It’s just not the same viewing life electronically. No matter how many proclaim the wonders of the Internet, nothing compares to experience.
Consider the difference of “seeing” the Grand Canyon in an Imax theater and actually going and looking over the precipice at that hole in the ground. I’ve done both. In the Imax theater, the audience catches a passing brush of feeling the depth and expanse of this magnificent canyon. That’s no comparison to touring the park, walking close to the edge of the rim or simply standing there watching the birds riding the wind currents into the canyons as the light plays with the layers of color. No camera can capture its expanse. I clicked a panoramic view from left to far right and failed to capture the plunging depth of the Canyon. A video misses the terror of seeing people play “chicken” with the edge of the Canyon. I went close, but I understood a middle school boy’s terror. He refused to walk anywhere near the edge. You have to be there to get that fear.
All that to say, while I am happy we have online school, business meetings, church and summer camp, it fails to compare. In recent months I watched sermons from the comfort of my lounge chair or on my phone. Anytime I decided I needed a break, I clicked it off and walked away.
I could not do that when I attended a church conference with a couple thousand other people. The internationally famous speaker described being in Korea and discovering a local church gathering in the early hours of the day to pray in a nearby stadium. Then, rather than urge us to pray in like manner, he cut his presentation short and said, “We will use the rest of my time to pray.” All around me I felt and heard people pray quietly, fervently, respectfully. The whole experience moved me more than it would have if I had been watching the recording from my lounge chair while the washing machine chugged in the background and the phone rang with another robo-call.
Many churches this year, including mine, have held online services, Daily Vacation Bible School and even camp via the Internet. The staff spent hours planning, videoing and editing. Good job, but it falls short of Hebrews 10:25 “let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” The Church is the people of the church interacting, not buildings or events.
I love going to camp, having time to talk with others about their experiences in the faith. I enjoy watching the children play together for hours. I relish time to sit for hours on the front porch of the dining hall and not feeling rushed to go home to fix another meal. There is no way I can duplicate the interchange of experiences and information with real people who respond to my questions, comments and facial expressions even as I do theirs. The topics change as we interact without a disembodied outsider deciding what we need to hear and discuss via the internet.
Years ago I watched a child who had had spent years cooped up in front of a television discover nature during his first weekend at camp. He ran, played, and explored from dawn to dusk and attended classes a couple times each day. At one point he walked up to us and declared, “this is heaven.” No way he would have said that if he had spent another day cooped up staring at a screen.
Covid-19 sent us home for a while. We do not need to stay there. It’s time to move beyond the electronic experience.