Face to Face

Recently, my son and I went to Comerica Park in Detroit to catch a Jays-Tigers game.  It was a beautiful evening for baseball. A rare occasion for the two of us to do something together. Sport is always common ground, so after a short one hour drive from our homes we parked our car, walked over to the field, got our hotdogs (essential) and took our seats. For $4 US (which speaks to the tough seasons both teams are having) there we were in the left field corner of the third base line with our backs were to the video screen. 

Whether it was the second or third inning, there was a play at the plate that was close. Instinctively we, along with sparsely scattered thousands of others looked up to check the replay but there was none. Shortly after that, I wanted to check something on my phone, but realized I had no wifi connection.  We would not find out till much later that the entire communications network had gone down in the stadium. They only had use of one camera in centrefield.  The commentators on both networks were broadcasting by speaking into their cellphones. There were no replays. There was no data available to the players in the dugout. They couldn’t look at the ipads for scouting reports or to make adjustments.  

BlueJay reporter Ben Nicholson-Smith wrote a really good article about this. In it he quoted IKF (Isiah Kiner-Falefa) who said, “It was weird…(and)…it was kind of refreshing. When we found out what was going on, it was old-school baseball in a way. It’s your eyes. Your teammates have to talk and you have to rely on each other more, rather than just going out and looking at the screen and looking at metrics.”


There wasn’t even the ability to post the speed of the pitches from the pitcher.  Which means, for those who understand baseball, the hitters couldn’t analyze the speed of the pitches, they had to go by instinct and by sight. They had to solicit input from their teammates. The team that did that best would win on this night. A rare one for the Jays this season that showed the significance of the importance of face to face interaction. 


When we are welcomed and share our lives with one another then we begin to see the world more clearly.  That’s not just how powerful team sport can be, it speaks more significantly to the value of real time, personal interaction – face to face.

In the New Testament, there's a short letter written by John, the apostle, to a dear friend. While he has a few key things he wants to communicate, he stops writing in order to communicate a message that is valuable for us to hear, in an age where there is a constant flurry of electronic and digital communication: "I have much to write to you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face." (3 John 13) 

The week previous to this game, my wife and I had travelled for the wedding of the son of some of dearest friends. We've known them well over thirty years and remain close. The strength of relationship exists for one reason: the unifying genuine love of Jesus Christ that we have shared and experienced together along the twists and turns of the years. It's not because of the frequency of our interactions rather it's the depth of relationship. In fact there were several people we hadn't seen in many, many years, and even the absence of pen, ink, emails or texts...but that gap seemed to be bridged as we met face to face. 

On our way home, because of some necessary changes due to weather, I ended up with a middle seat. As I made way to my row on my right, I noticed an older lady tucked into the window seat. Her cane was wedged, leaning against the window, and she was slumped resting her head against the cabin wall. The lady on the aisle rose to let me in, allowing me to slip under her headphone cable, as she had already begun binge watching her show.  


So, I’m a little bummed…and then there’s the added pressure of not falling asleep in the middle seat so that you don’t lean and/or drool on the people next to you. 


At some point the sleeping lady wakes up and pulls out a book. I can’t remember the title, but it had something to do with God working miracles and strengthening faith. There was a quote from 1 Peter in it dealing with enduring suffering in view of a greater reward.  I took note of it and asked Jesus for an opportunity to talk with her further. 


She went back to sleep. Or perhaps was trying to avoid my not so subtle staring at her book.


When the captain announced that we were about 30 minutes out, she popped back up and I began a conversation commenting on her book, and curious about her interest in miracles and faith. What happened next, I hope to not soon forget: 


Her name is Gerrilynn. About six years ago she was diagnosed with a severe form of cancer. So severe that regular radiation and chemotherapy were not enough to deal with it.  She needed a stem cell transplant. Her sister was willing to do this, in fact she was just returning from visiting her sister in Phoenix.  To the amazement of the doctors, her cancer had been put in remission.  But her immune system needed to be built back up. 


And then along came COVID. And she was infected.  Her infection was so severe that she had to be hospitalized. She doesn’t remember much after that because she went into a coma for two months. Her family and the doctors found enough reason to keep her alive and when she woke up she couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.  Having been in a coma for two months meant her body had weakened, her muscles had atrophied. So she had to spend another two months or more regaining strength, mobility and speech. 


Side by side, face to face she shared with me how it couldn’t all just be an accident or coincidence, so she has been on a journey reaching back to her faith that she learned as a child, in her Catholic upbringing. 


So then we talked about Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible, my bible and her bible, and the words that He says, and the invitation that He gives. We looked at John 11:25-26, where Jesus declares to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me will live even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”


That question lingered in the air…


And then we looked at John 14:6 and the invitation of Jesus that was mentioned earlier: Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to father except through me?”


And the Lord gave me the courage and capacity to ask her “do you know this, do you have this certainty?”  Having given me permission, she allowed me to offer a prayer to God for her. And then she looked up and said, “certainty…I have certainty that my life belongs to Jesus. I’ve never thought of faith like that before.”


When we understand, acknowledge and act upon the invitation of Jesus to follow Him as Lord and Saviour, then we benefit from the welcoming love of God. It's as though we meet Him, face to face. In the presence of Jesus we find our true identity, and we find freedom to confess our weaknesses, our needs and our sin. In so doing we are then recipients of His grace, strengthened by His Spirit who deepens our desire to transform our lives according to His eternal truth. 

To be clear, I am not opposed to digital communication or social media. However, it is valuable to assess and monitor my dependency on it over and against the higher value of inter-personal connection. Recently, in the province where I live there has been legal action started by five school boards against social media giants: SnapChat, TikTok and Meta (Facebook, Instagram and What's App):

"Colleen Russell-Rawlins, the director of education with the Toronto District School Board, said social media's impact on children "cannot be denied," stating that it leads to "pervasive problems," including distraction, social withdrawal, cyberbullying, and mental health challenges."" 

Whether the school boards advance on this action or not, is not relevant. What is relevant is that the absence of personal connection, of knowing and being known, of face to face interaction, is being felt significantly in our communities. 

What would happen, if you paid more attention to those around you?

Who is it, that needs to experience the welcoming and hospitable kind of love that Jesus desires for us to show?

How could we change the the trajectory of one person's life, or even our society as a whole if we took this on with greater intention?