The World Online: Real or Not?

My hand typing on my keyboard alongside the other things on my desk

Why is what I put online less real than this?

Is your online life “real”?

It’s an important question.  For many people, the “life” they experience online is detached somehow from the life they have in the “real” world.  Some people eschew the use of social media because they believe that it prevents them from connecting with people in the “real” world.

I hate that phrase: “the real world.”

When we interact with others online–whether in the context of social media, online gaming, email, voice-chat, or IRC–we are interacting with real people.  We are using our real bodies to interact.  What we do online is as real as anything else we do in our lives.

Yes, it is possible to construct an online persona that is different in some quantifiable or qualitative way from the persona that you project to people you meet away from your computer screen.  I think we are all guilty of using personae to protect ourselves both in our online interactions and offline.  We do that to protect ourselves.  Being completely honest about who you are is a very vulnerable place to be.  And, really, how many of us ever know who we truly are?  I think most of us spend our lifetimes constructing, deconstructing, and reconstructing our identities.  Our online interactions are just one part of that.  Although aspects of the personality you present online might be different than the personality you use offline, I believe that, except in the case of deliberate dishonesty, we are experimenting with identity in both cases.

Some people will suggest that too much screen time leads to disengaging from social interaction in the “real world.”  For some people, like myself, interacting with people online provides more social interaction than we are likely to get offline.  If I was to cut myself off from the internet, would it drive me to socialize more with people offline?  Maybe, but it might also drive me deeper into social isolation and make me a lonelier and more depressed person.

Are friendships made with people we may never meet offline less real than those we make offline?  I don’t think so.  I am often more honest, open, and vulnerable with people online than offline.  Offline, I am constrained by social rules and shyness, which inhibits me from sharing openly or seeking out interaction with others.  Online, I share more freely, uninhibited by my attempts to read other people’s facial expressions or to provoke certain positive responses from them in conversation.  Offline, my fear of conflict and rejection can prevent me from being all of who I am.

Interaction online still requires the use of my physical body.  No one has yet invented a port that connects our minds directly with the internet, and even if they had, we would still need our physical brains to form the thoughts that are in our minds. (At least until they figure out if it is possible to “upload” our minds, and even then, we would simply be trading a body of flesh for a body of electrical…*ahem* I read a lot of sci-fi.)

So, I believe that our online life is just as real as our offline life.  In fact, I think if we integrate them both, it will help us to find a fuller understanding of “who we are” and, instead of being a barrier to relationship and communication, it can be a path to greater and deeper connection.

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Why I Get Excited about the Incarnation

What’s so exciting about the Incarnation of Jesus?

It comes across at first as a dry theological topic.  It has a Latin-y name with more than two syllables.  It sounds kind of vague and abstract and ivory-tower.

In fact, the exciting thing about the Incarnation of Jesus is that it is none of these things.

When we find Jesus in His human body, we find something not vague, but specific.  Not abstract, but concrete.  Not ivory-tower, but down-in-the-dirt with the least of us.

Jesus has a human body.  A specific human body.  With specific features.  Unfortunately for us, none of the disciples cared to describe Jesus’ appearance in writing for us, which might be because he doesn’t look like anything special. (In fact, in Isaiah 53:2b, Isaiah foretells that there would be nothing about him that would cause us to take a second look.)  But he has features: he has a nose of a certain shape, eyes of a specific colour, a mouth that curves upward in just a certain way when He sees His friends.  I don’t want to speculate on what He looks like because we simply don’t know…yet.  But someday we will.

Jesus has a human body.  A concrete human body.  It isn’t a ghost’s “body,” somehow looking physical but actually made of energy or something.  He has a solid, touchable, human body.  Granted, His human body is now transformed, so it has…properties…that our bodies don’t yet have, but it is still a concrete body.  It is a concrete body that no doubt tore at the flesh of His virgin mother when she gave birth to Him.  It is a concrete body that felt the warmth and wetness of the tears of the woman who came to wash His feet.  It is a concrete body that cried tears when He felt–with His real, human, poignant feelings–the grief of His friends over the death of their brother, Lazarus, when He felt His own grief.  It is a concrete body that still bears the concrete scars of His crucifixion: holes in His hands (wrists?) and His feet, a gap in His side where the spear pierced His concrete flesh, His forehead torn by the thorns of the crown they gave Him.

