Googling around the world
Some recurring themes have been occupying the space directly under my nose of late – and for the purposes of this discussion; two themes in particular.
Always the most demanding and complex of the two is the call to mission: to be bearers of the Good News "to the ends of the earth". Nowadays, "the ends of the earth" has expanded to include a brand-new frontier – cyberspace. Humanity has grown from the womb of creation to a point where 'parochial' has morphed into 'global', and it's all happening right under our noses. We haven't even begun to address the implications of this new global awareness, so there is much work to be done.
The other recurring theme for me has been how we behave towards one another in this new global frontier. I see enormous potential here for being light-bearers and bringers of Good News. I have participated in cyberspace long enough to know that real hearts and minds lie behind the words on the screen. I've met many of these people and count them among some of my most treasured friends.
I've also experienced real Christian community in cyberspace, so I know it can work. Unfortunately, it's no easier in cyberspace than it is in our daily lives. Every community, no matter where it resides, has its misunderstandings and difficult growing pains. The difference in a Christian community – even a cyber-space Christian community – is that the people there strive to be Christ-like in their dealings with one another…or at least, they should. In cyberspace, the challenge is always to find ways to be light-bearers as opposed to point-scorers. Learning to really listen is key.
Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it spectacularly wrong; and it's been that way with Christian communities since Peter was dodging chickens and Paul was chucking snakes about, so we shouldn't be in the least bit surprised. What I've learned through my own encounters with communities on both a parish community level and a cyber-community level is that respect, and a good dose of forgiveness, goes a very long way.
It seems to me that we are constantly playing a game of catch-up when it comes to this new frontier. It's a frontier that had its roots in the Industrial age and has accelerated at a breath-taking pace since the advent of mass media. But more importantly - it's where the people are - particularly young people who have never lived in a world devoid of the internet, but also an increasing number of old people whose lives are now enriched by their connection to the world…the 'University of the Third Age', so to speak.
Those of us in the middle have come to rely on this valuable tool in ways we never could have dreamed of as teenagers. Who hasn't googled some specific enquiry, only to discover that an hour has elapsed and you're knee-deep in some obscure Vatican encyclical, checking out the cute Celtic earrings, brushing up on climate change, or finding the right phone number/map/eBay listing? We literally have the world at our finger-tips!
The challenge, of course, is in sorting the wheat from the chaff.
to be continued…
(Next week I will continue the discussion on the culture of the internet and what part we have and can play, drawing from a number of sources both scriptural/spiritual and secular.)