catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 22 :: 2003.11.21 — 2003.12.04


Forwarding the Kingdom

In the same way having a mailing address makes you susceptible to junk mail and having a phone number makes you susceptible to telemarketing calls, having an e-mail account makes you susceptible to mass messages, some of which you’d rather not receive. Some are spawned by companies whose only consideration is for making money, even at the expense of general decency. Other messages are forwarded with the best intentions by those we know and love.

I don’t really receive a lot of spam (knockonwood), but I do receive quite a few forwards, most of which have something to do with Christianity. I imagine if I were a non-believer receiving these e-mails, I’d be self-righteously grateful that I had managed to avoid the Christian virus. If the whole character of the body of Christ were conveyed in the forwards, I could easily perceive Christians to be a fearful, angry bunch consumed with endless inane boycotts in the effort to create a morally spotless, impossibly pure society, basically, a bunch of delusional weirdos.

Fortunately, I’m in a position to be compassionate toward those I call my brothers and sisters, proud to be a weirdo in my conviction that the unseen and improbable spiritual world does exist and asks something of us flesh and blood creatures. It’s this compassion and identity that prompts me to ask: couldn’t we be doing something better with e-mail? Often, when we use this tool on a large scale, we use it to complain, even to make people feel guilty. Couldn’t we use e-mail to encourage others just as systematically as we use it to condemn others?

The problem with e-mail speaks to a larger issue, if we aren’t critical about the tools we use even as we use them, the tools tend to magnify our faults and our ignorance. If we assume without thinking that gadgets and devices and wires and gigabytes can improve the intangible quality of life, we leave ourselves vulnerable to being broadsided. We merrily edge out into the intersection when suddenly and unexpectedly, we get hit with realizations about how much we depend on electricity while others never have access to it, about how much our moods depend on the friendliness of soulless machines, about how our children can grow up knowing the theme songs to a thousand commercials, but not one story from their parents’ childhoods. This is serious stuff about which we need to be constantly thankful and thoughtful.

But not all incongruities of living in a technological age are humorless. Recently we bought a new gadget to make the process of transcribing speeches (like those in this issue’s feature) a bit easier. Unfortunately, machines still do not speak our language as fluently as we would like. It was taking us just as long to correct the errors and insert the punctuation as it would have for us to listen and type the old-fashioned way. We really began to question the integrity of the manufacturer when one of the speaker’s sentences transcribed as, “buy this sorry ass.” An accident or subtly wise geek humor? I can’t be sure. Regardless, we decided to just post the audio for the lectures instead of the transcriptions. Hope your machine is friendly enough to play it for you.

I also hope that as we engage deeper as a culture in the possibilities of technology, that believers will be leaders in thinking and doing wisely as we ought. I don’t think this involves reactionary outrage and righteous offense as much as it does the prayerful work of discerning the still small voice in the buzz and hum of an electrified world. Technology has the power to hurt as much as it can heal, to paralyze as much as it can mobilize, and that’s a relevant consideration whether we’re tackling the AIDS crisis or sending a quick e-mail.

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