Should you read this newsletter?

I love seeing people in person. 

And after a year of mandated Zoom meetings, who wants to attend another virtual conference? How about an after-work Zoom party? Any interest in celebrating a live-streamed wedding? 

I feel and sometimes sense there’s a growing distaste of technology.

We want face-to-face time together. Handshakes and hugs. We’re ready to feel the pulsing beat of live music.

But here you are, reading this newsletter. Shouldn’t you put your phone down and talk to someone in person? But wait! Before you go, cancel your newspaper subscription and throw your computer in the trash. 

If there’s anything that provokes a love-hate relationship, it’s technology.

One of my favorite reminders of this dynamic is the Pessimist Archive. Consider the Rev. Michael Esper’s scorching sermon on July 15, 1907, wherein he “held that the toy beasts in the hands of little girls were destroying all instincts of motherhood and in the future would be realized as one of the most powerful factors in race suicide.” What toy beasts, you ask, did Rev. Esper have in mind? Of course, he was referring to the alarming menace of teddy bears!

In a sense, every new technology can seem like a kind of strange, oppressive witchcraft. On October 17, 1909The New York Times reported that St. Petersburg was “groaning under the tyranny of the gramophone.” Henceforth, the city Prefect had banned its use throughout the central district and other business areas. Imagine what the city leaders would have thought of Sony Walkmans and Apple’s AirPods!

By no means am I a techno-utopian-optimist. The Wall Street Journal recently published”the Facebook Files,” which explained how Facebook’s internal research shows numerous ways that their products are harmful. For instance, “Among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13% of British users and 6% of American users traced the desire to kill themselves to Instagram, one presentation showed.”

I don’t know about you, but if I learned there was empirical evidence that my organization was leading teenagers to want to kill themselves, I’d mandate immediate changes. Technology can be harmful, even deadly. So we need discernment. 

For instance, I’ve heard it argued that virtual church isn’t real church, and I am sympathetic. But what’s weird is I usually listen to this argument because its advocates publish their thoughts on websites, promote them via Twitter, and discuss them on podcasts. We all embrace technology and its benefits. 

Should the church gather together in person to take communion, sing together, hear God’s word, and fellowship? Absolutely, of course, yes.

And simultaneously, I thank God for the opportunity to watch sermons at home, by myself, on YouTube. When I impatiently fret in Atlanta’s traffic, at least I can stream worship music. Sometimes I like to meditate on an audio Bible while I’m at the gym. As an innovative guy, I even use text messaging to keep in touch with my church friends throughout the week.

Do these technologically-mediated religious activities replace being in a building together on Sunday morning? Maybe for some people. But I suggest to you that if someone starts to watch sermons on YouTube, that might be a leading indicator they’ll soon be visiting a church. And let’s not forget those who are medically or economically unable to physically participate in services.

And while we’re in the church building, are we permitted to use microphones and video screens in the sanctuary? What about printed hymnals and mass-produced Bibles? May we use check-in kiosks at the children’s ministry? Can the printed bulletin direct us to the church website to subscribe to the weekly email? Is it permitted to drive to church, or must we walk?

For anyone reading this newsletter, technology is inescapable. We are just more familiar — and more comfortable — with some technologies than others. 

So if you’re reading this newsletter on your mobile computer that’s wirelessly connected to the internet, I know you’re willing to use technology for good. Use discernment, but let’s keep it up.

Giving Credit:

Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash