That Salutary Something: E-pistle 03.10.11

That Salutary Something: E-pistle 03.10.11

I was imagining an E-pistle for this week that would challenge you light-heartedly (without any shaming involved, or even implied!) to be in church each Sunday of Lent… and Easter too.

Then Laura Spencer sent me a note. Her reflection offers more than I had– greater depth from her unique experience, thankfulness for new possibilities alongside of grief over increase distances and speeds that can be isolating. I share it with her permission.

I too am grateful for the added connectivity technology affords. But there’s something to being together, close enough to see an expression or to touch someone’s hand or shoulder. Physical presence promotes well-being on many levels. It’s beneficial to our health, wholeness, holiness. My challenge stands! But if you can’t be here, will you stay in touch, nonetheless? And also reach out to someone else?

“Hi Michael,

In my line of work, one of the more remarkable technological developments of the last fifteen years or so has been the ease with which a student can retrieve scholarly journal literature. What once took two trips to the library separated by a two-week wait, now takes a few minutes in front of any computer with a good internet connection. The digital era has freed us from constraints of time and place. It has freed us so much that needing to be in a particular place at a particular time feels outmoded or passé.

As I take up my nightly post at a block of metal and plastic called The Reference Desk, I, too, feel outmoded and passé. There I am, being a real, flesh and blood presence in real three dimensional space in real time, ready to have a live, in-person conversation with whosoever walks up to me.

Fewer and fewer students do so. Instead, they contact a reference librarian through an Instant Messaging technology. The librarian they reach might be on any of my university’s three campuses, or at home, or, theoretically, even be at a Starbucks anywhere in New Jersey – or Idaho, for that matter, if the Internet connection is robust enough.

Where, then, does that leave anachronistic, analog me? Thinking about the value, or affordances, of being in-person and on-site; it is, after all, how I’ve earned my living for close to a dozen years, far longer than common sense and career savvy would recommend. As near as I can discern, God has been more than willing to allow me to stay in place, so I often ask to what ends.

There are many parts to the answer, and the one that is most germane to my career development at the moment also brings to mind a question you put to me the other day. You asked, how do I stay connected with church when I am not attending for weeks at a time due to work obligations?

Yes, I read your sermons pretty regularly; and visit Old First’s web site and Facebook page regularly as well. Those things help maintain the connection, and I am deeply glad they are there. I think another thing that helps me feel connected comes from my personality. I seem to be able to stay connected to people who are far away. The strongest example is with my Mom, with whom I have always been close. My physical distance never seems to impair my emotional connection with her. Perhaps my physical distance doesn’t impair my emotional or spiritual connection with my church, either. The Spirit can be present anywhere, anytime, yes? Surely, then, spiritual connection can transcend time and space even better than digital technology.

Here before us, perhaps, is a place where your work as a Covenant Pastor and mine as an Academic Librarian share a little patch of ground. I would argue that there is still something salutary and worth preserving in real-time, in-person reference service. And you, I’m sure, would argue the same for real-time, in-person church attendance. But what is that salutary something? And is there any connection, similarity, or parallel between your salutary something and mine?

My salutary something is, in part, about being able to perceive, by sight and by sound, and sometimes even by touch, both the intellectual and emotional disposition of the student before me. I can observe body language and facial expression; and my intuition, should I need or want to use it, has more information to draw upon than it does in a digital interaction. In short, more of the whole person is before me, and that wholeness counts for something. Or should. To put it another way, in-person is a more complete sensory experience, which affords more complete knowledge and assessment.

What’s your salutary something? — Laura”

I miss seeing Laura on Sundays. And the rest of you when you are not present. I understand everyone can’t be at church each Sunday. And I like that we can stay in touch from a distance. Still, I hope to see you in church,


P.S. If you would like to receive our E-pistles (and news items) electronically each week, or if you know someone else who would, please speak with Michael or notify the church office.