Monday, February 21, 2011

Embodiment as a Spiritual Discipline

I remember the "good old days" of sitting in the "gifted classrooms" at the county administration building in middle school programming the Apple II to make my name flash on the screen.  Flash forward six years, and I'm sitting in a lab of computers ten times as big trying to get the command right after the DOS prompt to find WordPerfect so that I could complete my first word processed paper in college.  Shortly after graduating I was using the internet and e-mail, and today I am resisting the urge to upgrade so that I can do so on a device that will fit into my pocket.

The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian AmericaI'm certainly not at the head of the curve by any means, but like many (would it be presumptive to say most) I am certainly experiencing the ever increasing pull of connectedness offered by modern technology.  I am in the middle of reading a book called "The Next Christians" by Gabe Lyons.  I'll write a review of the book later, but chapter 8 is titled Grounded, not Distracted.  I encountered a new concept in this chapter that would serve all of us well in the changing world of the 21st century.

Lyons describes the concept of being "embodied, not divided" by sharing a story about Kevin Kelley, a senior writer for Wired Magazine.  To paraphrase, Kelly shares that God chose to be embodied in Jesus relating to his "creations" by being present with them.  Perhaps this would be another way of saying incarnational, but 1)does anyone really use that word, and 2)the idea of embodiment fits so much more nicely with the idea of the true church being the body of Christ on earth.

The basic premise of the idea of Embodiment is being truly present for others.  I notice this problem most acutely when I find myself at the counter of a store and the attendant takes a phone call while providing service to me.  I once had a parent take a phone call in the middle of a parent-teacher conference. (I am a teacher if you didn't know)  Most of American adult culture bemoans the teenage addiction to devices, but the over-30 crowd is quickly surpassing our youth in their attachment to technology driven connection.

Abstinence may be the answer for some, but the basic rules of embodiment as spelled out by Kelly and related in Lyons' book sounds like a great plan for beginning to notice our surroundings. 

Priority One: Face-to-Face.  If you are able to be physically in front of another person, they should have your full attention.

Priority Two:  Voice-to-Voice.  Without the visual "accountability" of physical presence it becomes increasingly important to refrain from engaging in other distracting behaviors such as watching the television, viewing your computer screen, etc.  Again, full attention to the person you are engaging with.

Priority Three: Screen-to-Screen.  Even here, we should be mindful that communication is a vital part of relationship.  We should keep this communication as brief as possible and recognize that there are limits to what can be communicated effectively this way.  And as always, the person with whom we are communicating deserves our full attention.

I doubt that Embodiment will achieve the status of traditional disciplines such as prayer and fasting (indeed, perhaps it shouldn't)  but as Christians in the 21st century, striving to be "in and not of" this world, the discipline appears to be a Christ-like practice.  The discipline of embodiment should keep us aware of the needs that God places in our lives enabling us to better serve as the body of Christ on earth.

Lyons' suggests that this relates to the story of Daniel refusing to eat the King's food.  A practice which seemed counter-cultural and certainly not mainstream led to blessing not only for Daniel, but for the lives that he touched.  Perhaps discipline in our use of technology, counter-cultural as it may seem, will serve to bless not only our lives, but the lives of others that we interact with daily.

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