January 27, 2021

This Is Not Where I Live

By Chaplain Mike

I am thoroughly enjoying writing on Internet Monk.

This new venture has involved a huge change in my daily work and schedule, but I am thrilled to be pursuing this new avocation. Carrying on the legacy of Michael Spencer, who had such a unique voice and perspective to share, is a joy and challenge, and I find it exhilarating. Your company has been stimulating as well, and the conversations we’ve been having have enriched my thinking.

However, I have already realized the need for a periodic reality check. So here it is. Please hear me out. I want you to know that…

This is not where I live.

There is no “Internet Monastery” where blog writers conduct their daily lives. These discussions, as valuable as they may be, are just conversations. They occur in a funny place, a unique forum we’ve never experienced before — a faceless, fleshless place — a place of less than real relationships. It is, by and large, a good place, with many benefits. We learn from each other. We prompt each other to think. We ponder and evaluate our positions on various subjects.

It’s like a classroom on a day in which the prof leads a discussion, a forum in the public square, a group of strangers bellying up to the bar at a watering hole, hanging around the lounge at seminary, meeting people from other churches in the fellowship hall at a conference and sharing observations about the things you’re experiencing. You say a little something. You hear a little something. Then you go get coffee and move on. Eventually you go home.

Because it is not life.

Michael Spencer wrote about this in a 2004 post:

My continuing fascination with online “relationships (not romances)” continues. I’m in this big discussion with a lurker, and he’s mad as heck that I support the President, and he’s all up into the Tin Foil Hats and so on. Then he starts in with — “I used to like you!”


You read a few pages of my script. You read what I hung out on the net. You made up your own mind about what I was like and what I thought. In your mind, you created an imaginary friend out of my essays. And then you found a subject where we differ — and BOY are you mad!

This is just so juvenile. People, people, PEOPLE! Get a life. The internet is not real life. OK, as the facilitator of one of the more successful blog communities on the net I know that there can be some level of friendships, but even then, they are artificial. My guys at the BHT are talking about getting together in “3D.” Why am I not all that excited? Because I barely know anyone, don’t want to ever know some, have passable feelings of friendship for a few. The BHT largely exists in my imagination. These real people in the room and at my job and next door — they are much more complex, challenging, rewarding and genuine.

I love my online friendships, but mostly because of what they do for ME. I do some listening and ministry for them I guess, and my writing helps them feel they are not alone or to think a bit. But my internet life is pretty self centered. I can’t say it’s made me more holy in the real world. It’s not my church or my family, that’s for sure. It’s a set of somewhat real, somewhat imaginary relationships that allow me to paint on their canvas a bit while they paint on mine.

So I wish some of these online fans/haters would get out of the house and into a coffee shop or a school or a club where they can have real relationships. Saying I am great or going to hell is fun, but it’s not real. OK?

This issue goes beyond the internet, blogs, or one’s view of a particular blogger. It’s the entire culture we’re dealing with in our time.

Im concerned that:

  • far too many of our opinions and “convictions,”
  • too much of what we think the church should “stand for,”
  • too many of our political positions and perspectives,
  • too many of our culture war attitudes,
  • too much of the stuff we hear from the pulpit and talk about in the narthex at church,
  • too many of the attitudes we have toward our neighbors, the public schools, liberals or conservatives,
  • too many of our judgments about people in various socio-economic classes and lifestyles,

are not being formed by experiences lived out in daily events where we actually relate to others and learn to deal with matters in active, personal ways.


  • we watch Fox News or MSNBC,
  • listen to Rush or watch Jon Stewart,
  • surf the watchblogs that conform to our views,
  • join causes and groups on Facebook and post their slogans,
  • confirm our opinions on the basis of forwarded emails.
  • I become a “Glenn Beck” guy or a “Jim Wallis” guy.
  • I tell the world what I believe by my bumper stickers and T-shirts.

I have to remind myself every now and then that most of this is bluster and noise. It’s not life. Frankly, I’ve turned most of it off. The pundits too often become propagandists. Spectacle and screaming trumps truth. A long time ago, A. W. Tozer warned against having a “Reader’s Digest” way of thinking: shallow, simplistic, edited down to its bullet points. What in the world would he say today, when we teach about how to have intimacy with others through bullet points?

Furthermore, on Internet Monk, I can’t let myself get all emotionally invested in some guy who declares me a heretic in a blog comment for my views on Genesis 1. It is just a public discussion, folks. It’s not my life.

My life happens in a small town in central Indiana. I live it with my wife, children, grandkids, and neighbors. My life involves talking with them, praying for them, helping them, being forgiven by them when I mess up. It’s eating meals together, talking about the little things we’ve done throughout the day, coordinating our schedules, staying in touch, keeping short accounts.

