How do I look? I could answer that for myself, actually: a small rectangle at the bottom of the screen showcased a weary-looking woman in a nightgown, considerably on the other side of forty. She could have used a good concealer in spots, and a little lipstick. She was lying down, and gravity was having its way with her face.
Good Lord. I quickly sat up and looked at the screen again. That was better: my hair was still limp and my lips invisible, but at least my cheeks were back where they belonged. Note to self: immediate cremation, unless the undertaker can be persuaded to display my corpse sitting up.
The people on the other end of the call were to kind enough not to comment -- they just laughed. But you guys all look great, I said to Joanna. She was visiting the rectory family at St. Peter's Bay Shore, and we were working on the tech that will enable video eMos to travel across the sea, so that Farmers will be able to see what life is like in Florence, not just read about it. Once again I am out in front of my ability to use any of these machines - I am the woman who can barely press "send" and yet has a web site visited by thousands. I know what I want to do -- sort of -- but must rely on the people who understand these things to bring it about. And almost everybody understands them better than I do.
Together, though, we got to a point at which the visuals on both sides of the call looked pretty good -- even I contributed to this happy state once, accidentally clicking on something that made the image larger. David popped in and out of the screen, laughing as he experimented with lights and camera angles. The camera loves Jane, who sat like a Madonna with little William on her lap -- I last saw him three months ago, and he is an utterly different baby now. I thought of our own little Chickpea, who will make the scene in September. We will not be here for his birth. But we'll be able to see him on the computer screen.
An autistic teenager, who cannot speak but can communicate eloquently on a computer. Housebound people, elderly people, in touch with faraway families online. Lonely people, who find new community in a completely new way. Busy people, traveling people, even people who do not wish us well -- everyone is here on the screen, a click away. Who can resist?
Well, but this isn't real community, people unused to it say. It's not face to face. You can just turn it off, you know. There's no accountability.
Maybe. But I have seen many face to face communities in which it was very easy to turn someone off, very easy to stop speaking, very easy to misrepresent the truth about oneself. Someone who wants to lie will find a way to do so wherever he is, and so will someone who wants to tell the truth. Enlarging the opportunities to speak the truth always enlarges the opportunities to do the opposite. There has never been a human endeavor that was not dual in its moral potential.
So we must enter this new virtual world, and we can enter it with confidence. We can use it in the ways we can, and glory in what it enables us to do and be. We can rely on one another for help with its mysteries until we learn them, and we must not be ashamed of having to do so -- it is good for human beings to need each other.
Attention Clergy Families: New York writer and Geranium Farmer Holly Bellows is working on a project focusing on clergy spouses and their relationship with the congregation. She is interviewing women and men worldwide who are clergy spouses, divorced, gay, straight or widowed. The clergy spouses may be from all Christian denominations, Jewish or Muslim. Visit More or Less Church at www.geraniumfarm.org to participate in this project.