I spent a chunk of my afternoon today working trying to get a better understanding of what the next week of teaching will look like for me. I checked out the platform that I’ll most likely be using to record particular lectures. I tried to get a bit ahead on setting up my digital classrooms. And I did my best to massage what the original plan was with what Our Current Moment will now require of me.
The move to online life has been inevitable, warmly welcomed by most. And rightly so. Even I have to admit that it was nice catching up with friends and co-workers yesterday. And it was personable because we were mostly, oddly, in one another’s homes. Now the internet has subsumed family, school, and work life in much the same way that it gathered up music and sports and so many other aspects of our lives.
So those who call into question this new, supposedly temporary, way of living are right to, because the rest of us have jumped in head-first. We won’t like it, of course. Even as I type this churches all around the world have posted a second set of online Sunday services (with some of the larger variety probably going full-on live in the morning). People of faith are at an interesting place right now as we have found our places of gathering closed while so many other busy, sometimes crowded places are busy and open.
One online piece that I’ve been meaning to post about but haven’t over these last few days is this piece by Ephraim Radner about live-streaming worship services. Radner, a priest in the Episcopal church, has written a couple of books over the last few years that have been encouraging challenges for me (most notably A Time to Keep, which I blogged about a couple of years ago). So his approach to critiquing the on-lining of church services is interesting, slightly shocking, but also wise in how it points to some genuine and deep concerns. Even he admits (in the comments) that the essay’s content is “deliberately meant to be provocative, and hence should be taken with a grain of salt.” He goes on to say:
My hope is only that we be clear about why we are doing it, be clear about what we are actually accomplishing, and be clear about what we are NOT accomplishing in all this. Cyber-witness and cyber-evangelism has had its real successes; it has connected with people (and not just young ones) who otherwise might not know about the life of Christ and the Gospel or the Scriptures. I think, however, that it has failed to build people up in the Body of Christ in a lasting way — “maturity” — (numbers seem to bear this out), something that requires other practices and kinds of witness, ones that are deeper and more rooted in the long shape of the Christian tradition, that has been through these kinds of difficult moments many, many, many, many times in the past. (It is good to see that some people are finally trying to educate themselves about some of these past gifts.) The Time of the Virus is exposing all kinds of things. One of them is our churches’, and more pertinently, our own superficial hearts, long untethered from these practices and insights. How we get them back and deploy them today is a real responsibility. My main point is that we take this responsibility seriously, and not skate through this time on the basis of the thinly examined tools that are closest at hand. I believe that God really is speaking to us, somehow and in ways that ought properly to render us fearful in the fullest sense, in this moment. It will take a long time to hear and discern exactly what He is saying and grasp why He would say it in this way. But we need to start now and find ways to learn; and not to move on too quickly as if we know how to respond and deal with this all. Faith sometimes finds itself revealed as real in the mid-day darkness. It is okay to linger there with awe and open hands; maybe even necessary. I think that too is a genuine Christian witness.
You don’t have to have read You Are What You Love to pick up on the importance of formation and deformation in our practices as Radner understands them here. It’s the same, in some ways, as the question of online learning. Definitely necessary at times, as in Our Current Moment, but in the best ways such learning should remind us of the deep practices of learning that can include but ultimately transcend style and fashion. We should be thankful for what we have, but we would also do well to ask hard questions of it.