My life involves helping coach my grandson’s Little League team and remembering how to talk to seven-year olds again. My life involves singing in the choir at my church, going to practice, cutting up with the rest of the tenors. In my life, I occasionally serve on some committee for our local school district, attend the high school baseball games because the coach is a good friend, greet fellow townsfolk at Walmart or Starbucks, or visit a friend in the hospital whose spouse is having surgery.

Many hours of this life are spent doing my daily work as a hospice chaplain. I drive around the city, visiting folks in their homes, in hospitals, and other facilities. I have face-to-face conversations with them. Surprise! Most of these conversations dont involve swapping the kinds of slogans I get in forwarded emails. No, these talks take place in the context of actual living and dying. We talk about what’s happening to someone’s body right in front of us. We talk about the feelings raised by this, the spiritual issues, and what dad’s going to do when his wife of 62 years walks through death’s door and leaves him behind.

My fellow team members are a huge part of my life. We meet and talk and laugh together, respect the expertise each one brings to our work, consult on difficult questions, help each other in practical ways, and support each other when it all gets heavy. We also recognize that each person has a full and meaningful life outside the team, and so we try to be sensitive, caring, and available as friends for one another.

This is life. Real life. Daily life. Faces. Flesh. Conversations. Decisions. Relationships.

I’m worried about churches in our current electronic and cyber-culture. Reliance upon programmed approaches and technology can easily promote “sound-bite” theology, activity masquerading as meaningful interaction with others, and a culture that “takes stands” on the big issues of the day, but cares little for actually knowing and loving one’s neighbor.

So, for example,

  • You may have a position on the gay lifestyle or gay marriage. How many gay people do you know and relate to regularly?
  • You rant and rave about the decline of morals in our society. Do you have any relationships with “sinners”? Do you welcome them into your home and sit down at table with them? Do you develop long-term friendships with them?
  • How much time do you spend online? In front of the TV? Hooked to some electronic gadget? On the other hand, how much time and energy do you give to genuine relationships, down to earth activities, serving others, having real conversations?

I love Internet Monk. It has a place.

And I honestly appreciate all of you who read and participate. It’s an exceptional online community, a vibrant conversation.

But it’s not where I live. Nor should you.


  1. Amen – That is a really good post!


  2. I struggle with this so much, largely because I’m so good at online relationships. I own and work at a virtual company and physically see my workmates once or twice a year. I work from home, rarely straying to the neighborhood coffee shop to rub elbows with real people. I don’t consider myself a crazy slogan type, and I have a fantastic relationship with my family and my wife’s family, all of whom live within 5 miles of home. But I sometimes feel like even that is easy, and that I don’t engage real people in real relationships.

    Part of that is because I’m a chronic introvert. Those “genuine relationships, down to earth activities, serving others, having real conversations” things… they take every ounce of energy from me. Actually, my three kids and job take every ounce of energy and those other things—that I know are worthwhile—are just too daunting when I’m flat out exhausted. What’s more, between Christians in my family and Christians at my church and Christians at my job (which constitute 100% of our employees), I simply don’t run into that many “sinners” with whom I can “develop long-term friendships”.

    Note: I know this is a cop-out, and I still struggle with these feelings and laziness. However, I disagree with Michael’s statement that “I can’t say [online relationships have] made me more holy in the real world.” In fact, many of IM’s posts—his very life and witness—have called me into real action. I am living out grace more each day because of him and people like him with whom I have had exclusively (or nearly so) virtual relationships.

    • pcg,

      Your struggle and mine are much alike; I seem to do better with online communication because it requires me (often) to think before I hit “send”. Real-life relationships are so blasted hard, because of my introverted tendencies (and the fear of just being who I am–but that’s something else entirely).

  3. By that reasoning, maybe church doesn’t count as real life either.

    • Wayne is on track. Few relationships are fully formed in this life. And the more demanding or inflexible the other party becomes, the more we tend to hide our true motives, desires, thoughts, and dreams.

      Few places are more demanding or more strident than a group of believers in a fundamental church built upon unique behavioral tests of fellowship and spirituality. The very nature of those church gatherings makes for high drama in role playing to demonstrate who is most spiritual and who is the greater keeper of the flame.

      Where is Christ’s calling in all that? And where is the quest for truth?

      Perhaps the anonymity, of the IM postings, provide a welcome freedom from such church centrist judgementalism. And just maybe that’s in part why Michael provided a forum as this where truth is pursued absent the colorization of the political blustering and physical posturing.

    • depends on what your church fellowship is like, and how honest, true and real you are with your fellow worshippers.

      If one’s attitude is that everything and everyone is perfect and church is only a club for the good people, then yes, that is unrealistic, plastic and surface level.

