Archive for the ‘Hobbies’ Category

Stepping Out.

January 9, 2013

I’m doing something somewhat crazy tonight, which was preceded by a somewhat crazy thing I did a few days ago.  I’m pretty sure that alcohol wasn’t involved in that initial crazy act, and I know it isn’t involved with tonight’s craziness.  For some reason, that’s not nearly as comforting as it ought to be.

A few days ago I placed an ad on Craigslist, seeking people who wanted to get together to make music.  Not to perform.  Not to hold court.  Not to specifically teach or learn in a classroom setting, but people who wanted to put their musical or vocal skills to work in making music with other people, just for the joy of that process.
It’s something I’ve been mulling over for years, but it seemed like I was going to have to figure it out on my own, because I don’t know anyone that has a similar interest.  
To my surprise, I received a few responses.  One was a musician type.  A few were just short notes of affirmation.  And one response was from a guy who sounds like me (though probably more musically talented).  He plays guitar.  We exchanged a few e-mails fleshing out a bit more the philosophy behind why we’re getting together and what we think we’re capable of doing.  He directed me to an Internet group of local folks formed last summer for the same purpose, but which hasn’t really done anything.  
And tonight he’s coming over to my house to play.  He sounds like a nice guy, but I’ll admit to being nervous.  Nervous because I have no idea what he’s really like.  Nervous because I’m really a poor guitar player and I’ll be trying to play along with someone better than me.  But it’s a nervousness I’m willing to deal with.  I pray that God will work in this encounter, and that it will turn into a regular event that other people might become interested in as well.  A chance to meet people and see how those relationships develop.  
I believe that this is a wonderful way that Christians can build relationships outside their existing network of friends & family.  Figure out what you enjoy doing and find others to do it with.  Trust that in that process, God is present.  Pray for his presence & guidance.  Don’t assume that you need to hand out a Bible or even talk about God or pray with these people.  Get to know them.  Let them get to know you.  And be praying privately that the Holy Spirit will give you the opportunity to share about Jesus Christ and his presence in your life.  
We can have all the evangelism programs in the world, but community starts with wanting to be with other people.  Christian community starts with understanding that the God who created you created these other people as well and loves them deeply enough to die for them, which means that you can and should love them as well.  Simply for that reason alone at first.  Pray for the chance to plant seeds and I believe you’ll have those opportunities.  But you don’t need to plant the seeds with a nail gun or anything.  Just pray and allow the relationship to grow in God’s guidance.  
I hope that’s what happens tonight with this guy, and with whatever other guys and gals might get involved with this down the line.  Guys and gals I would probably never have met if I hadn’t been slightly crazy.  That is slightly more comforting!  
What kind of an ad would you post on Craigslist?  

Cross Cultural

August 22, 2012

My work (and my interests) call me into very different cultures within the geographical scope of my city and county.  While traditionally cross-cultural has been a term largely dealing with ethnic cultural differences, my cross cultural experiences are not determined on the basis of ethnicity.  Much attention has been placed on how America as a melting pot (traditionally) or a collection of independent cultural traditions (more recently) not only fosters cross cultural interactions it is almost synonymous with the idea.  What I hear less frequently is talk about cross cultural experiences that are not defined by ethnicity or differences in geographical heritage, but just very different groups of people that may share a common ethnicity and genealogical background.

