Spirit Alive: Can We Talk?

Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and beyond.
May 9, 2017

Food for the Soul:

There's Nothing Like a Good Conversation

"Our technologies have not only changed what we do; they have changed who we are."
"Face-to-face conversation is the most human-- and humanizing-- thing we do. Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It's where we develop the capacity for empathy. It's where we experience the joy of being heard, of being understood."
Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age
Conversations are the lifeblood of our relationships, and yet, as Sherry Turkle points out in her book Reclaiming Conversation, "we hide from each other even as we're constantly connected to each other." It is one of the ironies of modern life: we have so many ways to connect...even over great distances, and yet we often find ourselves creating barriers that separate us from one another and cause misunderstanding, prejudice, and isolation. So what is going on? Turkle believes that "we have not
assessed the full human consequences of digital media." And she should know, after all Turkle has spent the last thirty years studying the psychology of people's relationships with technology, as a sociologist and clinical psychologist. In fact, as a professor of Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, Turkle has made career of studying our relationship with digital culture. 

But she is not alone. It seems like there are many scholars today, who are re-evaluating the impact that technology is having on our spiritual lives and our relationships with others. James McWilliams, Professor of History at Texas State University, put it this way in a recent article in The American Scholar: "Daily life offers endless opportunities to cultivate character-building behaviors that, once they become habitual, can nurture our weapons of resistance rather than exchange them for the conveniences of the Internet.
Four of these habits stand out as essential to the preservation of an anchored identity: spending time alone, engaging in meaningful conversations, forming friendships, and pursuing an activity within a community. Imagine, if you can, an identity that's permitted to develop with minimal interference from digital culture and you'll begin to grasp the benefits that these four kinds of stresses can have on a self hoping to develop a healthier relationship with digitized life."
Clearly we live in complex times in which technology both helps and hinders the human endeavor. As a result, it seems to me that one of our tasks within the church community is to show us how to ground our experience with technology within a deeper framework of what it means to be fully human and live as a spiritual being. For Turkle, McWilliams, and others in the academic world, there is an increasing sense that "conversation cures." So it raises a question for all of us to consider: what are we each doing to increase the opportunities for real conversation to take place among us? Why is this so important: because research is increasingly telling us that conversation is the doorway to empathy and compassion. And God knows, we could use a healthy dose of both these things today.

At the conclusion of her work, Turkle points in this direction when she says: "The moment is right. We had a love affair with a technology that seemed magical. But like great magic, it worked by commanding our attention and not letting us see anything but what the magician wanted us to see. Now we are ready to reclaim our attention-- for solitude, for friendship, for society." Congregational life provides us with a great context in which to explore all of these things. But in order to do this, we'll need to be intentional about how we spend our time with each other.

Let us walk in the light of God's love,
Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It seeks to identify where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.



Lowell Greathouse
Lowell Greathouse is the Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church. He looks for places to find where the spirit is alive and help them grow in vitality and fruitfulness. Share with him at lowell@umoi.org