When our office computers broke down a few months ago, we replaced the computer I use with a laptop. Along with giving me the flexibility to work at home or elsewhere more easily, the laptop has come in handy in a couple of other ways. In Food for Thought, we’ve used it to watch videos that must be streamed online, rather than recorded to a DVD. Last Sunday, when our network printer wasn’t available, I set the computer right on top of the pulpit for the worship service. Maybe technology doesn’t deserve bonus points for solving its own problems, but I can tell you I was grateful for the laptop that day.

There’s one more amazing thing this computer makes possible. More specifically, there’s something its little built-in camera makes possible. During our transitional time on the Presbytery Council, we’re going to meet much more frequently than usual. Ordinarily, this would mean that a dozen people, from all around the presbytery, would have to drive to Superior every month. Thanks to these little webcams, that won’t be necessary. As part of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, we have access to web-conferencing software that will allow us to see each other in real time without having to travel. Our February council meeting included an in-person orientation to the software; our March meeting will take place online. The mileage savings from that meeting alone would more than pay for the synod’s license to the software.

Video conferencing isn’t ideal, of course, and I still look forward to the times when the council will meet in person. In person we shake each other’s hands, serve each other coffee, and eat lunch together. In person we remember, with our bodies as well as our screens, that we are one church, connected to each other by the Holy Spirit. This amazing technology keeps us in contact when we’re apart, but being in the same place is a far better thing. In fact, our hope is that the technology will help us take care of business while we’re apart, so our time together can focus more clearly on the fellowship, worship, and prayer that make our connections real.

In a world that is increasingly mediated by screens, the church is drawn in a few directions at once. On one hand, we have remarkable new opportunities to show the world God’s good news. We share our Sunday worship services with the local-access cable channel, and perhaps we could post services online for our more distant church family. Our study groups can learn from experts we’ll never meet. Between Sundays, we can connect with our members on Facebook or the church website. And we can continue with older media, including the paper this newsletter is printed on. There are more ways than ever before for us to communicate with each other, and that’s a great gift.

On the other hand, all this technology makes it even more important for us to spend time in each other’s presence. God made us bodies, not only minds or hearts. When we come together in the sanctuary, meeting room, or fellowship hall, we bring all our senses to each other. When we take a moment to set aside the things that distract us, we open ourselves to a fuller connection with one another. When we turn off our computers, put down our cell phones, and close our books, we acknowledge with our bodies the presence of the God who comes to us in the flesh of Jesus Christ.

The ancient habit of sabbath becomes more important as it becomes more challenging to practice. With the stream of information coming in through computers and televisions, or the reflex never to miss a phone call, it’s something of a radical statement to make oneself unavailable for a while. Or maybe the unrelenting pace of meetings, activities, and entertainments tempts us to disengage completely out of a sense of being overwhelmed by it all. Sabbath is not an either/or thing. It’s a rhythm of connecting and unplugging, listening and speaking, moving and staying put. It includes online meetings, satellite TV, and orchestra concerts – because it also includes quiet evenings spent reading, lazy Saturday mornings, and dinner together as a family.

I only really know two things about the rhythm of sabbath. One is that it’s fantastically hard to find. The other is that it may be the single most life-giving gift I’ve ever found. May your life of activity and rest be a blessing.

In Christ’s peace,

Nathan

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