I am not a Luddite. I have bought into some of the new communication devices. But I am not as nearly hi-tech as the younger generation. I don’t have a smart phone, I don’t text, I don’t even have an I-pad ( I do have an I-pod), and I don’t do real well with windows 8. But I do wonder if we are losing the ministry of presence. Being created in the image of God, means we are wired for presence, that is, face to face, heart and soul communication. David Benner observes, “Humans deeply desire presence…..we are vulnerable to absence.” So the question is – do our relationships enhance presence or further absence?
Dr Sherry Turkle is author of “Alone Together.” As a professor of social studies and science and technology at MIT, she has studied the dynamic between technology and culture since the first computers hit the market. She is respected as a forecaster of advances in communication, as well as how our relationships with machines alter our relationships with one another. “People want to be with each other and present with each other”, explains Dr Turkle, “but they also want to use technology to be elsewhere….We’re having fewer conversations, and more connection. But connection and conversation are not the same thing.” She predicts that we are becoming people who will choose artificial, digital or electronic relationships over real ones, because our relational skill will be so poor, that all we’ll want out of relationships will be empathy”.
Is it possible that we can use these new means of communication to hide who we really are? In the practice of texting, for example, are we becoming more superficial as we try to edit and control the image we present. Turkle worries that we are setting ourselves up for loneliness and relational shallowness. Are we losing our ability to have real face to face conversations? Do we desire superficiality, so that we can have control over the impressions others form of us, while protecting the edited image we construct of ourselves online. I do a lot of spiritual direction, but I find it very difficult to do it over the phone. There is just something about presence, that helps in my communication as well as being able to discern what is going on in the soul of another person.
I could be wrong, but I wonder if men are more vulnerable in the use of modern communications as a means of avoiding face to face interaction, while projecting the image of “having it all together.” We all have our “sphere of influence.” I don’t know about you, but there have been times that I would rather flee from some relationships. It has brought me to the place of humility and even brokenness, realizing how badly I have navigated some very rough relationships. The Letters of Paul are filled with exhortations to “hang in there” with others. Those early churches were filled with wounded, hurting people , just like you and I. He said, for example, ” Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love.” (Col 3:13-14 – The Message).
Men, make good use of those devices of instant communication, but be on guard regarding to tendency to go and hide. I especially want to issue a warning for any man reading this blog, who might be tempted to avoid heart to heart conversation with his wife and children. You can become a slave to your gadgets, allowing them to rob you of precious time with your loved ones. Be honest with yourself. Are you avoiding or running from relationships. In your home you set the tone. I know when I was raising three children, while being a very busy urban pastor, I had to reach out for grace and strength from Jesus, to be at home and keep my “heart open” to my family. That took “the ministry of presence.”
Here are some words from Jesus to keep you and I humble and motivated to keep crying out from mercy and grace. “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other.” (John 13:34-35 – The Message)