      But I believe that the Bible makes it clear that there is to be real fellowship with the body, and our love for one another is to be genuine and deep.

      I go to church because I need to, because I am a sinner in need of grace, and Paul instructs us in the body to “bear one another’s burdens”. I need help in bearing my burdens, and the others who come to fellowship need my help, as well, and we all need God.

      But, no, we are not to isolate ourselves from people outside the church, as Chaplain said we are to get out and rub elbows, and get involved in the lives we come into contact with everyday. But we need that fellowship with the local body of believers.

      Just because people have had a bad experience with a church, does not mean that the entire concept of church needs to be thrown out the window; the proverbial baby and the bathwater.

    • I do very little surfing, but I first clicked onto this site because it described my own spiritual journey in many ways. Michael Spencer’s writings have challenged me daily, and along with all the banter, have helped me better define a Jesus-shaped walk. I have come to know Michael, Mike, and many others through what they write. On the other hand, I know the folks in my congregation through how we live and worship together. Like many others, our local church has some bridges to cross in experiencing the resurrected life together in greater depth. It’s the reality Christ has placed our family in and called us to live for his Kingdom. I’ve seen iMonk used for a soapbox by some, but perhaps for others it may serve, so-to-speak, as the local congregation itself. It is paradoxical that we can feel closer to cyber-brothers and sisters than the person worshipping next to us. I have a life away from the keyboard which I love and need to keep this all in perspective.

  4. Your last three bullet points are excellent.

  5. Great post.

    I think the crux of your post is all about respect. There’s no respect in a person who, after finding out you have a viewpoint he doesn’t agree with, says “I used to like you…” There’s no respect in talk radio, watchblogs, t-shirt slogans, etc. Maybe the internet and cyber-culture are breeding a generation of disrespect. Maybe that cyber-culture is so strong that it’s even morphing older generations into that same disrespect.

    It reminds me of an offer I recently made to a friend of mine who is a high school teacher. She wanted me to give a talk someday about “something different, that might stick with the kids for longer than a week.” I told her that I’d like to do a tag-team speech with another friend of mine. I would begin the “speech” by asking my friend the following questions:

    1) Do you believe in God? (He would say No, for he’s agnostic.)
    2) Do you support abortion? (He would say Yes, for he does.)
    3) Do you believe in evolution? (He would say Yes, for he does.)
    4) Did you vote for Obama? (He would say Yes, for he did.)

    Then I would tell the students that I believe in God, I do not support abortion, I do not believe in evolution (or at least not in an evolution that doesn’t have a Creator’s hand in it), and that I didn’t vote for Obama (nor did I vote for McCain).

    My plan is to then comment that given the those differing viewpoints on those deep philosophical/spiritual/emotional topics, who would think that the two of us could be friends? And yet we are good friends, we discuss those topics regularly, and we do so without wanting to kill each other after an hour of conversation. How and why? Because we listen to each other, do not feel a need to “win” every argument, and agree to disagree.

    Bottom line is treating others with respect and valuing their opinions, even if they’re different than your own. I think cyber-culture, the internet, talk radio, etc. is creating a people who don’t know what respect.

  6. great points, Chaplain

    thanks a lot

  7. this is a great balancing word for us; the life of the church, and blogging are only mildly connected; let’s pursue application or what we are learning in real life contexts, with flesh and blood brothers and sisters.

    good post
    Greg R

  8. “I become a “Glenn Beck” guy or a “Jim Wallis” guy.”

    With me it’s Dennis Prager.

  9. This is not where I live… Sometimes the problem is that I’m not so sure where I do live. It’s far too easy to live behind the facade of “Christian who’s got it all nailed down” or one whom other people call for advice. Where do I really live? Some days I might live in a closet of doubt or confusion or unfaced sin. Sometimes I realize that I don’t know enough to even ask the right questions. And who can I ask?
    Those are the days when I have appreciated the anonymity of this forum.
    Internet Monk has given many of us a different venue in which to live…one where we can shake out our doubts and unsure theology. It’s been a place to grow and interact with other people in a different dimension and in a different kind of relationship. We may not be able to rub shoulders at Starbucks or holler across the backyard to each other, but we are also not threatened by having our salvation questioned by other Christians.
    It has also been a place to build some pre-heavenly relationships. Where on earth could I ever interact physically with other believers from such a broad span of Christian traditions? Where would I even be challenged to meet with them this side of heaven? I think that is one reason so many of us still feel such a special connection with Michael. He’s still one of us…just there, not here.
    You are right. This is not the place where I live. But it’s the place where I have been challenged to look at the people around me through new glasses. And God has used the “unseen” to impact the physical in the place where I do real life.

