In my last email I described how America conflates Christianity with white-American culture and how I’m hesitant to casually share my faith in Silicon Valley because of the negative connotations it carries.
One of my fundamental beliefs about the way of Jesus is that it represents good news for everyone. But in a place that’s highly skeptical of that point of view (and doesn’t want to hear otherwise), how can I effectively live out my faith?
On my very last day at Google, moments after turning in my employee badge, I ran into Gloria. Gloria and I had worked together the previous summer when she interned on our team. This was the first time I’d seen her since she’d returned as a full time employee, so I stopped to ask how she was enjoying the experience so far. I was expecting a canned “it’s great!” but she gave me a real answer instead–things were okay. She was clearly disconcerted.
Several months later a Medium post titled “This Is Silicon Valley: I feel myself becoming part of the machine” went viral, creating quite the conversation on Hacker News and around the office.
It turned out Gloria was the author! (Silicon Valley is small, I’ll save that for a future topic.)
There are a number of fair critiques about the article – at points it can read as “naive young person romanticizes an escape from their hometown” – but it’s certainly worthy of your time. Gloria is honest, vulnerable, and insightful throughout (that’s all we can ask of authors), and I find myself returning to this particular way she describes Silicon Valley:
“It’s where everything is about networking. It’s where everyone wants something from you, and you never know when someone will betray you because they want something from someone else more. Silicon Valley is no longer my home. I feel myself being influenced by the tech bubble. I feel myself shifting my focus to money and career trajectory rather than serving those in need locally and worldwide, and I see myself being applauded and fitting in because of it. I feel myself becoming part of the machine.”
What Gloria articulates in this paragraph so well is that in the Bay Area, relationships are inherently transactional.
In a place where everyone is looking to advance their careers and everyone you meet has the potential to help you take the next step, the nature of friendship shifts.
For example: a few months after Nidhi took her new job, she received a LinkedIn message from a VP she’d recently interviewed with at a different startup – he was asking about open positions at her new company.
Relationships are created and maintained on the potential of “cashing in,” knowing that offering career help will be reciprocated later. While this subtext to relationships may not be explicit, no one hides behind false pretenses either. Everyone knows the “coffee to catch up” isn’t about your personal life, it’s to hear about your new job.
As a result, I think it’s rare to have a Silicon Valley friend who will be there for you when there isn’t something to be gained. Not necessarily because people are consciously making selfish choices, but simply because that’s not the foundation that relationships are built on here.
A few years ago my former coworker (and good friend) told me about the time that she and her husband were driving down the interstate when their car broke down. They were stranded on the side of the road in the midday heat of summer while they waited for a tow truck.
She was eight months pregnant.
Who did they call to come pick her up?
While it wasn’t the intended punchline of the story when it was told to me, I realized the reason they called an Uber was because there wasn’t a single person in their contact list they felt comfortable enough to inconvenience in a time of serious need 😥
And I guarantee that’s not a unique situation to my friend.
So when I think about how I can act out the way of Jesus in a way that will be received as good news in Silicon Valley, I think about real, no-strings-attached, messy, friendship.
Every single one of my coworkers has countless contacts stored in their phone of people who could help them get their next job tomorrow.
But what if I was the one they knew they could call when their car breaks down?
Building that type of friendship takes time. It requires intentionality. And it means I’ll have to be first to risk vulnerability.
I’ll end each newsletter with a question that’s been placed on my heart after writing. If you feel like it resonates, please reply to this email with your reflections! Over the course of the newsletter I’ll share some of the responses (anonymously) at the bottom of the next email. I hope we can share this journey together.
When have you experienced real, no-strings-attached, messy, friendship?
Answers from subscribers to my previous question:
What parts of your identity are you hesitant to share with others out of fear that you’ll be met with judgment?
“My journey with cancer. And I hate that cancer has now become my identity. But there have been countless things since day 1 of my diagnosis that I can’t even begin to explain. Ways that I was healed that the medical field can’t even explain. When I tell my story to people, a lot of times I leave out about how God really did have his hand over me. I fail to mention that the things that cannot be explained were because of Him. When I talk with friends from church, they know the depths of the healing and miracles that Jesus performed on me over the year, but why can’t I shout it from the rooftops to the world?”
“I’ve been monitoring my words more carefully and found that I speak less of the truth most often when I’m asked about my identity. I tend to avoid words with sketchy and layered connotations like: pastor, missionary, private Christian school, etc. Instead, I resort to half truths. I’m starting to think that perhaps all answers to questions of identity resist propositional truths that society (maybe especially western society) craves. In my opinion, the truths of identity are perspectival and participatory; they need to be experienced rather than explained.”
I’m so honored to receive your replies, thank you all for being such a participatory group!