“The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
This week I had my 657th Zoom call. Ok, slight exaggeration, but between work meetings, online church, family gatherings, and weekly bible study, my Apple screen time report has been off the charts. Zoom and other video teleconferencing mechanisms have become my near sole source of “direct” contact with the world outside my neighborhood.
Though I’m grateful for the technology that allows me to see the faces of my colleagues, friends, and loved ones, I’ve found this sort of engagement to be helpful, but tiring. A space to connect, but a limited place to foster the type of relationships we are made for. We’ve been loving our neighbor from six+ feet away for a while now, and, for many of us, the majority of contact with the world-outside-our-homes has been, by necessity, mediated through a screen.
As it turns out, “Zoom Fatigue” is a thing – google the phrase and you will find multiple articles that describe the drain that comes from attempting ongoing interaction via videoconference. It seems our brains have to work extra hard in order to engage meaningfully over a virtual platform.
Theologically, it makes sense we would struggle. The hinge point of the Christian story centers on God becoming man – taking on flesh and entering in to our human experience. Our faith is by nature an embodied faith. We are hard-wired for connection, and that connection happens best when in the flesh and blood presence of another.
So – is Zoom the root of all evil? Certainly not. In some ways, videoconferencing has served a redemptive purpose by allowing many segments of society to adjust to the new normal and continue humming along. In both my church and my work, attendance at online gatherings has skyrocketed. Where previously I just couldn’t make an 8pm Bible study due to my son’s bedtime and driving distance, now I am a faithful attender.
And yet…there is no replacement for real-life, face-to-face presence. We are “embodied souls” or “ensouled bodies.” In other words, both our body and soul comprise the essence of who we are. As Barry Jones states, “These two aspects of our humanity are deeply integrated, i.e, the condition of our heart manifests itself in our bodies and what we do with our bodies matters deeply to the condition of our hearts.” Even if we can get past the multitude of distractions that occur while meeting over a screen, we can never be fully “present” with other human beings in the same way as when our physical selves are present together in the same room. When the time comes that we are able to safely gather together again with our friends, families, and church communities, I pray the “Zoom Fatigue” we currently feel will remind us to prioritize being in faithful, physical community with one another.
“Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” 2 John 12
***For excellent resources on the use of technology, check out:
From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology, by John Dyer
Flickering Pixels, by Shane Hipps