The New Spirituality of ‘Connectedness’

Most of us nowadays can probably recognize what this spaghetti of wires that I have photographed here is. Without it, my laptop, my iPad, and my phone will be useless pieces of metal in a day or two, though my Kindle may last, oddly enough, several weeks. And it is important to note that that black thing in the wall outlet, and the white thing right next to it, are essential parts of the puzzle. If I had all the rest of the assemblage and not those, the spaghetti of wires would be useless outside the Western Hemisphere, for I would not be able to plug into an electric outlet. The black thing is a universal adapter.

I live in a world of “connectedness”, which means that all these devices depend on something outside themselves. My phone depends on the network of the country I am in. My laptop depends on my ability to get WiFi or something like it at the spot where I am. In a real way, all these devices become different objects wherever they go, working differently and under different rules. And it is not just these devices. There is the electric connection, and there is the wireless connection. When I present a credit card, that in itself does not establish me as automatically able to actually use it. Some computer in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, dares to pass on whether I am indeed “worthy” to use the card at that point for whatever I intend to use it for. Traditional tools were not so. If I have a hammer and a nail, the hammer works on the nail substantially the same everywhere in the world, and no computer in South Dakota is going to rule on my fitness and worthiness to use that hammer on that nail at this particular time. And there are “connections” having nothing to do with these wires. If Cellular Data or Wi-Fi are not working at whatever spot I am, my phone is deprived of all of its functions except telephoning and texting; and if the phone company signal is weak, I lose those two functions, too. And the same with this laptop. I will probably not be able to send this post from Mragowo, Poland, where I am typing it.

I think all this affects how we see our “connection” with God. People in my “boomer” generation, who grew up when credit cards were not automatically validated by computer, and whose typewriters [an old kind of computer, in case you haven”t heard of the term] may have run on electricity or not, but the main ways of communicating with people out of earshot were writing letters and calling on the telephone, which consisted entirely of what we did not know are called “land lines”. So our generation of Christians put a rather touchy-feely, if not almost erotic, spin on Biblical passages like John 15: “A branch can”t produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you can”t produce fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything.” It was my generation that plagued the Christian world with what I tend to call “God Is My Girl Friend” music, whose lyrics were interchangeable with girl friend and boy friend songs; Jesus and the girl friend are declared to accomplish very similar changes in our lives. Gen X, the current in-between generation right now [ages 32 and 47], to its credit, seems to have put a stop to a lot of that; most Christian chants, even the relatively mindless ones, at least recognize God and His attributes as something unique. But I suspect that a new model of “relationship” to Christ may be current among the younger folks, and it may be illustrated by the picture above. That is probably their mental image of the “vine” of which we are the “branches”. Of course, other parts of the “vine” are invisible; our worthiness to charge on a credit card, our text messages, our e-mails from phones glide through the air invisibly. So unlike a grape, we have several kinds of “connection”, not just one. It is quite true that we are dependent on Christ for everything we do; what kind of effect will this new image have on our spirituality, or even our theology?

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