This is part of a series of reflections on the Deep Faith/Pastors and Leaders 2020 conference held March 2-5, 2020 at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary.
Barbara Ewy is a member of the pastoral team at First Mennonite Church in Reedley, California, where her particular role is serving as the children’s pastor. Barbara has worked with children for over twenty years. She is married to Alan Ewy and they have two grown children.
“Like a father who has taught us, grasped our hand and been our guide, lifted us and healed our sorrows, God has walked with us in life” (from “Like a mother who has borne us,” Sing the Journey #91).
I woke up Sunday morning with this hymn running through my head. We had sung it during the Deep Faith conference at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary the previous week. This was my first Deep Faith conference and I was not sure what to expect from the week. I went as part of our pastoral team, all of whom participated in the conference this year. I knew we would have times to reflect together afterwards; I’m sure we will continue to do that in days to come.
It was a good week. We thought about faith and digital culture from a variety of perspectives. I teach children in Sunday school and Kids Club. The children come with their phones and digital devices. They talk about Fortnite, Minecraft and other digital games. Their world is different from the world I grew up in, a world with no mobile phones, no computers, no digital games. I valued this opportunity to reflect on the world these children know.
Of course, it is a mixed bag, both good and bad. Like other tools, books for example, the digital world can foster social networking or isolation, spiritual growth or depravity. Culture itself is an ambivalent term.
As Anabaptists, we value being countercultural. And yet we cannot escape culture. Being countercultural is a form of culture itself, a following of social behavior and norms that run contrary to popular culture and attempt, from a faith perspective, to follow Christ in our daily behavior and relationships. Of course this impacts how we look at digital culture. At the conference, we were encouraged to ask not just how we use a technology but whether we should use a technology.
In her workshop on “Incarnational Theology and Contemplative Practices” Lora Nafziger asked us to think theologically: “Where is God in this?” I know that there are times when I need to turn off the computer, silence my phone, and take quiet time. There are times when a board game with family or friends is more life-giving than playing an online game. But there are also times when an online blog or prayer or post draws me nearer to God, reminds me of God’s ever-present spirit, causes me to stop and just be.
Being aware of sacred ground, even digitally, reminds me that all of ground is sacred.
Finding a brother or sister online who is very different from myself reminds me that all of us are created in God’s image, even those I disagree with. I think the biggest “takeaway” that I came home with was a question that impacts both when I enter the digital culture and how I engage the digital culture. That question is simply, “What is life-giving?” There are online times that have been life-giving; there are also times when being online is not. Part of self-monitoring is learning to recognize the difference.
As I work with children, I recognize that the digital world is their world. Turning back the clock is not really an option. However, recognizing the rhythms of life is an important learning. The digital world is generally fast. Children learn rather quickly how to navigate it. But children, too, need time for silence, for quiet, for reflection. I hope to foster those times with the children as well as the more active, interactive times. We can have thoughtful conversations about what is helpful online and what is not. We can talk about when being online is a good thing and when it is not. And I’m sure the children have much that they can teach me; they are much more technologically savvy than I ever will be.
I believe God wants each of us to have life and have life abundantly. Each verse of the hymn that ran through my head Sunday morning ends with one of the following lines: “God has called us into life … God has walked with us in life … God still calls us into life … God still walks with us in life.” Yes! Even digitally!