— Online Ministry Anniversary: Reflection on predictions

November 13, 2011 at 9:56 am | Posted in Online Ministry | Leave a comment

In a homily I gave to introduce UUCA’s online ministry on Oct. 25, 2009, I considered that my church experience probably foreshadows a trend in which digital natives return to an emphasis on tangible gatherings and interaction.

And now, a respected research organization has culled data that suggests this as well.”To balance out our increasing immersion in the digital world, people will embrace face-to-face gatherings and digital downturn…,” according to a recent Pew report.

Why? The digital world doesn’t fulfill deep longing or deeply capture the wonder of human interaction and creation. (That doesn’t mean it works against it.) What does fulfill these needs, I believe, is a practice that results in an experience of the wonder and mystery of life, otherwise understood by some as “grace.”

Here’s my current understanding of such practice: Intentionally living loving kindness, beauty, compassion (to others and oneself), courage (the pursuit social justice and happiness) and empathy (the feeling and recognition of oneness). I think most of us experience the wonder of life but are distracted from an awareness of it most of the time. Hence the call to mindfulness.

Digital experience is a tool of life; it’s new real estate for life. It is not necessary in order to experience grace. But without the contribution of religious voices, discourse on digital life is shallow and misses its significance.

The Pew report uses terms from pop psychology to explain our needs and behaviors. And it takes a strange turn in its predictions. It says that people will “fetishize” tangible goods from pre-digital times. What? HUH? To me this implies that Pew researchers believe that magical thinking is behind the immersion in digital life.

Our immersion in digital life is evolutionary – not a black and white phenomenon. Modern life today will be treated like other historical periods. We’ll probably pass through periods of nostalgia. People will collect scarce items. But will humanity imbue pre-digital age objects with supernatural powers or spirits?

I find this very hard to believe. If anything, digital life has accelerated our understanding of humanity, of the here and now. It emphasizes our profound connections.

I believe that our digital life is part of an re-awaking (aka mindfulness) to the wonder of life. Digital life is helping to uncover magical thinking and making it easier to recognize. I believe that digital life helps humanity understand magical thinking for what it is: a defense mechanism used by those who are struggling to accept and love their humanity.

With this digital awakening, humanity will bend faster to justice, compassion, empathy, and loving kindness. It will help us help those who struggle with being human.

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