  10. Mike: This is a great article with so much truth. Thank you to you and all the guys for doing this. I take all of your words and warning to heart, but man, do I miss Michael.

  11. Mike, this is something that I’ve also considered for a long time.

    Let be honest and say while I like keeping in touch with people online, it is a very lonely place. And loneliness is the plague of our times. Not only does it diminish a man’s natural strength and resolve to make the most of his redeemed life, but it weakens his ability to choose that redeemed life on a daily basis.

    In my own personal experience and interaction with others, as a disabled man, I have very little face-to-face interaction with other Christians (God bless my minister who visits me) and the majority of my time is spent with my family, whose lives are not lived by God’s grace in Christ. It is difficult for me to choose to live a life in Christ when my human interaction is primary with those who deliberately do not.

    Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
    nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
    but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.
    (Psalm 1:1-2)

    Sometimes is good for Christians to separate themselves from relationships that do not follow Christ for personal fellowship with other Christians. it may sound judgmental, but to live among a group of people whose lives are not in Christ own takes a special calling and should not be the norm.

  12. As controversial an idea as it may in America, I like the idea of the English pub, of men and women sitting around a small table over some ale and holding conversations about whatever is on their mind (as opposed to the American idea of a bar where a bunch of uncivlized brawlers gather to see who can whip who). If I remember correctly, such gatherings are where J.R.R. Tolkien convinced C.S. Lewis to return to Christianity.

    • I agree–but who in my “Bible Church” circle would be caught dead in a pub? Our potluck culture doesn’t always run to spiritual conversations, either. I would have loved to be a mouse in the Eagle and Child. I’ll bet Tolkien and Lewis didn’t discuss casserole recipes.

    • MWP: set this up and tell me when and where…….. make sure there’s lot’s of foreign and/or micro-brewery on tap…….and maybe a pool table for later…

      • greg r writes, “make sure there’s lot’s of foreign and/or micro-brewery on tap.”

        Hey, I would even partake of a couple of those! Mind you…JUST a couple. I like the taste of a good micro-brew, but I don’t like to drink to the point of feeling at all dizzy. Plus, it makes me sleepy and messes up my sleep cycle. Just one glass of wine can make me wake up sooner than I should and not be able to get back to sleep. I wonder if Jesus ever had that problem? I really dislike any smoke though and was very happy when Maine banned all smoking from restaurants. It was crazy to have a non-smoking area but the smoking area may be one table over from you!

        • Since wine was one of a very few primary non-water beverage back then I bet everyone, including Jesus, had a pretty good tolerance 🙂 I believe back then wine was a more trusted drink than water since the water supply was somewhat limited and often polluted, or so I have read!

          • of course the “wine” was only grape juice………. (big eye roll: HERE)……..

            to Joannie D: yes , ONE glass of really good (well, as good as I can afford LOL) Merlot, and I’m done…… good wine is a gift, for those who can drink just one

      • The Guy from Knoxville says

        Must say I like the idea of a pub meeting on occasion – just sat down at one with a dear best friend/minister last evening Louisville,KY while there on business. I was so relaxing to sit down with nice drink and some good food and catch up on things….. what was going on in each other’s lives these days. BTW greg r – there were pool tables at this pub…..
        One must also remember that Michael liked the scene too – many references to that in his writings over the years and a great place to click the mugs in honor/memory.

        Also, great post Mike – these are the kind of posts that we need from time to time to keep us all in correct focus – this is not true life/reality, at least in terms of day to day physical interaction wtih family , friends, co-workers, tenor sections of the church choir (my part too!)
        etc, but is a fantastic way to discuss things that otherwise could not be discussed or hashed out in such a way even the occasional “bar fight” like we’ve recently had. No, we need this place and the benefits of it but we need to live real life first and foremost with this being, for lack of a better term, sort of icing on the cake.

        Thanks again Mike….. this is really good stuff!

    • We’ll smoke pipes, clink our mugs together, sing the washing song from The Hobbit (Blunt the knives and bend the forks! That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates) and laugh as we try to translate Latin into Pig Latin after one ale too many!

  13. I am mostly a lurker and look at this blog as one of many windows that gives me insight into the evangelical world (I happen to really like the content of this forum). Kind of a daily FYI for me. I find it encouraging that more are looking at the Early Church and the early writings, more are following or at least acknowledging liturgical calendars and traditions instead of labeling all as ritual.

    There are threads that cause me to think and dig deeper and inevitably I grow deeper in my faith so it is part of the things that help me to continuing moving forward in my faith.

    But like others this is only a small peice of my puzzle and I tend (since I am older and have lots of kids) to prefer human contact to online conversation. For me it has partly to do with the annonymity of the person at the other end of the keyboard and how one can be anything they want under this cloak,

    My thoughts….

