It’s a scene out of an old movie. A train is about to leave the station. One person is inside a car, looking out; another person is standing on the platform, looking in. The two people reach up for the window; their hands align on either side of the glass . The train starts to move; the person on the platform walks, then trots, alongside the train, as long as possible, but finally is left there alone, waving, as the train steams away.
This is what the Internet community feels like to me sometimes. We form relationships; sometimes genial or even affectionate ones, sometimes antagonistic ones, sometimes a bit of both; but there’s always a pane of anonymity keeping things “virtual.” And there’s a transience as well; people come and go, often with no explanation, often after sharing their feelings and experiences in very self-disclosing ways that beg for some kind of supportive response. I know there have been countless times online when I’ve read a post that’s moved me profoundly to do something…but how do you communicate the equivalent of, “Hey – let’s take a walk outside and talk about this some more,” with a screen name? And if that person were me, how welcoming would I be of someone reacting in that way to my own gut spillage – would I be relieved, or annoyed, or frightened that I’d run into the friendly neighborhood online stalker?
How can people of faith be the Body of Christ for one another, take care of one another, in an online context? Is it even possible in any but the most superficial of ways? What about the person who, for whatever reason, has little or no connection to a flesh-and-blood faith community, who experiences Christian community primarily via the Internet? What is the best way for the rest of us to serve one another here?
This is ministry territory that I think we’re only beginning to chart, and I’d really love to explore this topic with anyone interested.