books  |  The Virtual Body of Christ in a Suffering World

November, 2016
Abingdon Press
ISBN-10: 1501815180
ISBN-13: 978-1501815188
144 pp
Category: Theology

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The Virtual Body of Christ in a Suffering World focuses on the current digital revolution and its potential for helping us better care for one another in the worst times of our lives.

We live in a wired world where 24/7 digital connectivity is increasingly the norm. Christian megachurch communities often embrace this reality wholeheartedly while more traditional churches often seem hesitant and overwhelmed by the need for an interactive website, a Facebook page and a twitter feed. This book accepts digital connectivity as our reality, but presents a vision of how faith communities can utilize technology to better be the body of Christ to those who are hurting while also helping followers of Christ think critically about the limits of our digital attachments.    

This book begins with a conversion story of a non-cell phone owning, non-Facebook using religion professor judgmental of the ability of digital tools to enhance relationships. A stage IV cancer diagnosis later, in the midst of being held up by virtual communities of support, a conversion occurs: this religion professor benefits in embodied ways from virtual sources and wants to convert others to the reality that the body of Christ can and does exist virtually and makes embodied difference in the lives of those who are hurting.
    
The book neither uncritically embraces nor rejects the constant digital connectivity present in our lives. Rather it calls on the church to a) recognize ways in which digital social networks already enact the virtual body of Christ; b) tap into and expand how Christ is being experienced virtually; c) embrace thoughtfully the material effects of our new augmented reality, and c) influence utilization of technology that minimizes distraction and maximizes attentiveness toward God and the world God loves.

Embraced by the Virtual Body of Christ: A Conversion Story
[ excerpt ] 

 
“Not many years ago, I had a dim view of the Internet’s ability to create networks of trust and support. Living and working with others constantly connected to—and distracted by—their digital tools left me skeptical that any new relational depth was being plumbed through our increasingly digitized lives. I did not own a cell phone and was quick to judge others whose attention focused more on their hand-held devices than on the people sitting next to them.

Then I got sick. Really sick.

In a matter of months, I went from a healthy forty-one-year-old religion professor, wife, and mother to a virtual invalid with a broken back, a stage IV cancer diagnosis, and a grim prognosis for the future.

To keep family and friends updated during the early days following the diagnosis, my brother proposed the creation of a CaringBridge site, an online social network that connects people who have serious issues with those who care about them. Because I was a digital skeptic, I imagine that if I hadn’t been on so much oxycodone I would have protested setting up such a site.

Once the site went live, news of my diagnosis spread quickly; just as quickly, loved ones, friends, and even strangers signed up to receive my CaringBridge updates. From my posts about what stage IV cancer was doing to my body to entries on the grief of having to resign from my very full and wonderful life, my cries were met not just with responses on the CaringBridge site but also with emails, cards, packages, visits, and calls from people from all corners of my life. It was shocking to realize that through virtual connectedness via a website, I was surrounded by a cloud of witnesses greater than any I could have previously imagined.”