Why Bridge From Virtual to Actual Community?

December 4, 2020

This blog is part of a series of reflections on Jay Y. Kim’s necessary book, Analog Church: Why We Need Real People, Places, and Things in the Digital Age.”

Here at Interfaithfulness we talk about building bridges, with our mission statement, “Building Bridges Where History Builds Walls.” We build bridges to a  better tomorrow.

But how can we help God's people bridge to a better communal tomorrow?

Let's begin by looking at today. With our world overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us have had to settle for virtual meetings.  We’re glad we have the technology. It is like manna in our wilderness. But manna got old real fast. And when you had too much of it, it got wormy. Sounds like virtual reality doesn’t it? It’s getting wormy on us.

In his first chapter of Analog Church, “Slow and Steady: Why Go Analog?” Jay Kim reminds us of three benefits of our digital, virtual world:

1. Speed. We have access to what we want when we want, as quickly as our fingers can type and scroll.

2. Choices. We have access to an endless array of options when it comes to just about anything.

3. Individualism. Everything, from online profiles to gadgets, is endlessly customizable, allowing us to emphasize our preferences and personalities. (Kim, Jay Y. Analog Church (p. 15). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition).

But he reminds us of how these very blessings are reshaping and damaging our spiritual growth and communal sense, robbing us of the necessary benefits of face to face association.

  1. The speed of the digital age has made us impatient. We want what we want and we want it now. We have been conditioned by our digitized virtual realities to expect so that in our meetings and  services deliver instant and repeated satisfaction. We want to become mature disciples in eight weeks. After all, didn’t we pay good money for that seminar?  Sorry folks, it just doesn’t work that way. Yeshua said he is the vine, and we are the branches. By God's design even if not by ours it will take time for us to mature. Discipleship is apprenticeship, and that is meant to be a long haul. Marinated in our digital culture of immediate gratification, most of us lack patience for such things. Impatience propels us out the door.
  2. The choices of the digital age have made us shallow. People have a shopper’s mentality about where they get their spiritual nurture. Many prefer the largest congregation they can find, because these have more bells and whistles and are less likely to inconvenience us by expecting us to do anything. And if the satisfactions fade, we move on to another spiritual community. It is like a person who has dated widely but cannot commit. His relationships, and he himself are likely to be shallow. And it only gets worse as time passes.
  3. The individualism of the digital age has made us isolated. Virtual reality multiplies the numbers of people with whom we are in touch. But with whom are we intimately connected? Where is the depth of relationship? Dr. Sherry Turkle of MIT nails it for us:

“Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are very vulnerable indeed. We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk.” (Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other)

Kim alerts is to how technology has always impacted how the people of God gather and grow . . . or not. The past fifty years serve as a warning to us of how our technology may determine the shape of our spirituality, to our detriment:

Television sets began to dominate American homes and gave rise to the broadcast age. Right around this time, church buildings and sanctuary began to resemble television studios – big stage, bright lights, multiple screens, and seating arranged for audiences rather than a community of congregants. (Kim, Jay Y., Analog Church (p. 16). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition).

Actually, here at Interfaithfulness, and CHAI, The CHavurah Action Initiative, we insist the goal is beyond being congregants. We need modalities that support us being family to one another. That is why we speak of "Households of faith among Jews and Christians."

Do you agree that we need structures to support our being family together?

Look for more blogs in this series, stimulated by Jay Y. Kim’s challenging book.

And to receive our free e-letter, SIGNALS, go HERE.

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One comment on “Why Bridge From Virtual to Actual Community?”

  1. While I agree with the assertions here, the question remains not so much "why" it would be better to transition from virtual to physical community interaction, but "how" to accomplish it, and at what cost. As is beginning to become clear, the costs will include adamant political resistance and active physical resistance against overbearing governmental authorities and cultural tyrants. It will require active defiance, and likely much perseverance in the face of persecution and imprisonment. It will require public assertion of a number of legal truths drawn from the US Constitution, as well as moral truths drawn from the Jewish scriptures that include the Tenach and the apostolic writings. All this will be pitched against apparently well-meaning people who believe they are doing what is right and healthy when they persecute us. We are already facing a kulturkampf of strong delusion and superstition about the pandemic and about numerous other matters. Christians and Jews in the USA will find themselves facing challenges not unlike those of the underground church in PRC China. Even Jews in Israel are faced with fear-filled pandemic delusions that deny natural liberties and rationality -- and in Israel we lack a codified constitutional document that guarantees rights as does the US Constitution. Physical community is a source of strength under such harsh conditions that cannot be provided remotely via the internet, though virtual interaction may add to its strength if used well.

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