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Knowledge & News
Thought provoking topics and series, necessary news and information.
In previous posts, we have looked at the boundaries of community and the invitation to join in community practices. This post, we are bringing it back to the user as we consider the idea of “remote presence.” If you look at the words individually, “remote” and “presence” do not seem compatible because one that is “remote” is typically not present in a particular location, conversation, relationship, etc. Yet, this is exactly what is practiced each week when users log in to participate in Collective’s service. People from remote locations join together in what has become a digital / physical hybrid space, blurring the lines of presence as we participate during the service. Like we saw in previous posts, we have to redefine the meaning of presence as communication methods are changing and humans connect with each other via technology.
The goal here is to explore the philosophical aspects of presence as an online church community and propose some ways we, the online community, can practice remote presence effectively.
To begin, let’s think about presence and relation. When we are present, we are engaging in relationship. We are relational beings and tend to classify our relationships to the world in terms of “I” [assuming a Western cultural bias, of course]. This isn't an egotistical condemnation, rather it is the starting point for the individual to reference how the Self interacts with our world. To paraphrase Martin Buber, the trouble with modern Western society is the constant objectification of relation as an “I-It” relationship. When we think of “experience”, we are objectifying some moment, some relationship in our past to be utilized for the future. The “I” sees an analytical object that can be used for future benefit and moves forward to another objective goal. In short, relational distance is the requirement to evaluate something as “experience.” If you think through your past, you will recognize we are trained to think this way and use “experience” as a tool to reach adulthood, establish a career, find a partner, etc.
I am, in fact, asking you to exercise the “I-It” relationship right now as tool of remembering.
Genuine relationship, or community, Buber continues to argue, is the “I-You” relationship. The term he uses: “encounter.” The I-You relationship is characterized as a transformative relation. The “You” is encountered entirely, not as an objective sum of its qualities. The “You” is not encountered as a physical point in space and time, but, rather, “You” is encountered as if the as if the entire universe somehow existed through the “You”.
Sounds rather lofty, doesn't it?
But, I guarantee you have practiced encounter more often than you think. Try to remember a moment when you simply absorbed that instant. One of my best memories is the first time I stood up on a surfboard and rode a wave. The exhilaration, the power, the joy, the danger, the bigness of the universe converged in a single moment and changed me. In terms of human relationships, the best example of encounter is love. We are changed when we love someone, and, especially when the love is mutual, the encounter is extraordinary.
According to Buber, love is an ideal encounter that we need to seek out to overcome angst, or alienation from the world. It is a relationship that must be cultivated and those involved must be aware of a constant oscillation between encounter and experience in the relationship. But, love does not wholly fulfill our yearning for relation. Buber argues that every encounter will have a desire for “more” that cannot be met until the “I” encounters God. Through an encounter with God, the “I” reaches divine revelation that manifests as “loving responsibility” to the Other, gives the ability to say “You” to the world, and removes the sense of alienation from the world that creates angst. God is the foundation of an “absolute relation” and when members of a group have undergone absolute relation, then a genuine community is established.
In short, encountering God, or the Divine, allows us to step beyond the limits of our relationality and encounter the world with a little piece of the Divine that has changed us.
The power of Buber’s “I-You” paradigm is the awareness of our relation, experience, and encounter. It is too easy to live in the “I-It” paradigm, especially with technology here to give us an analytical perspective on the world. We must pull ourselves closer to an experience to encounter a moment, to be transformed by a history, a story, or a place. In a digital space, our online church community has to find a balance to inch closer to the moment even though we are sitting in a different location.
How do we come closer when we are hundreds or thousands of miles apart?
The original intention of church buildings or holy places is to signify the sacred in the mundane. Human civilizations have practiced this setting aside of places to point to a certain unusual-ness that holds significant meaning to a community’s identity. If you are a student of anthropology, you might notice how similar sacred places look in communities separated by thousands of miles and years. Entering these sacred places even a thousand years later can inspire sensations of holiness and respect for something larger than ourselves.
Unfortunately, the digital space lacks the aesthetic and sensation of sacredness. The recognition of what is sacred becomes an almost entirely intellectual exercise. We can be sitting in a coffee shop, our living rooms, or anywhere else where we can get a wifi connection, and participate each week as the online community. The mundane and the sacred bleed together to the possibility of an indistinguishable difference when we are remote. What changes in the moment before we log into Collective Online before the actual login moment?
Essentially, nothing changes.
Keeping Buber’s arguments in mind, however, everything changes when we enter the community space. We should be shifting from the “I-It” paradigm to the “I-You” paradigm when engaging community and accepting the invitation to share the remote space of Collective’s meeting time. We encounter the Divine and sacred space by being remotely present with each other. Our challenge is to prepare ourselves for encounter and invest in the community by actively being present in the moment.
Let us continually practice presence in each moment, whether the encounter is digital or face-to-face.
"It is love alone that gives worth to all things"
Teresa of Ávila
We are a misfit faith community that gathers in DeLand on Sundays at 5pm. Come as you are.
We value highly the metaphor of journey. We’re different people from different places and backgrounds, representing an intergenerational community, and we’ve traveled different paths. So, we agree not to make assumptions about the person across from us, next to us, or in conversation with us. We challenge ourselves to be sensitive, knowing this community includes a diverse group of people from life-long followers of Jesus, to people who are just now open to the idea that God might exist. We strive to avoid offense, ask good questions, articulate and explain our responses. We don’t assume fluency in bible, spirituality, or Church language, because we believe the message of Jesus is not for Christianity, but for humanity. So, we do everything in the spirit of love and grace.