Each week I work in the jail, teaching Christian basics to 18 or so men ranging in age from probably 18 to 60.  They span a diverse set of ethnic backgrounds, to be sure.  But my cross-cultural experience with them is not determined by their ethnicity, but by the jail culture.  They are part of it.  i am not.  Some of them are new to it but they are still more versed in the culture than I am.  Yet I am called to bring the Gospel to these people across the cultural boundary of incarceration that separates them from me.  Aiding me in this is the fact that most of these men are not solely part of jail culture.  They have participated in aspects of my non-incarcerated culture, whereas my participation in the jail culture is highly artificial and regulated compared to theirs.  We can communicate mostly because they share more of my culture and are therefore able to understand me.  I continue to learn their culture so that I can communicate more effectively.
But part of the human aspect of cross-cultural work is the desire for acceptance.  The desire for belonging.  It is this desire that keeps many people from engaging in cross-cultural experiences at all – the idea of feeling on the outside is terrifying and depressing.  It’s much more gratifying to remain ensconced in a culture where one’s place has been defined and that definition is an agreeable one.  To take on an undefined -or negatively defined – definition in a different culture is inherently unappealing.  Nobody likes to feel like the outsider.
Necessarily those moments of belonging are fleeting at best, at least initially.  I love moments in the jail where we can all laugh at something together because it is a moment of cross-cultural acceptance and unity.  Similar to those moments when I can see that someone has gotten the idea I’m trying to get across and is now processing it either internally or out loud in questions and discussion.  
One of my other cross cultural areas is the bar pool league I play in each week.  I started that two years ago, took a year off, and returned to it over the summer.  For me it’s too often a guilty pleasure.  I feel as though it can’t really be considered part of my job because I enjoy it – though it could easily be said to be missional!   Also, it takes time away from my family, and when more and more of my time is absorbed with work, time away from family is painful.  But I love pool, and it places me in the midst of people that I wouldn’t otherwise be spending time with most likely.  It seems like an ideal meeting place for my vocation and my hobby.  
That being said, it’s a cross-cultural experience.  It might not seem so initially though.  My team mates are all more or less caucasian American men, roughly my age or a bit younger.  We speak the same language, we all go to work each day.  Yet we’re very different – or at least appear to be so.  We are separated by educational levels, likely by economic levels, by the fact that many of them have been born and raised and still live in the same small town whereas I have moved around a little bit.  There are differences in terms of bar culture and what is considered appropriate and acceptable in terms of intoxication and other forms of relaxation.  We look as though we’d have more in common than I would with my congregants, many of whom are approaching twice my age.  Yet I’m more comfortable with the latter than the former.  We share more of the same value systems, beliefs, and cultural baggage.
I feel out of place with the guys in the pool league.  We’re friendly with one another.  There’s a shared respect.  But there’s always the feeling that I don’t really belong there.  Were it not for my skills in playing pool, I have no doubt that I would likely be the first one to be cut from the team if another person that they knew better wanted to join.  We spend several hours together every week, and yet even after months of shooting together, I still feel like an outsider.  Some of that is my introverted nature.  Much of it has to do with putting myself in another culture and having to endure the fish-out-of-water feeling for however long it takes to acclimate and be more deeply accepted.
Last night was a moment of elation and exception though – an evening where, for a few moments, I seemed to really be accepted as part of the ‘guys’.  We were playing our next-to-last match of the summer season.  We were playing the top rated team in our division, on their home turf.  Our team is strong – arguably the strongest it has been in years – but we’re not overly consistent.  We have dropped from second place to fifth in the division.  Personally I’ve dropped from being in the top 10 in our division to being in the top 20 (just barely!).  So to say the odds were against us last night was an understatement.
It was a tightly fought match.  Our team relies on raw shooting skills.  Theirs relies mainly on the ability to position the cue ball well – to deny their opponents solid shots and play ‘safe’.  They play a much more technically proficient game than we do, in part because on any given evening, one or more of our players is more than just a little buzzed.  Sometimes that has a calming, leveling effect on their play.  Sometimes not.  
I won my first two games, the first of which was the first game of the night and helped set a tone for our team.  The second came late in the second round and brought us back even after we had slipped a game behind.  I won not because I dominated my opponents but because they both made critical errors late in the game that I capitalized on for the win.
My last game of the evening was the second to last game of the night.  We were leading 7-6, and if I won my game, we won the evening.  I was playing a younger guy on their team who had a hot head and a cold, calculating eye.  He was very good at trying to deny his opponent a shot rather than take a riskier shot himself.  I should have beat him, but I wasn’t thinking clearly and missed on the second to last ball.  Then I fouled after he played a safety on me.  That put the score at 7-7.  
Our last guy was on the ropes for a fair part of the game, but he came up with a fantastic play at the end that threw their guy off his game.  We won – miraculously.  There was much celebration, to say the least.  Much whooping and hollering and back-slapping and near hugs and fist bumps and general exclamations of what an amazing evening it had been.  There was a celebratory round of shots at the bar next door (since the bar we were playing in only served beer), and then eventually the gradual goodbyes for the night.  For a few moments we were all together, sharing an experience that transcended our differences.  
It felt good.  Rea
lly
good.  I can understand how people can pursue that feeling of belonging even when it requires them to do and be things that are not healthy for them.  I can well understand the temptation to take a hit or hit the bottle more heavily and regularly, for the sake of blending in better and being accepted.  There are moments when my refusal to do so gets the glance that reminds me that I’m not one of them.  And yet I have to figure out how to maintain the right responses for me while not judging them for their responses, so that eventually, as I hopefully become more accepted as one of them, I have the ability to share more than just a few games of pool each week.  
I’m beginning to understand the tenacity that missionaries in foreign ethnic cultures must have.  The patience to build relationships.  To not push too hard, too quickly.  To seek ways of becoming more in tune with the culture.  Learning ways that they can be accepted without sacrificing who they are in the process, without being swallowed and consumed by the other culture.  It’s an amazing vocation they have been given.  
But I believe that it is a vocation that more of us can have.  Not by moving to a foreign culture, per se.  But by being willing to suffer the embarrassment and the awkwardness of not fitting in. By being willing to be with people and in environments that are different from ours.  Not with the goal of becoming someone different (at least not completely), but with the goal of sharing the love of Christ in that culture and environment.   It is slow work, many times, but not without moments of joy and transcendence.  