  14. You know, I can say that that my online relationships aren’t my whole life, but they are part of real life. You, Mike, are a real person, as are the many people I’ve interacted with online – some for over a decade now.

    Is a letter “real life”?

    Is a phone call “real life”?

    I say yes, just differently mediated.

    I think some of this is generational. For some of us, digital mediation is something we’ve never known “real life” without, and thus it may be differently integrated into our lives. For me, the community I’ve been a part of the longest in any context is a small online group of Christian artists. While some have come and gone, most of us have been together for over 15 years now. I’ve met many face to face, and it ‘s been wonderful. We’ve walked together through awful and wonderful and boring times, and no matter what has been going on in my life or where I’ve lived, they are there and I can be there for them. That’s beautiful. And it’s very much real life.

    I can trace much of the significant spiritual growth and healing in my life to relationships online. I’ve been profoundly prayed for online. I’ve been counseled, encouraged, and deeply challenged. I’ve been pastored online. I moved to Chicago and chose the seminary I chose because of relationships with people I met online (this turned an online friendship that was two years old at the time into one that became mostly face to face and by phone). In reality, it’s not so easy to divide my life into “real life” and online. The internet, for me, isn’t just somewhere to talk about stuff that is “real life;” it’s somewhere real life happens. And my life is immeasurably richer for it.

    Which isn’t to say that what you write, Mike, isn’t true for you and many others. It just doesn’t have to be completely true (and isn’t) for others.

  15. Outstanding post! I have found that it is easier to befriend the “sinner” than the “Christian” whose life is wrapped up in their bumper sticker/blog/news pundit/etc. Christ called/saved and befriended Matthew (the sinner) and Peter (the hyper-opinionated).

  16. I heard a stat the other day that showed that on average, within two years of conversion the vast majority of Christians had no friends outside their religious community. FWIW, I can relate to that. Our communities are not designed around welcoming others into them. And it bothers the heck out of me… We’ve created a religious ghetto with it’s own culture… But are we really outdoing the Amish?

    • And what fascinates, bothers and horrifies me is that preachers constantly tell their congregations to spend more time with “sinners” and seek out “others,” like Jesus did. It is as if Christians are somehow super-human angels that do not need the same kinship and community.

      After all, we’re “saved” and supposedly immune to creaturely needs. So we Christians are lonely and despondant, but darnnit, we are reaching the lost!

  17. Another thing I thought of while reading some of the comments…

    I wonder if cyber-culture morphs people into something they’re not, causing them to interact differently than when they are face-to-face, or even speaking over the phone. Put people in front of a computer, composing emails or posting at blogs, and it’s almost like a little devil enters them and leads them to a bad place. I can think of many, many instances where people are nice, kind, and respectful when in face-to-face discussions, but their posts and emails are snide and disrespectful. I’ve seen mean-spirited and cruel interactions online between people who probably wouldn’t dream of saying the same things in-person.

    So not only does cyber-space have the potential to breed loneliness, but it also seems to have a tendency to de-humanize.

    • very true, I think

    • I’ve seen people become refreshingly vulnerable and disturbingly hateful via the internet. I’ve read studies that show that people who spend a great deal of time online tend to have higher rates of depression. But is it the ‘net that’s doing it? Or are they gravitating to the internet because their depression inhibits other types of interactions?

      In the end, I believe that behavior is a choice, regardless of how we feel or what vehicle we choose to express those feelings. People behave as they are, and I doubt very seriously that the internet lends itself to be a catalyst for anything else. If people feel safe being abusive online, chances are there are other avenues in which they feel safe being abusive. Blaming an inanimate object for behavior just isn’t logical. Behavior is a choice.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I wonder if cyber-culture morphs people into something they’re not, causing them to interact differently than when they are face-to-face, or even speaking over the phone. Put people in front of a computer, composing emails or posting at blogs, and it’s almost like a little devil enters them and leads them to a bad place.

      This is called “Net Drunk Syndrome.” Has a lot to do with being Anonymous behind a handle and safely out of fist range no matter how obnoxious you get.

    • Cynthia Jones says

      I think the lyrics to this Brad Paisley song answer your question:
      I work down at The Pizza Pit
      And I drive an old Hyundai
      I still live with my mom and dad
      I’m five foot three and overweight
      I’m a sci: fi fanatic, mild asthmatic
      Never been to second base
      But there’s a whole ‘nother me
      That you need to see
      Go check out Myspace.

