Friendship In The Age Of Digital Reproduction

Sophia Lagrimar is a Los Angeles blogger, mother and spoken word artist.

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“The Lord is all forgiving/The past is in the past/He sees our lost transgressions/Like sails without a mast”.

They began with a hymn with a vaguely familiar melody. It was a cross between Three Blind Mice and Madonna's Like a Virgin. Or maybe it was the theme from The Brady Bunch.

The church was called The Order Under God's High Expectations but everyone referred to it as TOUGH. The elders found the sweet spot between obedience and ambition and managed to attract lost souls with slightly above average intelligence. Their signature claim was that their "ecumenical technologies" were designed to "mend the universe through personal empowerment." The church itself ran like a business – it was denied the coveted 501(c)(3) - and advertised its services for those who "felt stuck in their jobs, their relationships or their self-image." They promised to "turn life's turbo on toward God."

When my dear friend Bernice joined the church she was fine but bored. To fit in, she concocted an affliction based on some vague memories of an imperfect childhood. Some of the members suffered unspeakable misfortune but most were simply impaired by an emotional greed. Their talent was turning minor drama into grand operatic spectacles of despair.

It took a while but Bernice found her spot and learned the lingo.

Bernice was anxious. She was about to turn forty-five and like Victor Hugo, saw this threshold as the youth of old age. She began to second-guess her most consequential life choices. The normal rituals of mid-life retrospection were for Bernice an existential parlor game where the results were rigged against her.

She found solace in joining this 21st century, high-tech apostolic church. The pastor was hip with a bright tattoo of Baba Ram Das on his forearm and a salt and pepper man-bun that didn’t look altogether ridiculous. The parishioners called each other "my awesome ally" and Jesus was referred to as "that loving cat on the cross." They didn't spend much time on the Gospel but rather focused their attention on what they called “growth through God." Roughly in line with the template of Alcoholics Anonymous their improvised sacraments emphasized the healing potential of the confessional personal anecdote. The pastor was bilingual; passable in English, fluent in cliché. He talked of "creating the possibilities for grace within the integrity of the Lord's authentic affirmations" as if that meant something. The congregants stood in line behind a lectern and waited their turn to "share."

Through their costly seminars and workshops, they hoped to "harvest the inspirited seeker of life's thanksgiving." “Harvest the inspirited” was their waterlogged neologism that described their Multi-level Marketing strategy. Members were coached, chided and coerced into recruiting new members under the cover of counterfeit metaphysics. Bernice roped me into attending one of their “special evenings” hoping to earn brownie points within TOUGH’s labyrinthine rewards system.

It worked something like this:

A guest is brought in like a small fish on a long line. If they nibble and agree to a "personal consultation" with a "pathfinder," the accompanying member accrues credit. If the guest ultimately signs up for a "study group," the member earns points toward becoming a "world beater," which is one level below "spirit captain," which in turn, qualifies the unwitting proselytizer for a spot in the monthly "Pioneer Training Seminar," (PTS), which is the prerequisite for ascending the ultimate Olympus and becoming a "pathfinder" oneself.

Poor Bernice.

We all get that diminished feeling from time to time where every breath becomes a baleful reminder of our insignificance. In the old days, when people got struck by the woes of their inconsequence they’d call up a friend and go out for a drink. These days, we dull the agony by curating dazzling, upbeat, irreproachable life-brands and posting the evidence on online.

Poor Bernice.

Bernice was a dutiful citizen of the internet and was fluent in its ecology of disinformation. She treated Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn as if it were Pravda. Her skills were impressive but when the screen went dark, as it inevitably does, the crush of reality retaliated and the "likes" lost their onanistic luster.

In retrospect, Bernice was an easy mark for TOUGH. Before the siege of social-media she was actually and interesting person. To talk to her now though, is to be treated to an incoherent fusillade of New-Age, self-help, positive-thinking inanity.

But at least she still has “friends.”

"Become complete with your family, become complete with your God, become complete with yourself."