Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thank God for the web

Sometimes it's humbling to be connected in the blogisphere. It makes me eat my words, and not merely words I've spoken, though I've been vociferous enough in the last decade and a half about how virtual relationships are no substitute for in-person ones, how the internet would be the great destruction of community. Given time, I could lay my hands on a paper these very fingers and this very brain wrote in seminary about this topic, for a class called Christ and Culture, if I remember correctly. And, to tell you the truth, no one on earth can convince me that face-time, skyping, cell-phoning, texting, instant-messaging, 'talking' on facebook, and comments on blogs will change my fundamental belief that we were made for side-by-side, face-to-face relationships, where one can touch and hug and simply be with each other.

However--and this is a HUGE however for me--lately I've realized how blind I've been to the wealth of relationships possible with people all over the globe because of technology. The other day I was doing a little research on an ancestor who was born in Bern (or Berne), Switzerland in the early 1700s. He married a girl who came from the village of Eptigen, a picturesque dot on the map of only 500 or so people even today.  That village is an hour north of Bern, thus begging the question of how these two people happened to meet. What takes an hour by car now would have been a very long journey then. Almost beyond the reach of one's world.  But Frederich Schwander did meet his Katerina, married her, journeyed to America, and began a family that would someday bring me and my children into the world.

My point, though, is that most of the world through most of history has been isolated from each other for long periods of time. The notion of instant communication began in my grandparents' lifetimes, and easy travel in my parents'. The computer was born during my youth and the cell-phone, the internet, and everything with it, only since my children have been alive. Do we ever stop for a single moment and think of how very profound it all is--how we live, how we keep in touch, how we can be in relationship with anyone on this planet as long as they have the technology we have? Or have we begun to take such immediacy for granted?

Today alone I texted my brother who works in Bradskt, Russia, wrote an email to a family friend in New Zealand, commented on the blogs of friends from Australia to Florida to Finland to Africa. And feel connected with each of them. In very real ways.

And I'm humbled by that. I can hardly believe how wrong I was. I care greatly for these people. Even those I wouldn't recognize if I ran into them on the street are true friends to me. As close as if we broke bread together all the time. As if I could really lift their burdens for a while so they could have a rest.

Because, you know, I can.

And that's because, after all, God isn't local. I don't know why I forget this, but He isn't confined to time and place. And my prayers leap across time-zones as quickly as they reach toward heaven. They reach through the computer, through the microwaves or beta-waves or sound barriers or whatever it is that makes these wireless computers connect us to each other.  Of course, it's Him working as much as anything, when I'm asking Him to intervene in lives I really know very little about. He touches with familiarity what I can only pray, and He doesn't care what means I have for knowing what/how to pray. And that's the most amazing thing about this beautiful connection we have via the net.

I am so glad to be living now, to be in contact with such a diverse and spread-out community, and to be His instrument of prayer. "In my own little corner, in my own little room," as Cinderella sings (in Rogers and Hammerstein's version) He hears me, and does whatever He's asked to do. This is a privilege not afforded to my ancestors, cloistered as they were in smaller worlds.
So, tonight, as I pray for these people--for RWC, for P and D and K and K and M and all the others--I also thank Him for for the glory of virtual relationships.

Hmm, wonder if I should go back and revise that paper. And if I did, would I still get the A?


E said...

This is a topic that has come up in school for me as well. We (and by we, I mean society) like to characterize things as good or bad. But isn't it how we use these things that matter? There is nothing inherently good or bad about the internet. The user and application decide its function.

Pamela M. Steiner said...

I've been thinking about these things as well. I'm glad I read your thoughts on this before I wrote have helped me see the "bigger picture" more clearly!

Kristina said...

I have been blessed by people on the internet (including you). I think you're right though--we are made for face-to-face.