Walking online

Is God online? Some find it so.

By Kelley Kimble

The baby boomer generation has seen more changes in the way we communicate with one another than perhaps, all the times that preceded us. When I was about 10, my grandmother insisted that I learn to write proper letters and I eagerly checked the mail box each day to see if she had written me back.  Fast forward 15 years and I remember the first fax machine in our downtown Dallas law firm in 1985.

My first car phone was installed in 1988.  We got the ability to “log in” to the firm’s computer system (housed in a 12’ x 12’ environmentally controlled room) in 1989, and I could actually work from home after my baby had gone to bed.  I got a bag phone in 1992 and my first handheld cell in 1998. I’m not sure when I began to email on a regular basis but I believe it was about 1996.

And now, in 2011, we have email, text, chat, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs and many more online communication tools. Is all this technology a distraction, or can it assist a spiritual walk?   I’ve asked several people around the diocese to share how technology has enhanced their journey.  What follows is just a few of the examples.

I have found myself obstinately looking for ways that these media can actually help me become more attentive to the presence of God. I have the Book of Common Prayer and the Daily Office lectionary on my iPad, and those are very helpful, but the practice that has changed me the most has been the time that I spend each day with the “Photos” section of the New York Times app. Each day, the Times posts about a dozen photos from around the world. Today I saw: a man kneeling in prayer on the last day of Ramadan in Martyrs’ Square in Lebanon; then a fierce-looking guard in the same Square, automatic weapon at the ready; then I saw a row of eight-year-old Korean girls in white tutus, getting ready for a ballet recital, giggling and gossiping; then a row of veterans and a bugle-player at the funeral of a fellow veteran in Houston; then two men in green uniforms in Salvador, Brazil, picking up the body of a third man, murdered in drug-related violence. The neighbors, in brightly colored shorts and tee-shirts, watch over the patio walls of their houses. Paying attention each day to these moments of drama, of joy, sorrow, pain, victory, laughter, reverence, from everywhere on the globe, is like getting a God’s-eye view of the world. I offer a prayer for each of them, and somehow my own life gets set in its proper context. And I am reminded that the point of contemplation is not simply the discipline of breaking away, but a compassionate return to the world, renewed by an awareness of God’s love of everyone, the world over. –Jane Patterson

For most of us, email was the first technology available to stay in virtual contact with our family, friends and colleagues.  It offered the instant communication of a telephone but the convenience of reading and responding of “snail” mail.

Within the ministry of the Dominican Order, technology is an essential tool.  Because we are spread from North Dakota to San Antonio to Bolivia to England and Australia, our primary method of communication is through email.  We use it for teaching, for staying in touch, and for our common prayers.  We use email and blogs for the formation of postulants and novices who are spread across the world.  Frankly, it’s difficult to imagine how we’d carry out the work of the Order without our technology (although we did it for centuries).  Technology allows us to share our studies, our joys and struggles, and our hopes and prayers. – James Dennis, O. P.

The online version of Webster’s defines a blog as, “a Web site containing the writer’s or group of writers’ own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other Web sites.” Pick any topic of spiritual interest and search.  You will find an abundance of blogs for any interest.  In fact, check out our own blog at http://www.reflections-dwtx.org.

Why do the internet and the people of the world need another priest’s blog? They don’t and my blog’s stats prove they don’t. The priest, however, at least for now, needs it. Writing is a discipline and a practice; a process that brings out something from within. Sometimes the blog posts bring out my questions, wonderings, discoveries, ideas, and prayers. That’s pretty good stuff for spirituality. Other times, however, the posts bring out my fears, wounds, insecurities, pride, and attachments. That’s even better stuff for spirituality. Either way, the words I write are an offering of my life to God. May they be acceptable (Psalm 19:14). – Mike Marsh

If you don’t use Twitter, you may not understand the next entry.  Twitter bills itself as “instant updates from your friends, industry experts, favorite celebrities, and what’s happening around the world.” It is different than Facebook as you can “follow” someone and read their tweets but the relationship does not have to be mutual.  In other words, I follow CNN News but they do not follow me.

with #s i follow news frm around the religious wrld. by @s i keep up w/my interests. i use lists for my devotionals and daily office. – Cash Keith

Cash has given you his twitter philosophy in true twitter language, fewer than 140 characters.  He uses twitter by searching on certain key terms (#hashtags in Twitter world), that allow him to follow current news without following all the sources.  The @ symbol is the way to follow individuals or organizations. You can also create lists of people for the subjects that interest you.

Use of technology in communication is not limited to online communication.  The way we communicate during worship has changed for some as well.

To use the words “technology” and “worship” in the same sentence is to begin to make many staunch Episcopalians nervous. Tell them you mean screens and projectors in the context of the normal Sunday Eucharist, and you can probably make a few of them twitch uncontrollably. Few, however, would argue that hospitality is not central to both the health of the church and our call as followers of Jesus.  At St. Alban’s, Harlingen, projecting selected portions of  the liturgy has opened the doors of the Episcopal Church to many non-Episcopalians and helped them be active participants in worship. Showing congregational responses and hymnody on the screens allows guests to feel a part of worship, not just observers of it.  And while no one would argue that projectors and screens are a cure-all for all the challenges that face the church, it does go a long way in providing a welcoming invitation to our Lord’s table; an invitation that is symbolic of the one who went to great lengths to eat with those who could use his hospitality most.  –Chris Caddell

Facebook has been an incredible part of my own spiritual journey in the last few years. Yes, I’ve reconnected with old friends and thoroughly enjoyed that aspect, but it has also brought a presence to the relationships within my community of faith  that I didn’t have before.   It allows me to stay in virtual contact with friends that I have met on mission trips, some of whom are thousands of miles and many time zones away.  There are others that are dear to me, but I may see them only a few times a year at a committee meeting, at council or at a retreat.  By reading my Facebook newsfeed, I am informed about their lives in a way that I wasn’t before. Facebook is also a tool to disseminate news about your blog posts.  I edit and administer a blog at FivePrinciples.net.  By posting links to the blog on my Facebook wall, I share those thoughts with friends who might not otherwise ever find it.  Virtual contact will not ever replace the intimacy of face-to-face time but, when that’s not available, it’s been a wonderful addition to phone and email.  I especially appreciate the ability to share pictures which often communicate so much more than words.

Technology is a wonderful tool that can, with some discipline and focus, be used for all things spiritual.  It is exactly that, a tool. It is not a replacement for your community of faith. You certainly don’t need to do all these things. But try some of them and then keep only the ones that allow you to deepen your journey. You might be surprised.   But I’ll let you in on a little secret.  I also still write letters to my grandmother.

Kelley Kimble is an associate district judge in Uvalde County TX. Reach her at Kelley@uvaldecounty.com. Of course, Kelley is on Facebook and @kkimble on Twitter.

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From The Episcopal Diocese of West Texas

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