• We enjoyed the company of our three-year old grandson over Thanksgiving this year. (Also his mom and dad.)  Now that he is in pre-school, his English vocabulary is expanding, and for the first time he is conceptualizing that Chinese and English are two different languages. In the past, my speech has mostly been gobbledegook to him.  But on this trip, he informed Jie that "Grandpa speaks English." Finally! I'm not just a totally clueless relative
  •  My new discovery this week was a "bulb auger" (thanks to Larry Larvick in my church, who told me about it) so I wouldn't have to plant 150 tulip bulbs by hand...with a garden trowel.  All I have to do is attach it to my drill, and...presto...a nice 8 inch hole appears for dropping in the bulb.  If it will just stop raining a little bit now...so I can finish planting next spring's tulips.
  • In the article below, I mentioned eight types of friends that each of us needs.  Click here to check out the website where I got the list.
  • I also made reference to an analytics page that counts how many "fans" Facebook companies and celebrities have.  Click here for that page.

November 25, 2018
Scrutinizing My Friends
According to Facebook, I have 527 friends. On the other hand, Oxford scholar Robin Dunbar argues that I only have 150 friends.  Who to trust? Facebook's count does more for my pride.

It was a little humiliating to notice that our youth pastor (Jordan) has me beat with 550 friends.  And the church secretary (Dora) has us both beat...she's at 572.  But then I realized that I also have friends on We Chat, a Chinese based social media site.  I'm not going to brag in front of Dora and Jordan, but...I'm pretty sure they don't even know what We Chat is.

I have one pastor "friend" who has 5000 friends on Facebook.  He has reached Facebook's limit: you are only allowed 5000 friends per person.  If you want to make a new friend, they make you ditch one of your old ones.  I have other pastor colleagues whose friend counts are in the thousands, and that's a good sign they might be running for bishop ...or  something.  

Facebook doesn't just count your "friends."  They also count how many "fans" you (or your organization) have.  Who has the highest number of "fans" you ask?  Facebook, of course...213 million. And which individual has the most "fans" you ask? Sorry, Mr. President, it's not you. It's Renaldo Christiano.  

It pains me to speak the truth to power, but the president only has 23 million fans, which puts him in 274th place.  But that's not the worst fake news for him:  he is reputedly behind Barak Obama (55th place) and CNN (190th place).  

He's also behind  Kentucky Fried Chicken (59th place) and  Victoria Secret (211th place) but at least those two could be excused by his base. The good news for the president is that he beat Hillary (again) as she is in 781st place, with only 9 million fans. Hillary, on the other hand, can take comfort that she beat out the Cookie Monster (851st place) and the Weather Channel (887th place).  

I shouldn't make fun of the president, however, as he has 23 million "fans" compared to the roughly 600 "likes" that I get every year. Most of those "likes" are coming from the same dozen people. And this past year, the most thumbs up came from relatives, who repeatedly "liked" it when I drove to North Dakota in June and went camping by myself...instead of visiting them. 
Wanting to prove that I actually do  have  527 friends (according to Facebook) instead of 150 (according to Mr. Dunbar, I decided to scrutinize my Facebook list.  It turns out that my vast network includes 51 relatives. Relatives don't really count:  they're stuck with me whether they like it or not.  

So that leaves me with 476 actual "friends." But a quick audit of my list turned up eight dead people. So I'm now down to 468.  And then I found another eight who are "duplicate friends," some hacker got into their accounts and reproduced them: so that leaves me with 460.

Going through my list, I realized that I have no idea who 43 of those "friends" are.  How do I end up with more than three dozen friends I've never heard of? I think it's because I usually say "accept" if I get a "friend request" from a friend of a friend.  Being a pastor, I don't want to discourage any potential members.

But I will "deny" a "friend request" if I can't figure out any connection.  And I've learned that it's always a good idea to deny a request from anyone named Candy, Caressa, Stormy, or Lollipop.  

So now I'm down to 417.  Perusing my list, it occurred to me that there are some people on my Facebook list who aren't very nice.  And while Jesus may be crazy over them, I'm really not...and so I guess you could cross off another 19 or so. (But if you are nice enough to read THIS far, you are of course NOT crossed off my list.)   

Looking through my list, I also noted how many years it has been since I have been in the physical company of many of my friends.  And it was at this point that I decided to stop analyzing my Facebook friends, as it was making me moody.

I'm thankful that the internet keeps me "in touch" with so many valued friends.  Real friends are not just those we share updates and stories with; they are those we make  stories with.  My real friends are those with whom I share a memory:  of a specific time, a specific place, a specific event, a specific challenge or joy or sacrifice.  Virtual friendship doesn't quite cut it.  My real friends are those I yearn to be with again, deeply yearn to be with...soon as possible.  

This is how Mr. Dunbar came up with his number. We only have so much capacity to be with  people...to engage them...to pay attention to one another.  Thus, he suggests that most of us have about 150 friends...at any given time...some closer than others.
The word "friend" comes from the Old English word, "freo" which is the root of two important modern English words: "free," and "favored."  Friends (unlike relatives) are free to come and go. It is in the free will of a friend's favored love  that we experience peculiar blessings.  

The Quakers call each other "friends."  I can't think of a better enterprise for a congregation than for its members to be busy making friends ...as many as possible.  
One internet blogger, Chiara Fucarino, says that we need eight different kinds of friends in our lives.  
  1. a loyal and non-judgmental friend (no matter what we do)
  2. a fearless adventurer (who will force us out of our comfort zones to experience more of the world
  3. a brutally honest friend (who isn't afraid to tell us things others would never say to us)
  4. a wise mentor (usually someone who is older who can keep us from having to learn everything the hard way)
  5. a friend from a different culture (who can both appreciate and see things about us that no one in our own culture would notice)
  6. a polar opposite of ourselves (who can challenge us with opposite points of view in politics, religion, lifestyle and keep us from falling into the trap of polarization in our society today)
  7. a friendly neighbor (who lives on our road, street, or block and can provide us needed conversation, sharing, or assistance)
  8. a work pal (who can provide affirmation and humor when the going gets tough).  

So, sit down, make your list, fill in the gaps, plan some time to actually get together...and let's enjoy our lives more! --Mike

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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