Real Connection

I was visiting a couple from church the other day, and we were talking a bit about some of the things I have been sharing from an online digital ministry conference I recently attended. They, like the rest of us, weren’t quite sure how all of this works, and asked me an intriguing question: Did I think that the internet is pulling us apart from each other? Good question; isn’t the internet about connection? Meetings, friends, dating, even church; but is it real? Can we be truly connected if we aren’t in each other’s presence? I met a woman for the first time the other day who I have been friends with on Facebook for a while. In fact, there are at least 100 people on my friend list I have never met in person; are we really friends, or just internet acquaintances?

On the one hand, since the first iteration of the telephone in 1834 by a guy named Antonio Meucci, people have been connecting over longer and longer distances. I have been delighted by the opportunities to catch up with friends I haven’t seen for decades. My friend Ike is from Finland and returned there after college, and we reconnected by email. Friends from elementary school and beyond converse back and forth on Facebook as we watch and admire the trajectories of our careers and our families. We have mourned together, laughed together, and grown up together. I would have never had that opportunity if it wasn’t for technology, and my life would be less rich because of that.

On the other hand, I have seen some of the kindest, most generous, eloquent people turn into hard-hearted, harsh monsters online. Every aspect of their life turns sour when they have a social media site to hide behind. We have also seen the increased building of political/social silos and division. And lots of lying. The internet has also allowed for the truth, but it is, too often, the ugly truth, unfiltered and raw. One of the ways we found out that, in fact, half of the people who said they went to worship regularly were lying was through a large study done on the internet. It turns out that Americans were often embarrassed by their lack of religiosity, so when asked if they attended worship, they would lie and say yes if the questioner was in person or on the phone. Once the questions became more anonymous (like Survey Monkey), they told the truth. Kind of like the anonymity of the confessional; it seems that it’s easier to tell the truth if the person can’t see you.

Our religious communities have had to shift gears dramatically in the last 2 and half years, and it has been hard, in part, because we like to be together. We like to talk and laugh and pray in the same space; we like to get together to have lunch and listen to speakers. Making the adjustment to this new reality has been difficult for many of us, and some have decided it isn’t enough. Even the fact that our attendance at Calvary has tripled with the addition of offsite opportunities isn’t enough to help them through these feelings of loss. I completely understand. I prefer to be with people in the same space, but I also know that not everyone can do that. Some people have difficulty traveling, others live too far away. With this new kind of faith community, we can participate when we are on vacation or later that week if we are doing something else. Real connection isn’t always about being in the same room. Real connection is far more complicated than that. I know we are living in strange times, but we human beings are good at evolving and adapting. Give it time; you might grow to like it.

Prayer – We are connected to each other and You in many ways, God of connection and community. Help us to see how good it is to be together, even when we are apart. Amen.

Today’s image is the first schematic of what the internet might be from 1983.