Philoxenon

May 20, 2011

1 Timothy 3 is a familiar set of verses to me.  Paul’s list of qualities that ought to be looked for in an overseer or pastor of God’s people is hugely instructive.  It’s instructive in my life because of the vocation I’ve settled on, and it ought to be instructive in the lives of Christians everywhere.  

I’m sure it was discussed many different times in Seminary, but the one time I really remember it being discussed was in a course entitled Pastoral Theology.  Or something like that.  It had to do with pastors.  And the Bible and stuff.  The course was focused on practical theological application.  Doing ministry based on Scripture, not just talking about it.  Our professor was a very mature and experienced gentleman.  He gave us more handouts and photocopies than perhaps all of my other three years of coursework combined.  
But I was massively disappointed when we began discussing this passage in the course.  Particularly verse 2, which reads: 
“Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…”
The next verse continues the list.  Some of you who know me better are no doubt laughing hysterically and wondering why God hasn’t struck me with lightning yet, based on this list of qualities.  Just hush.
The one I was particularly interested in was hospitable.  The Greek word is philoxenon (the phonetic spelling), a derivative of philoxenos, which according to some resources I’ve consulted means “hospitable, generous to guests”, or “fond of guests, given to or lover of hospitality”.  I’m interested in this term because it’s something that my wife and I have felt a calling to in our life together.  We get genuine joy and satisfaction from gathering people together – usually over food.  We love to watch relationships deepen and grow and spread as people sit down with one another and relax around food and drink.  It’s truly amazing.
I believe our prof, having spent probably hours on all the other attributes in verses 2-4, explained this concept as “being nice, being approachable”.   And then it was on to something obviously seen to be more important and more pertinent.  I stink at Greek, but even I can tell that there is more going on in this word than simply being nice.   I was disappointed to say the least.
Our culture is not hospitable any longer, and so it’s understandable that he didn’t quite know what to do with this requirement.  When we meet people that intrigue us and interest us our natural reaction is to invite them to come over for dinner.  It’s fascinating to see the variety of facial expressions and non-verbal responses that sometimes greet this invitation.  It’s clear that we are transgressing some unwritten but near-universal aspect of our culture.  Something that says more or less home is for us, home is not for other people.  
But we’re stubborn and slightly masochistic so we keep inviting.  I can’t summarize all of the relationships that have sprung out of shared food in our married life together.  There is truly something holy about food (or at least there can be.  Taco Bell definitely qualifies as unholy).  There is something at play when people sit down to eat together that our culture has left behind in our rush for efficiency and comfort and any number of other objectives.
And I’m still fascinated that the art or skill of hospitality is listed as a prerequisite for spiritual leaders.  How do spiritual leaders live this out and embody it and teach it?  Should they?  I hope to start finding out next week through our congregation…I’ll keep you posted (and hopefully some of my parishioners who are readers will contribute their observations and thoughts once things get rolling as well!).

Not My Type

April 27, 2011

Hard to believe, but the typewriter is dead.  Well, sort of dead.  Maybe not as dead as it seemed to be a few days ago.  But still.  Not doing well at all.  

I’m quick to share that, despite some very good teachers in some really fascinating classes in high school, hands down the most useful course I ever took was a semester of typing.  I learned on a manual and moved up to an electric.  It’s a skill I’ve used every single day of my life – pretty much literal truth, that – for at least the past decade.  It’s been a part of my weekly life probably since high school.  It saw me through high school journalism work, college papers, and into a variety of writing projects that continue to this day.  While I wouldn’t be caught dead using a typewriter these days, I mourn their passing.  Or at least their near, almost sort-of passing.
I average 100+ wpm, and will stick with full-sized computer keyboards for as long as they keep making those.  

