Have you ever tried to navigate a sticky relationship via computer? Perhaps a disagreement with a friend or a dicey situation at work? You sit down, the desk chair creaks a bit, your fingers start flying. At first you type out of fear or with a good streak of indignation. The keys are clicking fast and hard. You stop, re-read it. Too harsh. Backspace, backspace, backspace. Start again.
Having this conversation face-to-face has definitely crossed your mind. Perhaps face-to-face is an impossible option due to time or distance. Or maybe it is simply easier not to have to look this particular person in the eyes. Either way, you find yourself in a moment of challenging communication. Two computer screens, cyberspace, and a chasm that opens you up to the vast canyons of misinterpretation standing between you and another person.
In our world of electronic anonymity, where screen names, nicknames, and protected passwords can hide our identities, disagreement and engagement that shows value for others and integrity has become increasingly hard to come by. Whether inside the church or out, behind the shield of a laptop we are engaging one another in new and increasingly painful ways.
"If I just e-mail her I can get this off my plate quickly."
"Does her brief response mean she is upset with me or just short on time?"
"If I just send a message she won't know how frustrated I really am."
"Is she too upset to engage with me or did my message end up in her Spam folder?"
A leadership team at my church recently came to the brink of collapsing. Different agendas, leadership styles, and personalities set a few well-meaning women against one another. The situation itself was precarious and fragile. It became explosive when the tension went electronic.
In an attempt to rescue an already over-worked team from the burden of meetings, this group agreed to use e-mail as the primary form of communication. But it instantly became elusive.
Comments typed with joy were received in anger. Black words on a white screen were void of facial expressions. Exclamation points followed by the internet smile :) did little to assuage feelings of insecurity or fear the same way as a warm hug. And was this team not up for the challenge of facing the issues and limiting their e-mails in exchange for personal, the entire ministry they represent could easily have slipped into a cyber abyss.
Jesus clearly lays out a journey with others that is lived in the light. Scripture is filled with God's invitation to do life openly and honestly, to let that which is fearful and dark be known. Let that which hinders growth and knowledge be cast off. This is not to over-spiritualize e-mail, but it is a reminder that even the simplest bits of communication can end up crouching in dark, faceless places in our hearts.