15 years give or take a few solar revolutions … that’s how long I had the privilege to call Scott a friend. Though at first I knew him by the nickname he used in our online community as tarna, once we began to work with one another and then connect on the phone, PM, IM, and through various digital media our relationship matured from digital acquaintance to friendship. Scott was one of the bravest men I have ever known. He fought with an illness so aggressive that it required frequent surgery and caused such pain that I could sometimes hear it in his voice; and, every time I phoned him, not only was I humbled but I felt that his joie de vivre was a blessing. I will miss you Scott/tarna. And for those of you for whom relationships are grounded in the digital, never listen to that voice that says such connexions are ‘less than’ or not ‘real.’ The tears I have experienced at learning of the death of my friend have been most real and I know that Scott is now free of the pain with which he choose to live with dignity.
Perhaps the first paragraph is as much a testimonial of loss as it is a catalyst for reflection about my faith and what I might need to learn, to share with the church. Faith & church: they are intimately connected, how I live out individually what I understand to be a reflection of the Holy will obviously inform the way I walk into the human institution called church.
My relationship with Scott was grounded in a place and in a way that some see as ‘less than’ or ‘not real.’ I have been online for the better part of 2 decades and have friends from around the world, many of whom I only know digitally. These relationships are as valuable and life-giving to me as those which I have the gift to be able to embrace with physical touch. tarna’s illness did not define him, but it allowed him to model a generosity of spirit that I know affected others. His questions of concern for others in our online community not only speaks to his own compassion for others, but mirrors how such a place creates reciprocal relationships. Where mutuality in these democratic and sometimes frenetic places becomes an expectation grounded in freedom to be who we know we want to be. Sometimes, the most authentic person we long to be flourishes in these places that are free of the addictions, distractions, dysfunctions that are our lives in the ‘real world.’ Sometimes the ‘real world’ only shadows who we know we want to be – who we truly are – and an online community can embrace the ‘real’ you in ways that are life-giving and soul celebrating. As a person of faith, therefore, Scott modelled for me in this digital environment that it’s not what you believe that matters, it’s how you treat strangers: strangers in an online community are nameless and faceless at first. They might live next door or on the other side of the globe. How you treat the nameless are the seeds of friendship and that is just one way that I will honour this friendship.
What I take to the church is this: it’s not whether or not we should be testifying and evangelising the Good News in this environments – it’s the public commons of a new age and unless we’re there engaged, then we’re obsolete. For those who will follow, this is where we’ll meet them first. What we MUST ask, therefore, is ‘why.’ If our answer is about wanting to boost numbers or some double-speak agenda of conversion and coercion, not only do I want no part of such a reply, I believe it is theologically flawed. There is an entire generation, now almost two, who have no grounding in organised religion, for whom the rituals that mark death are few and far between and who are already– appropriately so –wary of those who peddle saccharine. Judgement laden and cheap faith. If our ‘why,’ however, is about wanting to help people shine, to help people transform from what the world tells them, that bullies into a conforming and controlling consumer mould where the common denominator must deny uniqueness, then I say let’s get to the business of sharing the Good News.
In places online – from chat groups, Skype, social media platforms and a plethora of real-time communication – people are gravitating to spaces and places that promise to offer community and change. And I believe that the church that longs to help people awaken to the gift they are has something to contribute in such spaces. Whether or not we’re ready, however, doesn’t matter. It’s already happening, we just need to ask ourselves ‘why’ … the rest will be what it will be …
Faith is the unspoken confidence
in a threaded reality that defies word compartments.
Belief is the construction of compartments