Behind Blue Eyes

October 11, 2010

Here’s an interesting issue.

A candidate for public office is being criticized by his opposition for his membership in a World War II historical reenactment group.  Sounds harmless enough, right?  After all, historical reenactment groups are nothing particularly unusual.  There’s a Civil War reenactment group not far from where we live.  People interested in various periods of history are sometimes led to take that interest and curiosity to a level that some others might find odd, but at the same time interesting and potentially educational.
What’s the problem?  The candidate in question was part of a group who’s identity was a WWII German SS division (click on the link labeled “Wiking Reenactment Unit – Who we are and what we do”).  A photo of the Richard Iott in full SS garb has been raising hackles over the past several days.  
As a historian of sorts, I find this interesting. The complaint is not historical reenactment per se, but rather the particular reenactment of Nazi units.  The Atlantic article linked to above is quick to point out that this sort of reenactment is illegal in Germany and Austria.  There are plenty of things that are illegal there that are not illegal here (such as homeschooling in Germany).  I can certainly understand why the nations that bear the brunt of responsibility for the Nazi atrocities should be particularly keen not to encourage their citizens to reenact those periods.
But should it be questionable here?  I don’t think I’ve ever heard a complaint before about historical reenactment in general (should we be offended that there are groups dedicated to vividly recreating the details of a Confederate division?).  I know people who participate in paint ball battles that are themed around WWII engagements, and they try to dress appropriately, and I’m fairly certain that they aren’t closet Nazis.  
Both the web site for Iott’s particular division (which he quit three years ago) as well as The World War II Historical Reenactment Society, Inc. (the larger organization Iott’s group is a part of) very specifically indicate that ideology is not what is being practiced, pushed, or espoused here.  It’s simply guys getting together to re-enact battles.  Granted, guys with some free time and the willingness and ability to accumulate the appropriate clothing, gear, and weapons for the group that they are part of.  Guys do strange things sometimes.  I wanted to join The Society for Creative Anachronisms when I was in college.  Unfortunately, there was the pesky matter of tuition to be paid, and so I ended up joining the working class instead.  C’est la vie.  
Are some things so horrific that even reenactment should be shunned?  Should historical reenactments be viewed as a breeding ground for the particular ideologies that the reenacted groups espoused?  Are Confederate re-enactors secretly wishing to divide the Union still?  Someone reenacting a Communist division is secretly a proponent of Marx and Lenin?  
Or is this an inappropriate overreaction to something being blown out of context and proportion?  Historical reenactment isn’t my bag, but I wouldn’t be suspicious of those who do find it enjoyable on that basis alone.  Perhaps other details will come to light that might indicate that Iott is more of a sympathizer with the Nazi cause than he appears to be at this point.  But perhaps this sort of publicity will be adequate to hamper his election bid without the necessity of culling his personal history.  Convenient, if indeed there wouldn’t be anything incriminating found in that history.  This wouldn’t be the first personal smear campaign in American political history.  But it just might be the most unusual one.

What About the Nazis?

October 7, 2010

Video gamers are not allowed to play as the Taliban any more in a popular multiplayer combat game.

