What does it take to build, this authentic community?
I’ve been really enjoying reading through Shane Hipps’ Flickering Pixels – How Technology Shapes Your Faith. It’s inspired and challenged a lot of this 31 day series. For a flavour, here’s a quote to chew on:
‘Virtual community is infinitely more virtual than it is communal. It’s a bit like cotton candy: It goes down easy and satiates our immediate hunger, but it doesn’t provide much in the way of sustainable nutrition. Not only that, but our appetite is spoiled. We no longer feel the need to participate in authentic community. Authentic community involves high degrees of intimacy, permanence, and proximity.* While relative intimacy can be gained in virtual settings, the experience of permanence and proximity have all but vanished.’
Flickering Pixels, Chapter 11: Our Nomadic Life, p 114
I’ve been feeling my own way towards Shane’s conclusion in posts such as Message to my digital self and Digital makes me feel connected. I have described how essential personal proximity is to our relationships, and how flimsy the digital connection proves to be over geographical distance, and over time. Once the weight of intimacy starts to burden that medium, it soon shows the strain and miscommunications become destructively rife.
While I was connecting with my friend via email over long distance, I certainly invested far less in local relationships. My regular email ‘contact’ satiated my immediate hunger, and I wasn’t wise to the sort of ‘community’ diet I was experiencing. But once I’d accepted that my long-distance ‘relationship’ wasn’t really an authentic relationship, and we stopped emailing as we did, I found that I soon re-engaged with local community in a new way.
It’s not that the local community felt particularly intimate at first, or even very permanent. There was no instant gratification, and it certainly felt a poor substitute to start with. But with hindsight, and over time, it has proven to be both more intimate and more permanent – true community at its best. This is not great news for digital addicts. There is no straight substitute without going through the withdrawals on the way the real thing. But as a shift from cotton candy to a healthy diet is a lifesaver, so will this transition from virtual community to the real, authentic, local thing bring our very souls back to life.
Regarding proximity, I can’t help but think of Jesus’ promises. His words are full of intimacy, constancy, permanence and proximity. His love is not about to let us go, to move on or to change it’s mind. He is building an authentic community, a household of faith, a beloved family… and it involves being near – really near:
2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. (John 14)
23 Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. (John 14)
26 “But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me. (John 15.26)
And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28)
The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. (Rom 8.11, 1 Cor 3:16, 6:19)
*Mark Lau Branson, “Forming God’s people”, Congregations Vol 29 Winter 2003: 22-27
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