Monday Musings: The Reality of the Virtual

Or how I'm trying not to lose my mind.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

NOTE: I am hosting a lunch time Ask Me Anything in my personal chatroom today (March 23) at noon. Have lunch with me! JOIN ME!

I typically think of myself as an open minded guy. I also think that I’m creative and that I can see things from a variety of perspectives. When I was younger I had many hills upon which I was willing to die. There was little in my worldview that I was willing to flex on.

“Wait, you said ‘worldview’, what is that?”

Ah, right, sorry, it’s defined as, “a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world. (as defined by Oxford)”

You see, I love to argue and fight. Particularly about ideas and conceptions of the world. It’s kind of who I am. Over the years I have learned to soften that part of myself. Daily, I’m working on becoming more of a peacemaker. It’s difficult work but it’s worth it. It definitely isn’t natural for me.

One of the big pieces in my worldview that I’m still willing to really fight for is my understanding of church and community. I have very strong opinions, though I call them ideas, about what it means for Christians to be the church. If there is a topic that gets me going on a rant it’s this one. From leadership structures to the way we gather to the way we are sent into the world to the way we do communion. You pick it, I will happily argue about it with you.

The social distancing that we are experiencing has deeply challenged my perceptions about community as church. When things began to happen I felt a bit vindicated. Why? Because the big churches with all their smoke machines, buildings, and screens were being forced to gather as we do. They were going to have to gather around tables in homes. I viewed this as a silver lining in all that was happening in the world. God was moving the church from the building back into the neighborhoods where it belongs.

But, then it became clear that even in home gatherings were going to be a no-go. It quickly became apparent that being out in public spaces, the third spaces that I have grown to cherish were no longer viable to be present in. We, I, had to begin figuring out how to embrace the digital space.

“Wait…you said ‘third space’ what is that?”

Great question, “The third space has been defined as a nightclub or sports arena or museum where the individual can experience a transformative sense of self, identity and relation to others. (Defined by Third Space Network)”

Over the last week I have discovered that I don’t enjoy the digital space for a place of gathering. I am beginning to learn that I need the embodied presence of people. Being in the embodied context of community is necessary for me. I work at coffee shops about 3 days a week. I have meetings with people on average 4 days a week. I have a weekly meet up in a bar (Doubt on Tap, it’s totally awesome. We are doing it online during the outbreak, you should come by!). Even though I don’t just sit around and talk to people at the coffee shop I get life from being in the presence of others.

I am really struggling with virtual community. It is challenging my preconceived notions about what community is. The most foundational of which is embodied presence. In my opinion, community is rooted in physical presence.

Do you want to know what’s odd about that? The New Testament, a collection of writings that I have given my life to studying, is almost completely a bunch of letters written by someone to a group of people that they cannot be physically present with. In these days, I am being forced to re-think my understanding of presence.

Presence, being with someone, is not necessarily a physical reality. I’m beginning to learn that presence is more of a spiritual or metaphysical reality.

Wait, wait, ‘metaphysical’? You lost me again.”

Sorry, “the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space. (Oxford)” Basically all those things about existence that aren’t physical.

I always thought that presence at its root was physical. I am learning that it doesn’t have to be. Presence is something more than the physical. A few days ago I would have argued until I was blue in the face that a non-physical presence was absolutely less than. But, it’s not. Presence, I’m learning is definitely more than the physical. There is something intangible about it. I don’t think that I ever truly appreciated that reality until these days, really until last night.

Last night at our missional community I shared about my struggle with this. I have been noticing that the lack of physical, embodied, presence in the community has been messing with my emotional well-being. As I was being prayed for these thoughts, that I’ve written here, rushed into my mind. I’d like to think that this was Holy Spirit doing the work that Holy Spirit does in us. I believe it was. My friend praying for me, even in the digital space, felt right. I experienced presence.

Friends, be present with one another. Open digital spaces. Call one another on the phone. Embrace the technology at our fingertips.