Chapter 11 is covered by Adam Shields as part of our Group Blogging Project discussing the book Flickering Pixels by Shane Hipps. If you need a quick overview to what Flickering Pixels is about, please go here.
In my previous post for chapter 2 , I said that I had a bad taste in my mouth because of previous videos that I had seen with Shane Hipps; turns out that the previous videos were all based on this chapter. Luckily, this chapter has more detail than the videos. I decided that I couldn’t really respond to this chapter adequately in one post so I am dividing my response into two posts. This post is about the danger of virtual communities to Christians. A second one about outreach to non-Christians is on my personal blog.
The summary of the chapter is that Hipps believes that “virtual communities” are far more virtual than communities. They present a real danger both to the individual and the community because they inoculate people against the very concept of biblical community. He discusses it using the illustration of cotton candy, all fluff with virtually no real content, and what content there is, is basically just sugar. In some ways I really agree with this. Virtual community is of necessity a shadow of biblical community. This has to be true, because virtual community includes only some of the senses, it often does not have the deep context of biblical community and it allow people to hide in ways that biblical community does not.
My response is that most community that happens in real life is also not biblical community. It is completely possible for people to hide their real selves in real life community as well as virtual community. (We all know of pastors that were having affairs, while putting on a good show to the community.) So while we as Christians should strive toward biblical community, we should be doing that in both Real Life and Virtual communities.
In the world we live in, many people have lost access to real life community for both good and bad reasons. I am a stay at home nanny. I also work out of my house part-time as a consultant for non-profit organizations. Almost all of my contact with adults during the day occurs either through phone or internet. I have made a choice that my ability to stay home with my two nieces is more important than being present in person at a job. Technology has allowed that to happen. I know that there are times when a real life conversation would be better than a phone or internet one, but because of distance, time, or other reasons I have to chose the lesser of the options (because I have made a prior choice that I find more important.)
There are also bad reasons that people prefer virtual community, they want to hide, they are painfully shy and don’t want to put forth the effort to push their boundaries. The reality is that most choices are a combination of both good and bad reasons. So what should we do? My vote is that we should continue in virtual communities, but make every effort to turn those virtual friends into real life friends whenever possible. My wife keeps my accountable on this point because she refers to my twitter and blog friends as “fake friends” until I have met them at least once in person. One meeting is not enough to build real community, but it is a start.
This past January my father-in-law passed away. My wife found much solace in her virtual community. Many of her real life friends were able to reach out virtually in ways they could not in real life. For some of them, there was physical distance. For others their own loss of a parent made it difficult to actually talk to my wife in person, but they were able offer up prayers, short notes and comfort virtually in ways that they literally could not in person. There was also a third set of people, ones that were primarily virtual friends that made the effort to be present in person. We had a friend drive four hours from Nashville just to be with us. Other friends that hadn’t been seen in years and were for all practical purposes were only virtual friends even if they were physically close, made the effort to come and see her in person.
The reality of life is that it is complicated. Technology is not going away. We will continue to have ever present cell phones, twitter, facebook and real life communities. What we need to be striving for is a biblical community, whether it be in real life or virtual (or for most relationships a combination)
[Image from Therefore]