I wrote recently about having friendships that can continue in the digital world without necessarily needing to actually meet.
There is a downside to that in that we only see what the person posting wants us to see. That's often the happy things in their life that they want to remember and share, but rarely do we see the dull, the mundane, the struggles and the pain. We need to be aware of those parts of people's lives, even when, and perhaps especially when they are not visible.
Recently a friend of mine posted on Social Media about his emergence from a brief period of what Churchill called Black Dog. There was a lot of supportive replies, and it directly led to me having a conversation with someone about my own struggles.
Part of being prepared for ministry in the church is being deemed fit for work - even if like me that you're doing it without any payment. This process really kicked in over the last few months - after the church and the ordinands had invested a great deal of time and money over the previous 2 1/2 years. There were questions over health, and in particular one over mental health. I answered honestly that I had a particularly dark period about 15 years ago, and was surprised when I had to undergo a telephone interview to ascertain whether it was still an issue. I have had more serious health issues since then, but they were not referred to. I must admit the whole episode felt more than little like the Church covering its back, and I know that I wasn't alone in experiencing that process.
And it's still part of my life, I think it's part of the human condition, whether we have a faith or not. My experience of dealing with this varies, but often it just makes me angry. Angry at the big things, the injustices, the problems that we see and experience; but also angry at little things that don't matter. And then angry at myself for getting angry. A lot of time I can present a broadly positive persona to the world, even when I'm struggling, but I know that it's when I'm at home that I'm probably the most difficult...which you've guessed it, makes me angry!
In a similar argument to the FACT that The Beatles are the greatest group ever, The West Wing is the greatest TV show ever. There are two central characters, Josh - Deputy Chief of Staff, and Toby - Director of Communications. Both are brilliant at their jobs. Josh is full of energy, his anger is righteous, people like him, but he's no pushover. Toby has a real tendency to be morose, curmudgeonly, he rarely smiles, and often just seems sad.
I like to think of myself as Josh, but suspect that a lot of the time I'm Toby.
So what is this doing in a blog about digital life. Just as I said there could be a tendency for people to filter out the bad bits, there is also an opportunity that the remoteness, or even the anonymity of writing for a screen allows people to share more than they can face to face. Digital offers us a different perspective to be friends with people, to communicate, to seek support and care. We are all individuals, made in God's image, have different needs and preferences. We need to recognise that in how we interact with people, sometimes face-to-face is the best way to get people to open up; sometimes it isn't, but if we only work one way then we miss opportunities, as an organisation, as ministers, as friends.
It's a different way of thinking and responding, but it's still relational, it's about ourselves and others and how share the joys and sorrows of this journey that we're on.
And on my journey I hope the reality is that I'm like both Josh and Toby.