I’m trying to figure out the issue here, since games that allow players to assume the identity of former enemies of US military conflicts abound.  It’s no big deal to play as a Nazi soldier fighting against US forces set in the period of World War II.  I’m unclear as to why those games are permissible, but playing as the Taliban is not.  
Why not an across the board ban on any multiplayer game allowing players to assume the identity of any force hostile to the US? Could be tricky, considering how our enemies and allies have shifted over time.  But at least an across the board ban would be consistent.  Options might include no longer utilizing US military forces in video games – that way there’s no insult to anyone.  Other options would include making all enemy forces generic, unnamed entities that might fight from a recognizable geographic area but not be called Taliban or Nazis or Soviets.   
All of which begs the question – what is the actual offense?  Is the offense utilizing a current enemy of the US as an assumable identity in a video game?  Why is this a problem?  Is there a concern that this will be a form of recruitment or building sympathy to forces currently fighting against the US in one way or another?  If that’s the case, should the ban extend to preventing players from assuming the identity of any military hostile to the United States whether we are in actual conflict or not?  Would it be consistent to prevent players from assuming the role of, say, a North Korean force?  How about China?  Cuba?  
This would seem to be more reasonable if the concern were hostility towards the US expressed in military terms.  But it brings up a whole new host of ideological puzzlers.  There is a proposed current solution of setting aside part of the profits to benefit veterans.  Huh?  Why?  Is it an insult or a national security risk that can be mitigated by a few bucks in a fund?  Is the idea that nobody should be profiting by creating the opportunity to virtually kill virtual US service personnel?    
How does freedom of speech factor into this?  If splinter religious groups are allowed to protest during the funeral services of US service personnel, how is this game not protected?  Isn’t free speech part of the reason our troops are fighting in the first place?  To protect the basic rights that we all take for granted?   
I don’t think this sort of pressure makes sense – certainly not in the haphazard way it is being applied.  While I find games that allow me to play as an enemy of my country to be of questionable taste, I’m reluctant to see this sort of pressure being applied as it sets precedents for further restrictions.  What about the quote popularly attributed to Voltaire, ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’?  If it’s disrespectful to play a video game in a certain manner, what about public protests against military actions?  What about the ability to write an essay critical of the US military in some respect?  When we begin to set up sacred cows that free speech can’t cover, we begin the process of eliminating free speech.  
  

Existentially Non-Existent

August 9, 2010

Mankind has always had a desire to push the limits.  Some of this turned out very, very bad (a la a garden, a snake, and some forbidden fruit).  Other times, it has worked out very well in terms of the development of new capabilities, better knowledge of the world around us, and a better appreciation of what we are capable of.

As frontiers shrink, people driven to differentiate themselves from the pack and to test their own personal abilities seem to be harder and harder pressed to find ways to do this.  On another level, as people are wracked by the existential uncertainties attendant with losing any larger reason or explanation for life beyond simply living it, the need to prove oneself gets stronger.  After all, if this life is all there is, and it’s pretty much a complete accident in and of itself, the desire to provide some legacy or name for oneself grows.  
So, people compete in ways that seem not only pointless, but all too often, dangerous.   Like competing to survive in an extreme sauna.  In order to give meaning to their life?  In order to stave off the black despair of a life that is perceived to be accidental and pointless?  To kill time or fill hours?  Each person would have to answer this for themselves, but I wonder at what the answers might sound like.  And I’d love to be able to talk to these people about how their life isn’t meaningless, even if they don’t have their names in light for 15 minutes or longer.

Supremely Inclusive

July 1, 2010

I’ve been mulling over the Supreme Court’s recent decision that a university has the right to tell official student organizations that they are not allowed to discriminate in their membership – they have to be open to any student.  In this particular case, that means that any Christian student organization that is officially a student organization of the school has to admit anyone – even non-Christians or those that conduct themselves in a manner that is not Biblical.