      ‘Cause online I’m out in Hollywood
      I’m six foot five and I look damn good
      I drive a Maserati, I’m a black belt in karate
      And I love a good glass of wine
      It turns girls on that I’m mysterious
      I tell ’em I don’t want nothing serious
      ‘Cause even on a slow day I can have a three-way chat
      With two women at one time.

      I’m so much cooler online
      I’m so much cooler online.

      I get home I kiss my mom
      And she fixes me a snack
      I head down to my basement bedroom
      And fire up my Mac
      In real life the only time
      I’ve ever even been to L.A.
      Was when I got the chance with the marching band
      To play tuba in the Rose Parade.

      But online I live in Malibu
      I pose for Calvin Klein
      I’ve been in GQ
      I’m single and I’m rich
      And I got a set of six-pack abs that would blow your mind
      It turns girls on that I’m mysterious
      I tell ’em I don’t want nothing serious
      ‘Cause even on a slow day I can have a three-way chat
      With two women at one time.

      I’m so much cooler online
      Yeah, I’m cooler online.

      When you’ve got my kind of stats
      It’s hard to get a date
      Let alone a real girlfriend
      But I grow another foot and lose a bunch of weight
      Every time I log in.

      Online I’m out in Hollywood
      I’m six foot five and I look damn good
      Even on a slow day I can have a three-way chat
      With two women at one time.

      I’m so much cooler online
      Yeah, I’m cooler online
      I’m so much cooler online
      Yeah, I’m cooler online.

      • I have never heard the song yet it was spot on 🙂 pardon the rhyme it just happens online 🙂

        • well now the song lyrics are gone my reply just sounds very left field 🙂

          Some good thoughts here. I am a single mum and I like surfing the net, the churches I went to were like, I dunno, it was probably just me, but being a single woman with four kids to three different dads was tough to say the least. One day I will return to ‘meatspace’ – (I really liked that new word for the day).

          I have learnt far more online about God than I did at church and I love podcasts from some preachers that I would never get to hear. Like anything in ‘this life’ it must be treated with care.

          • “Like anything in ‘this life’ it must be treated with care.”

            Wise words, Debbie! Thanks for sharing!

  18. I think Jennifer’s comments are pretty spot on. For younger folks, digital forms of communication are as relevant as phones and letters for older folks. It’s simply another aspect of communication and an additional way to develop or enhance relationships.

    However, I get a little nervous when folks start telling me what’s real and what’s not and how I should or should not spend my time. Who are you, or Michael (rest in peace, brother) to tell someone which of their relationships are genuine and which are not? Why does anyone else get to decide the value of another person’s experience? It’s rather patronizing.

    Having said that, I understand the inclination to be alarmed over the influence that digital media has on our ability to engage in face-to-face intimacy. Surely we’ve all seen a table of people sitting together, ignoring each other in favor of texting on their phones? That disturbs me greatly.

    But clustering among like-minded folks isn’t just happening online. We see it in “brain drain” from rural communities, in religious communities that are completely lacking in diversity, in groups that exclude certain members—all of which occur in the “real” world. Perhaps cyber clustering and superficial interaction is simply a manifestation of what is occuring in the real world?

    I don’t know the answer, but I do know that digital media is a deeply ingrained part of our world, particularly for younger generations, and invalidating someone’s experience of cyber-based relationships probably isn’t all that helpful in the long run. Not all people compartmentalize their lives to such a degree.

    How does shaming people for finding a connection, any kind of connection, in an increasingly hyper-individualized and detached world improve anything? If we want to create environments that have more face-to-face contact, less digital dumbing down and bumper-sticker ideologies, and a greater level of personal involvement in community and family life, is it really best to go about it by invalidating someone’s experience?

    Personally, I don’t think so. I think there are healthier and more loving ways to encourage more face-to-face contact (or “real” life, as you call it. FYI–all aspects of my life are real, and I get to decide the quality and value of my relationships, and I would give that same respect to any person). I think the author & Michael’s reactions are typical of internet “celebrities,” because the drama can be exhausting. Perhaps we can focus less on the drama and celebrity factor and instead focus more on the positive aspects of New Media and figure out ways in which to utilize this new form of communication to better help people more fully engage in their day-to-day lives? Just a thought.

  19. Wow. Talk about being patronizing and judgmental! If you would go back and read the post, you will see that this was first designed as a wake up call to MYSELF, and secondly to those who take this forum far too seriously.

    No way does it invalidate the experience of others. It does call us to be more aware and thoughtful about what we’re doing.

  20. I do apologize, Chaplain Mike, as I did not intend for my response to seem patronizing or judgmental. I’m very sorry that you have found my comment offensive. Again, not my intention. More than likely, we are sharing equal surprise in reactions. As a side note, my main concern regarding a sense of invalidation comes from Michael’s line–“get a life!” and the insistence that there exists “real” and (?) unreal interactions.