Jesus has a human body.  A comes-from-the-dirt human body.  This isn’t an ivory-tower, academic, castle-in-the-clouds concept.  This is a truth that is as real as the ground beneath our feet, the sweat on our skin, the blood pounding in our ears.  Jesus is alive in this body right now in the presence of God, in the dimension we call Heaven.  Jesus, the Son of God, the Word that was in the beginning, the One in whom all things hold together, has a real human body that we will someday see with our real human eyes.  Jesus knows what it means to be hungry, to feel physical pain, to experience temptation, to hug a friend or family member, to touch a person suffering from disease, to craft something with his hands, to mix spit with dirt to create mud.  Academics (and I am one of them, most of the time) can make almost anything so difficult to understand that it seems like they’re just making things up as they go along, or so aloof from reality that we can’t ever figure out why certain concepts matter.

But the body of Jesus matters.  The body of Jesus is matter.

I get excited about the Incarnation of Jesus because it’s the part of the story where everything changes.  God, who crafted human beings out of the primordial stuff, the basics that make up even the dirt that we walk on, that God chose to become one of us.  He chose to cast His lot in with us, to take the death that we deserved, and then to pave the way for us to become like Him.  Because His real human body is present with God, our real human bodies can be present with God…someday.  Because His flesh was transformed, our flesh will be transformed…someday.  Because the dirt from which His body was formed, that basic stuff…tissues, cells, DNA, atoms, electrons, the Higgs boson…all of that basic stuff will be transformed…someday.

So, how can I not get excited about the Incarnation of Jesus?  Because Jesus is matter, matter matters.  Because Jesus has a body, we can trust that our individual bodies, and the whole of the universe, will someday be transformed in a collision between the eternal heaven and the currently-finite universe.

Your mileage may vary, but to me this is Very Good News.

That’s why I get excited about the Incarnation of Jesus.

Such a Geek

I’m a geek.  It’s why I get loud when I need to defend Hayao Miyazaki films or how, if you mention Lord of the Rings, you’ll have to talk to me about it for the next hour.  It’s why I spend most of my spare time playing video games (one of which is set in Middle Earth—go figure) or consuming sci-fi/fantasy books, movies, and TV shows.  I used to worry so much about letting my geekiness show, but after I learned not to hide who I am out of fear of the stigma attached, I became a happier person.  I figure that if you want to know who I am, you’ll have to be introduced to the geek.  You can take her or leave her, but she isn’t likely to change.  I am blessed to be married to a geek guy, someone who doesn’t worry that his wife takes it as a point of pride that she can identify the planetary origin of a specific spacecraft from Star Trek just based on its appearance.  And I am happy that my parents raised me on Star Wars and Star Trek, let me play on the Commodore (and learn to code a few lines of Basic), and gave me my first box set of The Chronicles of Narnia when I was six or seven, and—possibly unwittingly—my first set of Dungeons & Dragons novels when I was nine.

One of my geeky girl-crushes is Felicia Day, creator of the online show “The Guild” and the Youtube channel “Geek & Sundry”.  In this following video, Day (hyping the new season on Geek & Sundry) explores the meaning of the word geek.  I’ll just get you started when she brings up the question, “What is a geek?”

As Felicia Day suggests, being a geek is more than just belonging to a specific fandom (i.e. comic books, sci-fi, video games, etc.).  A geek is a person who “dares to love something that isn’t conventional.”  My weird interests will probably always make me a bit of an outsider, but there’s something more important than all of this that leaves me on the margins of a society like ours.

I’m a geek for Jesus.

Brown t-shirt  with white text that reads

Look, I even found a Jesus Geek t-shirt on zazzle.com!

Yeah, yeah, that sounds kind of like a trite, t-shirt slogany thing to say, but it’s true.  Getting as excited about Jesus as I do about Star Trek makes me an outsider, just as Day suggests.  To a certain extent, all Christians are outsiders, all Christians are Jesus Geeks.  But sometimes I feel like that geek-as-outsider even within the Church, and not just because I treat imaginary worlds as if they were real, sometimes.

