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Purpose, meaning, integrity: new technologies allow us to transcend time and space to build hybrid communities.

In a civilization that has lost the meaning of life the most important thing a Christian can do is to live ... this life alone can break the illusions of the modern world ...--JACQUES ELLUL, THE PRESENCE OF THE KINGDOM

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the Gospel of John is the powerful role that words play in demonstrating the Good News. It is fairly easy to be critical of our technological and consumer capitalist culture in Canada, it is less easy to know what it is to live in this culture faithful to the Gospel. How do we live with full life as Christian communities in the present? In this sense, Jacques Ellul, one of the most provocative cultural critics and reformed theologians of the 20th century, is right in challenging us simply to live. On the one hand the staggering complexity of the world with its plethora of choices and compromises can incapacitate us. On the other hand the radical invitation to turn to the reign of God that Jesus extended to his disciples was not for the faint of heart but rather an invitation to become a new authentic community in the face of challenges. Jesus' invitation to follow was an invitation to life in all its fullness. These ideas of life and fullness extended beyond the mere biological, they encompassed an understanding of purpose, meaning and integrity in relation to God. In English we try to capture this wide idea with the term eternal life. As we are reminded in John 14, it also is an invitation to be on the way, or the path that is described by the story of the personality and character of Jesus. As surprising as this may seem, this ancient idea and invitation distilled in our Christian scriptures, become relevant in the new digital world we inhabit.

Some aspects of our new digital connectedness move us back to the oral and visual world inhabited by Jesus, the disciples and of course the cultures of the Old Testament. New technologies always make us lose some important part of the Gospel but they can also bring gain. As we discover the shrinking of the limitations of time, space and personal presence, the biblical picture of the resurrected and glorified Christ, present with us through the Spirit, comes to mind. We are living in a time of unprecedented rediscovery of the work of the Holy Spirit. Like the interconnectedness and presence of the Holy Spirit that is not limited by time and space, so the interconnectedness of the digital world makes it possible for us to be in that angelic state of transcending our human bodily limitations. We might lose aspects of face-to-face community, but we also gain elements of transcendence, instant communication and the ability to connect from disparate parts of the globe and even space. If we are careful and wise we might build hybrid communities that include digital connectedness and visual dexterity while fostering full and meaningful life. We need to ask what our email fists, websites and interactive media are to achieve. How can we counter isolation and lack of authenticity and foster connection, life and deep, wise meaning?

Recently, when I participated in a contemporary culture service, we sang to music produced and projected as a music video with words streaming on the screen. As I looked around, few people sang along; they stood watching the performance of the video like we would television. Such media do take our participation away and make us passive observers. However, it does not need to be that way. The power of words and images on a screen could be used while inviting everyone to participate. We can tell the stories dear to our faith and recorded in our scriptures in new and creative ways. What we need is not slavish imitation of the mass media, but creative and wise engagement for full life. Let us start by living. Let us live by creating authentic relationships. Let us challenge wisely the consumer pressure around us. Let us live by harnessing technology for the good of God's creation. Let us five by following The Way in our own imperfect stumbling mode ...

Charles Fensham is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Knox College, Toronto. This is the last of three articles on new technologies and the church.
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Title Annotation:technology
Author:Fensham, Charles
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2006
Words:724
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