“Remember, we can’t separate the danger from the opportunity; we can only hope to trend toward the opportunity while trying not to ignore the nature of the danger.”
This morning as I ate breakfast I put aside my computer and phone and picked up an honest to God, paper and ink book. I had only a few pages left in the Rev. Adam Thomas’ Digital Disciple: Real Christianity in a Virtual World. It’s a fairly quick read and seemed particularly appropriate as I returned from a week of in-person meetings with my colleagues in New York and prepared to step back into the virtual world of my remote office in Seattle.
In the book Thomas explores the implications of our virtual lives, the familiar potential for both isolation and connection. From online dating, to World of Warcraft, to texting in public, he provides an in-depth look into the ethical and theological implications of the technology-saturated life of a twenty-something.
The text has a geeky wit and is accessible to Silent and Millenial alike as Thomas provides numerous footnotes explaining everything from Twitter to the Decemberists to the theological concept of Incarnation.
While I’m not sure that the book successfully sells the virtues of the virtual to the skeptic, it definitely provides a much-needed moment of reflection for those of us immersed in the world it describes.
Thomas doesn’t argue that technology inherently disconnects us from God or ourselves, but instead he proposes that it has created a new dimension to add to Paul’s Trinitarian Body, Mind, and Soul. We are no longer only physical, mental and spiritual beings, we are virtual beings, and in this new dimension we have the potential to serve God and live a life in the Spirit just as we do in the others.
Exploring the ways our online lives provide easy opportunities for knowledge and connection, Thomas wonders how we might linger long enough with God in these spaces for that knowledge to deepen to wisdom, that connection to communion. When it is so easy to outsource our memory to Facebook photo albums and our knowledge of other people to the avatars of email and chat histories, how do we internalize and incarnate the experiences and relationships the virtual makes possible? How do we balance the breadth of our connectedness with the depth of our communion?
Thomas offers some possibilities for personal practices, but leaves the question very much open. The reality is that we as the church are still exploring how we can be together in meaningful Christian community when separated by miles and machines. Young adults (and all ages) across the church are pushing the limits of what is possible virtually and discovering new ways to be church to one another with little concern for geography or proximity.
I’d invite you to take up this book and read it alongside the young adults in your community, or read it for a peek inside a young adult world you’re struggling to understand. These are conversations we are in desperate need of having and I thank the Rev. Adam Thomas for so thoughtfully and artfully providing us a point of departure.
Support Episcopal bookstores! I purchased my copy of Digital Disciple from the Cathedral Shop at St. Mark’s, Seattle. If there’s not one close to you, order from an online Episcopal Bookstore like this one.