    However, this does give pause, as this demonstrates the limits of this type of communication. What we intend is not always what is interpreted (obviously).

    As I mentioned, I think there is just cause for concern for being heavily entrenched in clustered cyber worlds. I simply think it’s a reflection of larger social trends. I don’t know if links are allowed, so I won’t post one, but Adbusters recently had an issue out about un-plugging. Would be interesting to see some comprehensive studies about what effect that had on folks. Perhaps there’d be less misinterpretation and offense?!

  21. I think you raise some very good points. The internet does play a vital part in my life. As a stay-at-home mom it is for great stretches of time the only place I can have some sort of adult interaction. However I’d be deluding myself if I thought the majority of those friendships were the stuff of which lasting bonds were made. There are exceptions, but the closest of my friendships are those where we are actually in conversation, not just typing essays back and forth.

    Blogs like IM are useful, but again I consider them much the same way I would consider a book. A useful jumping off place to spark my interest in something, to hear what other people have to say about the subject, but that’s pretty much it. It’s what I learn here and carry into conversation in the ‘real’ world that matters. So yeah, that’s what I would say…the internet is like a book. Pick it up, glean what you want, then put it down and go talk about it.

  22. One of the problems with a blog is that one only has about four paragraphs, maybe six to explain oneself. It leads to over-simplification. I have tried serial posts only to realize that people drop out and do not read day after day to the final post on a subject. But four paragraphs to discuss a subject that may take an entire large chapter in a theology book, with serious footnoting, inevitably leads to generalities and statements that may read much more certain than I personally am.

    On the other hand, I have learned so much from the blogs, and it spills back into the practical life I lead. Shhh, don’t tell Chaplain Mike, but I quoted him this last Sunday in my sermon! It was not plagiarism, I even said Internet Monk out loud. Better yet, lightning did NOT strike me!

  23. These confessions of Mike’s and Michael’s are disturbing. It reminds me of when, years ago, William Shatner went on prime time and told everyone that Star Trek was only make-believe, that it was filmed in Hollywood, and that we should “get on with our lives.”

    (But who is Shatner, really? Some huckster who has capitalized over the years on his uncanny resemblance to Captain James Tiberius Kirk…)

    I think in a similar vein Michael and Mike are putting us on…

  24. Does anyone else see the irony in posting such things to the Internet? As much as I agree, I can’t help but chuckle to myself. Especially as I’ve recently felt pushed by God to focus on people in meatspace both in and out of the Church. And as hard as that push is, still here I am….

  25. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Surprise! Most of these conversations don’t involve swapping the kinds of slogans I get in forwarded emails. No, these talks take place in the context of actual living and dying. We talk about what’s happening to someone’s body right in front of us. We talk about the feelings raised by this, the spiritual issues, and what dad’s going to do when his wife of 62 years walks through death’s door and leaves him behind.

    Other than crack up and have a breakdown?
    (That’s what I’d do in that situation…)

    I’m worried about churches in our current electronic and cyber-culture. Reliance upon programmed approaches and technology can easily promote “sound-bite” theology, activity masquerading as meaningful interaction with others, and a culture that “takes stands” on the big issues of the day, but cares little for actually knowing and loving one’s neighbor.

    Sometime last year, Christian Monist wrote a speculative flashfic about a 21st Century virtual Cyber-church in a future equivalent of Second Life on steroids. It ended up with all the church people’s avatars “fellowshipping” as complete automatic-response bots:

    This morning, because she feels more fearful than usual, she switched the fellowship program to automatic. The voce that is spoken by the computer is identical to Valencia’s own voice. It says the most appropriate thing in every situation . . . the thing that a woman of God would truly say. Valencia’s only choices, unless she takes it out of automatic mode, are which people to talk to and for how long. — JMJ

    Christian Monist’s “Twitter, Trafalmadoria, and the Church”:
    Part 1
    Part 2

  26. Anybody else notice that Michael Spencer’s tone on his blog seems to have changed quite a bit over the years he wrote here?

  27. For me this blog is at times, the one place I stop by to see how “the other side” thinks. Of my friends, only one is born again, although still quite liberal in her beliefs. (From what I know, she falls squarely in the liberal evangelical camp.)

    I love reading the discussions here, as this blog and the comments were the first ones to really, for lack of a better term, humanize the opposite side of the religious spectrum from me.

    So I’m here because I don’t agree with you. And I like you all the more for it. I feel incredibly privileged in the opportunity to read this blog and the comments. I know this isn’t reality, but in reality, I hardly get a chance to listen to people like you guys. Thank you all.

