from God. Through Facebook (and before it, LiveJournal, mainly via tributes to a deceased, deeply missed friend), I have “met”—or become reacquainted with—many sincere, caring, intelligent and insightful people.
The “human experience” is something that this curmudgeon (I sometimes think my picture is in the dictionary under “antisocial”) all too often takes for granted.
And I’m sure it’s with something deeper than mere sentimentality that we can marvel at achievements and experiences that bring out the “best” in people—the teamwork that builds cities, reconstructs after horrors manmade and natural, feeds the poor, comforts the afflicted and, sometimes, simply exchanges sincere but needed pleasantries. (Can you imagine amoebas and lizards and monkeys—from which secular humanists would have us believe we evolved—ever doing that? Or even wanting to?)
An infinite number of things that—when I contrast them to my own self-centered ways — put me to shame.
Online we can poke and like and comment and share truths and perspectives. Offline we can smile and welcome and have cups of coffee and help.
Philosophically and sentimentally, we can interlock arms and do this:
(Though—um, I’d rather not, literally. Not in 1985 and not now. Nice tune, though.)
Often, as in the charity cause for which this song was written, the appeal to “brotherhood” is genuine. Sometimes it is mere sentimentality and sometimes (as in the case of the fictional Mr. Finch—the window washer following directions from a book on corporate ladder-climbing—it used to influence people as means toward personal gain.)
(But then again, Dale Carnegie’s classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People” makes a valid point that influencing people must be rooted in real—not feigned—interest in them.)
At a certain level, of course, it’s nice to feel part of something. For instance, in my dim and distant youth, 1,000 years before the Internet, I used to love reading the letters pages in comic books (and even contributed to them once or twice.) Comics “fandom” was then (and still was, the last time I checked) a close-knit, virtual society united in fellowship by a common interest. (In this case, bodybuilders in garish long underwear, flying around with capes. But you may have a different interest or hobby. You get the point.)
In a secular sense—this “brotherhood”—the theme of all sorts of political and social sloganeering –is in part very real and admirable, on a human level (there is notable human “good” in, say, helping other people in times of suffering: all sorts of charities, agencies and volunteer efforts by groups and even individuals rise to immense challenges to help other people over come poverty, pain, illness and all sorts of disaster aftermaths.) It’s not all just a feel-good fantasy that motivates altruistic “togetherness.” We all have feelings and wants and needs. We’re all created with consciences, and we can all relate –and often connect and/or help– when a fellow human laughs or cries or sighs. Charities and causes do good works—very good, as far as the world defines “good.”
But we Christians know that “one great club which all of us are in” is a category with an unpopular name—sinners.
We know from Scripture that humanity has two basic categories: the church (us) and everybody else. But all are in the larger category of sinners. By no means should we ever presume or pretend to be BETTER than the unbelievers. Under the Great Commission, we are to be preachers by example. Not judges or jurors, not prosecutors—but witnesses. Within our little spheres (Google Circles may be a better example, in this regard, than Facebook groups, ) we can influence those around us by example—and by speech—so that God, if it be his will, might bring them to salvation.
“Brotherhood” without Christ goes only so deep. It is not eternal.
Of course we must show charity, compassion and love to all of our fellow humans as part of witnessing and just being Christians. But there must be no compromise of doctrine. The Bible must always be our guide.
As a “wacko fundamentalist,” as my brother once jokingly (I hope) labeled me, I find it tough to convey—without sounding judgmental and stonehearted—that the popular “all religions are equal” notion (you’ve all seen those posters that include the cross alongside other familiar icons in a sort of smorgasbord.)—doesn’t cut it. Others, light-years more learned and eloquent than I, have made that point repeatedly and explained the reason. (It won’t take a PhD to note, reading this—and sincere thanks if you’re still doing so—that I’m neither a philosopher nor a theologian. Just, as we say, a sinner saved by grace. The circumstances by which God brought this about, will, I hope, be material for another post.)
It’s always best to let Scripture speak for itself.
A Google search for “fellowship of believers” and related concepts turned up verses including these. (KJV):
First, the well-known truth imparted in John 15:19:
If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
And 1 Corinthians 12:
25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
And Hebrews 13:16:
But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
And Hebrews 3:13:
But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
Lest we forget (yeah, right–as if!!) The teachings of our Lord didn’t exactly fit the lets-hold-hands-and-call it all-good mode. Like most of Scripture to those “that perish,” some of these quotes seem preposterous:
For a start, there’s Matthew 10:34-36:
“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”
Jesus goes on to say, in verses 37-39:
“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”
Hardly the stuff of 1960s soft-drink commercials.
So, in short—cliques and clubs, societies and sewing circles, all make up a tapestry with which God has covered this planet. And these little niches can serve as vehicles whereby we can influence our fellows to the salvation message. We witness in our daily “real-world” lives –in the circles in which we move—and now on the Internet that affords us a wider audience.
Maybe I’ve done more blabbing than blogging.
It could be (as I sometimes wish in my crankier moments) this new fangled Internet is just a passing fad that will fizzle out any day now.
But the realms described in the Word of God certainly aren’t.