Today I spoke at the Unitarian Universalist Church in town. There was a small group there… about 20 people. I gave a slide show presentation on “Questions are the Answer: Questions as Tools for Personal Growth”. It’s the topic of my book that I’m working on for a publisher. It was well received, and I had a great time connecting with real flesh and blood people.
I must be honest though. It just doesn’t measure up to the quality of community I experience at The Lasting Supper. Isn’t that terrible?
No it’s not!
Let me explain why.
1. Some insist that the internet only provides superficial relationships.
I’ve heard it over and over again. You have too! We hear it all the time that the relationships we have online aren’t really real, but superficial and possibly even fake. We’re told that we aren’t our true selves online, and that the people we apparently relate with aren’t themselves either. This, we are taught, makes for a very artificial relationship supported by artificial intelligence… or technology. We’re presented with such horrifying movies such as Catfish (which you should see if you haven’t), where a romantic relationship that develops online is totally fabricated. We hear sorry stories of people leaving their spouses for someone they met in an online game room and ruin their families and even their own lives. We hear about all kinds of phony interactions, fraud, deception, and broken dreams. I’m frequently reminded by “helpful” people that the people I think I know and even come to love online aren’t really who they say they are. Just the other day I read someone’s rant against online communities that simply cannot replace church, and that they are a counterfeit to the real flesh-and-blood church that we should be attending locally. We are chastised for pretending that our online spiritual interactions are a poor and cheap trade for real live human beings, that we are cowardly copping out of true face-to-face interactions with the human race, avoiding people because we can’t handle it or don’t want to. Some theologians even suggest that we’re the new gnostics who like the idea of a person more than the person him or herself. In a word, we are told that we’ve settled for second best and are losing out of the richness of real relationship with real people.
2. My experience is that the internet is a convenient means that provides real relationships.
Yes, today’s experience at a real live church was nice. I shook hands. Met some new and interesting people. Smelled body odor. Ate real food and drank real bad coffee. We sang together. We laughed together. Yes, it was nice. But, it wasn’t as deep or meaningful as my relationship with you guys at The Lasting Supper. I disagree that online relationships must be superficial. They can be, but they don’t have to be! In fact, I can strongly testify that I have made some very significant friendships through this community. This community real IS my tribe. It’s not a superficial one, a phony one, or a fantasy one. It really is real. Even though we may not see eye to eye (in more ways than one!), we still enjoy the benefits as if we were. I’m being encouraged, challenged, supported, cared for, caring for others, listening, sharing, arguing, mediating, doing some conflict resolution, giving space, laughing, crying… you name it… all the things we would be doing if we were in the same room together. I would also argue that our community makes reasonable relational demands on me, pulling me in to a conversation when I’d sometimes rather not, involving me in issues that are conflictual, placing me in relationships that are sometimes challenging, and evoking a wonderful variety of emotions that are only aroused by other people. Call me crazy, but I really do believe I have developed life-long friendships with many of you. I would even dare, if asked “Do you love them?”, say “Yes!”.
That being said, I think it would be like the cherry on top if we could meet some day. Whenever any TLSers get together, I always hope they take a photograph so we can all see it. I do have a dream of one day as many of us as can meeting up somewhere for a weekend. That would be one of the most delicious experiences of all time. For me. I think for you too, because I’m fun to be around. 😉
So… here’s to our online community! It rocks. It is a tribe of relationships. Let’s ignore the naysayers who say it ain’t so!