  28. Great post Mike. However, I think it’s important to realize the place for such things. I understand and appreciate the contrast you make to real life, and it is a point well taken. For many of us though (at least myself), I don’t look at this as a replacement to real life – it’s simply another venue. There is Wednesday night fellowship at church, scheduled meetings at coffeeshops, impromptu meetings with neighbors in the front yard, and then all my online venues.

    For one, I think it is a great place to work out your thoughts in writing, and then get feedback on them. It is also invaluable to me, as others have mentioned, as a place of learning. I’m not talking about indoctrination as you seem to imply with all the Fox news-type references. I’m talking about everything from learning doctrine to hearing other perspectives. Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature. I feel like I am doing the same, and in no small part via online resources such as yours. He and Paul both learned from (and later, instructed!) the scribes and teachers of the law. I think if Jesus had come during our time, he would be using Twitter, blogs, online bibles, etc. as tools. I’m certain Paul would as well.

    From your post though, it sounds like we’re of similar thinking. I fully agree that for many, this (the internet, technology) can become a place of escape. We need to be involved with real people face to face. If this is a place to build our training, or a place to engage them and further a relationship, then I think it’s a great thing!

    Thanks for your post!

    • For one, I think it is a great place to work out your thoughts in writing, and then get feedback on them. It is also invaluable to me, as others have mentioned, as a place of learning

      absolutely…..same here: I think , for me, a danger is going over the line from DEVELOPING my thoughts to ……OMG, I hope so-and-so reads and responds to my drivel over at I-Monk…..let me just check again (for the 45th time) to see is somebody with a pulse responded. I’m sure no one else here is that insecure…. 🙂

      nice post
      Greg R

      • Greg R, I just read your drivel over on another post (the one about Calvin being crucified for you) and am responding here. Thanks for the vote of confidence. I hope you haven’t had to check 45 times. And sometimes I think I’m as insecure as that too.

      • Funny you say that Greg, because I actually have checked back a couple of times!
        Not out of insecurity or a need to be validated so much – but simply because I hate it when people make a comment but don’t engage. I love the conversation, and appreciate the sites that notify me when a reply is posted, just so I can see if I need to go and respond.

  29. Mike,

    I have a slightly different take on this. In your “I’m concerned that…are not being formed by experiences lived out in daily events where we actually relate to others and learn to deal with matters in active, personal ways” section, the things listed were formed in many ways in past generations by the morning paper. Many people got up early and read the paper from cover to cover (how much a waste of time was that?) and were thought prudent. Growing up, many of my predujices were formed by the already existing prejudices of others, thus preventing me from relating to others in personal ways.

    But blogs and the net have changed that to a good degree for me because I have access to the people behind the stereotypes that I didn’t before. And yes, there were newspaper junkies then, too. My folks are about 80, and every time I visit I pick up their paper and glance through. The same people are writing 3-4 letters to the editor per week as when I was a kid. I don’t live here either, but I drop by for a chat and learn a bit.

  30. Christopher Lake says

    As a Christian single man with a physical disability who 1. cannot drive and 2. currently lives in a city and state with lackluster public transportation, I have to admit that the internet (sadly or not) comprises a good bit of my interaction with the “outside world.”

    That is not how I would *prefer* my life to be, but it is what it is. It’s also another reason that I’m trying to move back to the Washington, D.C area, where I had greater mobility and independence (due to better buses and the D.C. subway!) and more of a social life. Until then, seemingly, I have to largely be satisfied with fellowship at church services, occasional good conversations with my roommate (not on similar wavelengths at all– it’s tough), and communication via the internet.

    Now, with the above said (I mean, typed!), I do very much see the dangers in excessive use of the internet. In that vein, I’ll re-post here what I wrote earlier on the Ignatius Press blog:

    “The internet is a great tool for communication (and evangelization!), but once again, the Pope is so right– as much as is possible, we (humans) need to see each other *face-to-face.* We need genuine, tactile human contact. I have friends who rarely shop in bookstores anymore, because buying books over the net is cheaper and easier. I can understand this line of thinking, to an extent, but what about the wonderful people whom they might have met, and friendships that might have been made, in those stores? One of my dearest friendships originated in trips made to an old-style, brick-and-mortar “record store”– of the kind that are now more and more rare. Will humans (in the West at least) eventually do most of our “meaningful” interacting via computers? I dread the thought!”

    If anyone would like to read the Pope’s very thoughtful words on digital communication and its healthy and unhealthy use, go here:

    • I can relate to your struggle. My situation is much the same as yours (Single, disabled, no driving, stuck in a city with lackluster public transportation). It is a constant struggle to not let the internet (or TV, or radio) become the means by which the outside world is defined for you. And yet, without them, our contact with and knowledge of the world would be more limited than it is now.

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