This day is my day off. And this very moment I am meant to be finishing up a paper for class #9 out of 10 (not including my "Major Project") in my Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
The paper is about Technology and the Church. More specifically, it deals with the online world as both savior and seducer.
In my year-and-a-half hiatus from blogging, which had turned into slogging and then into fogging, I never looked to see if anyone was still coming here to contemplate with me. Frankly, I didn't care. And that's not altogether a bad thing, as I mention in my paper.
After chatting a little about how some friends of mine in the same church, but at either end of the political spectrum, let rip on Facebook for and against Governor Scott Walker, I write this:
On a personal level, I well understand the ease with which one can act differently online. I have a blog, The Contemplative Kiwi, from which I am currently taking an extended sabbatical. I found it so tempting to present a certain side of myself—a side that I wanted people to like and enjoy and think highly of.
Selectivity and “putting forward your best self” is, to some extent, part of everyday life. After all, we brush our teeth in the morning, try to dress in colors that match and do our best to avoid breaking wind in public. But the internet, it seems at times, invites the creation of “another self” to market to the world and to even hide behind.
For Christians, this should come as no great surprise; we’ve been hiding behind things since the Garden. In Genesis 2, Adam and Eve first hid behind fig leaves. Finding they were still exposed to the gaze of a holy God, Adam ducked behind Eve and deflected blame and attention to her rather than confront the reality of his true self in all of its ugly brokenness. Eve followed his lead and hid figuratively behind the serpent.
We’re still in the Garden, only it’s an electronic one now. Psychiatrist Elias Aboujaoude says it all in his superb book, Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality: “…while the internet is a force for good in many arenas, it also has the power to interfere with our home lives, our romantic relationships, our careers, our parenting abilities—and our very concept of who we are” (Aboujauode 2011, 10).
“The way we see and evaluate ourselves is changing as a function of new personality traits born and nurtured in the virtual world. These include an exaggerated sense of our abilities, a superior attitude toward others, a new moral code that we adopt online, a proneness to impulsive behavior…” (Aboujauode 2011, 10-11).
The impact of the online world on Christians is sadly illustrated by a story Aboujauode tells about Linda Brinkley, a twice-divorced fifty-five year old mother of four from Arkansas who was interested in religious studies and had aspirations to become a missionary. Her avatar in the online game Second Life, however, was a “prostitute and half-naked hostess” at a virtual nightclub owned by avatar Dave Barmy who appeared young and svelte online, but was in real life the projection of Dave Pollard, a 350 pound unemployed man from Cornwall, England. Pollard’s real world wife, who also played Second Life as someone far removed from reality, found her husband repeatedly cheating on her sexually in the game. After three years of this, she filed for divorce in the real world. Not to be deterred, her now ex-husband found marital bliss on Second Life with his topless waitress. That being such a success, they decided to also get married in their “first life” (Aboujauode 2011, 164-165).
Most likely, Linda Brinkley from Arkansas will now be putting her missionary career on hold.Given that cautionary tale, it's highly ironic that I find myself back in the blogosphere—to opine or whine or maybe dine on this veritable feast God has given us called life.
[Actually, I'm going on a few trips in the next months and just want to document them here because I have a tendency to lose my little hand-written journals. After all: "what happens online stays there forever."]