Bread and Wine...virtually?
Having recently joined 'spacebook' or 'myface' (I can't remember which one), I've been intrigued by the level of virtual relationships traveling through the bandwidths of e-space, as we poke each other, write on each other's walls, and declare lots of things about ourselves, from 'status' to tastes in film and wine, to where we're going this weekend. Throw in text-messaging, and I begin to realize that I need never leave home - relationships can be virtually sustained in the warmth and safety of my attic.
I'll not moralize on the the merits of virtual relationships because there are surely good things to be gained by our staying in touch, just as these tools have already demonstrated their potential for abuse. However, I do ponder the effects this virtual world is having on our relationships in the real world. The easy access to people who are remote from us can surely lead to a dampening of our enthusiasm for being present with the real people who are right there in the room. I've watched students at a school where I teach leave the classroom during a break between lectures and pour outside, cell phones in hand, to either IM or call people who, however special they may be, aren't there, in that room, in the flesh.
Has the time invested in staying connected electronically infringed on our capacity to invest in real people who are in physical proximity to us, people like our neighbors and co-workers? If so, I'd suggest that we need to re-calibrate our time investment so that we're able to be present 'in the flesh' with these important people because, as Henri Nouwen once said, our primary calling is to be 'bread and wine' to the people in our lives, our friends, neighbors, family, even our enemies. This means actually talking to our neighbors face to face, taking them cookies once in a while, knowing their vacation plans and stopping to chat long enough at six AM when one is out running to discover that one of them is going to run the Boston Marathon next year. These tiny conversations, these movements in the real world, are important in and of themselves, and important because they provide the relational basis to bless and serve in times of need.
Yes, Nouwen was right. Bread and Wine we must be. But these things, powerful as they are as elements of redemption, lose their potency when reduced to pixels on a screen.
What do you think the effects of the virtual world have been on real relationships?