Various Biblical Christians are weighing in on this issue, since at first blush it seems like a pretty rude ruling.  It seems like another example of Christians getting smacked for attempting to hold true to their values.   If you want more nitty gritty details about the case, here is a good concise overview.  
This Christian student group argues that it shouldn’t be required to extend membership to people who disagree with it’s fundamental beliefs – Scripturally-based issues such as avoiding sexual misconduct (whether heterosexual fornication or homosexuality).  It sounds reasonable at first.  But is it?  Why don’t other student groups have similar issues?  Why don’t the Young Democrats, or other special interest groups have to ban certain types of people from joining?  
These organizations don’t have to attempt to ban membership because they have a strong sense of identity.  They know who they are and what is important to them.  And there are fairly uniform attitudes towards these things within these groups.   Neither of these types of groups worry about infiltration because they have a strong enough sense of identity that they can easily distinguish those who are on the same page from those who aren’t.  And while they may gladly tolerate the presence and membership of people who don’t adhere to their core values, there’s also no danger that those infiltrators will ever get to a leadership position.  The issues and sides are drawn very clearly.  Those who disagree are welcome to participate if they want, but they’ll never become a leader or pose a threat to the organization or ideology.  
Not so with a Christian organization.  Christianity is so badly fragmented that literally anyone can call themselves a Christian, it would seem.  Who defines what is Christian or not these days?  There are churches that decry homosexuality as unBiblical, and churches that declare that the Bible is not against homosexuality and neither are they.  Mormons call themselves Christian even though their theology explicitly contradicts many core elements of Biblical Christianity and the Ecumenical Creeds.  Christianity is being shredded from within, not just from the outside, so that we often find ourselves more often at odds with one another than with those who completely dismiss our beliefs.
As such, a Christian organization is likely to draw people with widely divergent views and practices.  And that organization won’t have any way of making clear what it considers to be truly Christian except by attempting to legislate it.  It has to specify exactly what it believes Christianity is or else nobody will know what it believes.  It has to be intentionally limiting because the central sense of identity of Christianity as a whole has been so weakened and degraded in the last 200 years (some would argue 500 years, and others could make a good case for 1000 years) that Christians often are ill-equipped for discerning what Christianity is and therefore who is appropriate for leadership.  
This is symptomatic of one of the core threats to Christianity.  We don’t know who we are.  Anybody can claim to be Christian and the old standards of evaluating this (the Ecumenical Creeds Ecumenical Creeds, primarily) are often no longer acknowledged.  The Bible has been the subject of reinterpretation and deconstruction to the point that many believers are unsure what they believe or why.  The disagreement between this student organization and the university is really a variant on the in-fighting that has been going on between denominations and groups of believers ever since St. Paul wrote his letters to address the disagreements between more legalistic, ‘Judaizer’ factions of Christians, and those who did not see the need to adhere to traditional Jewish practices.  
Given this fractiousness, the student organization can do one of several things.  It can attempt to devise an iron-clad charter that clearly states who it is and makes the changing of this charter almost impossible (like more conservative denominations with very specific doctrinal stances, such as the LCMS ).  It could give up on attempting to create any such a definition, and attempt to make Christians of any stripe welcome and open to discussions and explorations of what it means to call oneself a Christian (like more liberal denominations such as the Anglicans).  The organization could also – and I would argue should – quit ceasing to get university approval.  If it can’t abide by university policies, it doesn’t need to – and shouldn’t – expect to be an official organization.  Students are still free to gather together as Christians.  If they need resource assistance I’m sure  there are local congregations that would be willing to help them.  
Thoughts?  

What if You Posted a Bounty, and Nobody Cared?

June 17, 2010

If you’ve been fascinated by some of the recent media coverage of Gary Brooks Faulkner Gary Brooks Faulkner, this little article this little article is a good reminder that he’s hardly alone.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has posted a $25 million dollar reward Federal Bureau of Investigation has posted a $25 million dollar reward for “information leading directly to the apprehension or conviction” of bin Laden.   Who is the reward intended for, then?  It would seem that the intent is not for US citizens – or British if the Wired article is accurate – to launch independent efforts to find the man who has eluded the US for almost ten years.  
It’s undoubtedly a politically sticky wicket to have private citizens launching man hunts in foreign countries that are allies of the United States or at least valuable enough politically to not want to irritate.  Those that attempt to do so seem to run a very real risk of either being branded a lunatic or a criminal – or both.  I’m assuming then that the reward is really intended for some ally of bin Laden’s who will be tempted by this large sum of money to betray bin Laden (and likely the person’s own religious and/or philosophical values) in order to obtain a reward that will earmark them for the rest of their likely very short life as a sell-out.  
I wonder how many leads this reward has generated.  None of them have been good enough to catch or convict bin Laden in nearly 10 years, so I wonder how effective it is.  And I certainly can understand why the promise of such a reward would motivate some  people to attempt to earn it on their own terms.  

Video Kills the Loneliness Star

April 28, 2009

I’ve been curious, visiting different people in their homes over the years, at the of television.  Some folks have televisions in every room of their house, and are literally never out of earshot or line of sight from a screen.  Many of these folks are not simply staring at the screen incessantly, but it’s often always on as background.  

Research has filled in a few gaps about why that might be, though these particular reports are more focused on intentional viewing of favorite programs.  It’s not surprising to find out that television fulfills this role.  The concept of television taking the place of traditional social interaction is not exactly groundbreaking.  I think back to Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 – which predicted that a more interactive television format would keep people mesmerized in their homes instead of out interacting with their world and their neighbors.  
Sometimes watching people interacting can make us feel as though we’re part of the interaction, as though we’re really sitting there with them, listening in.  It can lessen our feelings of isolation and help our lives seem fuller – at least according to some of these studies.  
Obviously there’s a need that television helps fill, but which television is not the best solution for.  If anything, television, while helping to fill a need, is actually making the need greater by increasing the amount of time we aren’t interacting with others in meaningful ways.  It feels better than being alone, and is easier than not being alone.  A dangerous – and difficult to change – trend.