Scott Benhase: Real presence in a virtual world
Not used to talkin' to somebody in the body. Somebody in a body, somebody in a body.
- U2, “Fast Cars”
The recent political spectacle in our national life has exposed our growing inability to really listen to another person who is embodied in our time and space. This requires us not to interrupt them or pretend to listen while we’re actually formulating our rebuttal. It also demands that we not see the other person as an object to be dismissed into a category we’ve already reserved for them, but rather as another human being who has known love as well as heartache, has succeeded in something but has also failed in other things.
In other words, they’re real persons, not caricatures.
I’m afraid our Facebooked, texted and tweeted culture has further disembodied our sense of self and consequently how we’re present and incarnate in real time and with people who currently cohabitate our space. For some this gives license to literally de-personalize other people. As this ratchets up, the other people become distorted figments of what we project on to them from the disembodied distance of our computer or smart phone.
In his amazing book, “To End All Wars,” Adam Hochschild carefully documents the run up to WWI. Unlike in many other wars, there was no real provocation. The nations who went to war were eagerly trading with one another. Their respective royal families were intermarried. But a series of miscommunications and misinterpretations about those communications quickly led one side to strike first to avoid what they perceived to be the imminent strike of the other. Soon after came the propaganda campaign that effectively characterized the respective sides as inhumane monsters. Most people were willing to accept the characterization of the propagandists. As Paul Simon penned, “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
The central truth of the Christian faith is the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. The incarnation tells us that our matter matters to God. The truth of God gracing human life in Jesus reveals that humanity has been endowed with a worth and dignity beyond creation.
St. Paul conveys this truth in 2 Corinthians 5. He says that as Christians we can no longer regard one another in a dismissive manner. Since Christ became one of us and has now been resurrected, our perspective on one another must change. “No one,” St. Paul says, can now be seen in any way other than in the light of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension. Our humanity has ascended to God with Christ.
“No one” means no one, not even our enemies, our political rivals or even that neighbor (you know who you are) who has repeatedly ignored our requests to remove that old Chevy up on blocks in his front yard.
We Christians need to start a revolution of really being incarnate so we can be truly human with one another and not just objects of one another’s projections. Let’s start with members of the church and we’ll work from there.
Scott Benhase is the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Georgia.