Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Friday, December 4, 2009

It's official.  The 2009 word of the year, courtesy of the American Oxford Dictionary, has been named.

Drum roll, please.


Some of you might be wondering - particularly if you are distanced from the latest in social networking - just what "unfriended" means.

In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya from the movie The Princess Bride, "lemme ‘splain".

To "unfriend" means to remove someone as a friend on a social networking Web site like Facebook.

I found this to be an intriguing selection, or perhaps better put, observation.  Particularly as the word chosen was not "friending" someone, which is the positive side of the act and just as newly minted for our vocabulary.  

No, it was to "unfriend," suggesting that as much as we may desire relational health and wholeness, we are much more prone to wallow in the mire of relational dysfunction.  We do not work through the process of conflict resolution, as suggested by Matthew 18:15.  We do not manifest grace toward our differences, or perceived weaknesses.  And even less toward each other's sin.

We know only to "unfriend."

Granted, there are times this may be sadly needed.  There are those who are relationally unsafe, and boundaries must be drawn.  But that is not what has given us our new word of the year.  We do not unfriend as a matter of last resort, but often as a first response.  As a result, we live in a day where it is acceptable to have a trail of jobs and locations and commitments behind us as we flee from one relational breakdown to another.

Of course, followers of Christ should be the counter-balance to unfriending.  

Called into community by Christ, and unified through our joint relationship with Christ, we should be manifesting the healthiest relationships on the planet.   We share the same values, the same mission, the same purpose - everything needed for the deepest levels of relational health.  

So as Christians before a watching world, this should be our opening.  And it is.  Jesus told us that if we would just love each other, it would arrest the world's attention and give it the greatest apologetic for His message.  

So why isn't the world flocking to our communities of faith to gain a glimpse of authentic community?  

Because we unfriend with as much ease as anyone.  Perhaps more so.

John Ortberg once wrote of a man who was rescued from a desert island where he had survived alone for fifteen years.  Before leaving, he gave his rescuers a little tour of the buildings he had constructed as a sort of one-man town over the years.

"That was my house, that was my store, this building was a kind of cabana, and over here is where I go to church."

"What's the building next to it?"

"Oh, that's where I used to go to church."

Never before has there been such a need to model Jesus and be a friend to sinners.  A friend that attracts, appeals, engages.

Perhaps we need to remember that it begins by being a friend to each other.


"What  word represents 2009?", The Charlotte Observer, "Nation and World," Tuesday, November 17, 2009, p. 6A.

John Ortberg, Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them.