Posted by: minnow | December 7, 2008

Church On-line?

When I came to work Friday evening I left my 19 year old son in the middle of a Facebook conversation about the difference between being Godly and being judgmental. What 19 year old kid do you know who spends his Friday nights having discussions about God on Facebook? The night before, he spent an hour talk/writing to a woman (artist) about gay rights, abortion, and listening  to people’s stories. Now this is the kid who some might consider not  spiritual enough. True, he does not generally hyperventilate during worship or choose to go to most of the “fun and faith building” conferences other youth from our fellowship attend (including his brothers and sister). But, those he meets with on-line do not seem too worried about those kinds of details.

Watching my son over the last few months interact on Facebook with his friends (meaning some he has face to face relationships with and others he has never met) has started me thinking about the idea of a wall-less Church, via the internet. My own experiences suggest the concept is an on-line reality already even if it has not been described, examined, explored, researched, analyzed, and criticized–yet. Inspired to Action, Flowerdust, Eugene Cho and others often call our attention to opportunities to make a real difference in the world—do ministry—by putting our blessings ($$$) to good use. Personally, I have heard more relevant, thought provoking, Sermon on the Mount-style, encouragement and admonishment via the blogs I visit (Like: One Hand Clapping, Evolving in Monkey Town, The Carnival in My Head, Radically Authentic, and others) then from all the Sunday morning messages I have sat through.  Still, I would miss singing praises to God with other people (if I were to convert completely to a wall-less Church). Their voices are generally better then mine and loud music, ironically, helps quiet the conflicting opinions in my head. 

While my son (perhaps too much like his mother) does not fit the typical “good Christian” box, the irony is—few of us do.  The wall-less Church offers some, who do not feel comfortable in traditional settings, a place to ask question and be heard.  On-line fellowship may not be perfect but do you know a fellowship that is?  It is my prayer that in this post-modern time we find ourselves living in one of the lessons we will learn is to embrace how truly unique the Body is.  What a miracle that the knee is not a nose and the thumb is not the heart even though they have the same number of letters.  We need missional and we need monastic.  We need elbow grease and we need nail polish.  But, rarely do they function well in the same environment.

The criticism about the internet is often that it is impersonal.  Just the other day I read a comment about the shallowness of Facebook friends.  Believe me, I get the “reality disconnect” a computer screen can provide people who are more interested in living a fantasy.  Obviously the lack of physical proximity makes “disappearing” much simpler on-line. Yet my own experience bares witness that face to face Christian fellowship has just as much potential for shallow connections, pretense, and “leaving”. 

The bottom line is: relationships take work and connecting requires commitment.  If we are not willing to touch—impact—and be touched—impacted—we will never function in community, on-line or otherwise.  We are not impersonal or fake because of the internet.  Fear is the culprit.  Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of pain.  Our isolation and our masks are defense mechanisms.  If I do not let you in you can not hurt me.  I will reject you before you can reject me.  If I do not try I can not fail.  The problem is: I can not succeed either.  To the degree we willingly push past our fear and risk rejection, disappointment, frustration, and pain, we will also embrace the potential for acceptance, fulfillment, revelation, and healing.  On-line, in the pew, on the street, in a house Church does it really matter?

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Responses

  1. Problem with talking on the internet is not so much shallowness (that is a consequence) but how easy it is.
    I can get into a really deep conversation, talk about deep intimate experiences that I wouldn’t talk about with anyone I’d known less than 5 years in real life, and I can do it without batting an eyelid, because the sense of “the other” being a real person who can really judge me and think about me and having an internal life the way I do – I know intellectually its true, but not seeing their expressions change on their face, or hearing the inflections in their voice, they basically become just a thing that I am talking AT – and their words in response are just ideas without a sense of their belong to a personality, which means I never need to develop the social skills to deal with, not ideas, but personalities.

    That very fear, rejection etc thing, doesn’t happen on the internet because little – probably biologically programmed, cues don’t occur there.

  2. I really believe that like anything else – the internet can be used for bad or good.

    I have to say that even in high school I was really being streched and havign my eyes & hearts opened by friends via the internet. Some of my deepest conversations and closest friendships were made on the internet. It is never a replacement for face to face, obviously — but I absoultely have my own little faith community online that stretch me, encoruage me, teach me to this day – you included.

    Coming from a very sheltered background – I really learned about people from all over the globe – like we used to do pen pals in elementary school – what an awesome opportunity! I had (have) friends from all over the globe that I chat with, experience their life through them and listen to their journey and it really does impact my own…I think a lot of good has come out of my access to the internet….

    at the same time — some of the worst things in my life have been because of the access to internet.

    anyway — thanks Minnow – I definitely hear ya on this one and do not think we should devalue or decount this way to interact with others! 🙂 ultimatley we are all spiritual beings experiencing flesh — so we DO need flesh to flesh contact hugs sympathy, eye to eye conversation —- but many times our spiritaul growth can occur beacuse of interactions spiritually where flesh isn’t getting in the way.

  3. Sophia–
    I guess I don’t see the problem, unless you think people shouldn’t share their lives with others. I heard an interesting stat the other day that goes to your point–only 5 percent of our communication is the actual words we use. another slice of the pie is our tone and volumn and the biggest slice is our body language. Over the internet the two biggest slices are pretty difficult to have–thus the avitar and emoticons.
    Randi–No tool is perfect–I hear you there! I guess it really boils down to the human using the tool–every time.

  4. I really have had communion with people I would never of met because of internet. I really would say that if it came down to sitting down with someone or writing them on the internet I would choose to sit down no doubt. I really try to make time to go out and be able to sit and talk. And I do think that quite a few freinds of mine do think that they don’t need to go out because they do have the internet or cell phone it really is a sad, sad thing. So I do agree with Sophia about that (although I don’t know if minnow dissagrees). But I do strongly think that you could have deep personal conversations with people who really do care about what the other is saying. I know that I care when I talk to freinds, it doesn’t matter if it is online or off.

    Um… I think I just rambled and I don’t have time to spell check. So… I hope you can get somthing out of that. God Bless

  5. Thanks Striker–I hadn’t thought of “hiding behind” the Internet. I guess that might have been what Sophia was going for too–just takes me hearing it again to have it sink in. Thanks as always for the comments!!


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