I get really, really excited about things like the Incarnation.  I mean, really excited…bouncing in my seat kind of excited.  That’s strange for someone as introverted and shy as I am.  But when our pastor starts talking about Jesus being alive, right now, in his physical, ascended body, this shy, introverted, self-conscious, white Canadian wants to jump up and shout, “AMEN! PREACH IT, BROTHER!”  Which I don’t, because I go to a church largely made up of formerly Presbyterian second-generation Korean-Canadians and I don’t want to give anyone a heart attack.  I do it inside my head, though, and then go home and give my husband, bless his patient heart, the sermon/testimony that I wanted to give at church.

This blog might end up being another outlet for those excited, half-baked, emotive geek-outs that I need to share.  In fact, I think I need to geek-out about the Incarnation for you, so expect that later this week.

A Necessary GPOY*

It’s been more than a year since my first post, and there is an embarrassing gap in my posting record after June 26, 2012, but I hope to do better.  Because of the small number of posts I have up, I still want to do some introduction to who I am.

Having covered the nebulous, idea-based introduction in my first post, I’d like to get down to brass tacks.  Who am I beyond what I think?  I mentioned in that first post that I am a Christian.  I mention it again because there is nothing more important to my identity than my love of Jesus Christ.  It even goes on my census form, I think—or it used to back when Canada had a long-form census (did I mention that I had a political streak?).

Other important census details: I am a cisgender, heterosexual woman in my early thirties, married to a man I love deeply and who is unequivocally my best friend.  I have made a career mostly of being a student with some years of administration thrown in for sense and good measure.  In 2012, I graduated from Regent College in Vancouver, BC with a Master of Christian Studies (soon to be an MA in Theology).  My undergraduate degree was completed at the University of Alberta over ten years ago and gives me the privilege of declaring that I know A Good Deal about English literature.

I still read a lot and I still analyze the things I read, even the things I read for fun…or perhaps especially those things.  I analyze almost everything, in fact, from movies to television shows to the way the groceries are stocked at my local supermarket.  Don’t get me started on advertising.  I’ll save that for a future post or, more likely, posts.

I also have learned to identify myself as fat.  I am learning through the Health at Every Size movement and the fat activism community to own that name—not as a source of shame but as a part of my identity.  I believe that our bodies are our selves (to borrow a feminist term), and so, if I am sharing my true self, it makes a difference what my body looks like to other people.  I also recognize—painfully, a lot of the time—that we are a culture obsessed with bodies, personal image, and food, and that being fat in the midst of that culture can be a difficult experience.  My thesis, in fact, deals with women’s body image concerns (especially as caused by objectification), so there will be a lot of discussion on this blog about bodies.

In terms of body identity, it also bears mentioning that I am temporarily able-bodied (is that still the correct term?), with the exception of some rather bad myopia and astigmatism.

Before I take it for granted again, I also want to mention that I’m white.  It means that I forget sometimes that not everyone experiences the world the way that I have, from a position of privilege.  It often feels like there’s no not-awkward way to talk about race, though, so I try to do the best thing I can: shut up and listen when others are talking about their experiences.

Let’s see: I’ve covered gender, race, age, religion, body size and ability, education, and marital status.  Oh, just for spice I’ll throw in that I am an INFP on the Meyers-Briggs Personality Inventory, and that I’m actually very shy.  That should cover it, but if you have any other not-creepy questions, please feel free to add them in the comments!

*GPOY: A Gratuitous Picture of Yourself

What’s a body to do?

For the past four years I have been engaged in the research and writing of a thesis that was the final requirement for my Master of Christian Studies degree from Regent College in Vancouver, BC.  The title of my thesis rather sums up the topic and main concern: “This is My Body: Responding to the Sexual Objectification of Women through a Theology of the Body.”  It should come as no surprise to learn, then, that I’m very passionate about two issues: women’s rights and human embodiment.  Embodiment might not seem to be an issue, as such, but in my experience, human beings—especially 21st Century North American human beings—have very conflicted relationships with our bodies.

Women feel it more acutely: images of the female body are everywhere and used to sell a mind-boggling number of products.  Men, however, are increasingly being targeted by beauty advertising as well, as the recent Hugh Laurie L’Oreal campaign rather painfully demonstrates.  At the same time, North America is (apparently) suffering from an “obesity epidemic” in which bodies are being targeted as the loci of a frantic and pervasive nervousness about health—private and public—and longevity.  North Americans aren’t really sure what to do about death.  We try to put it off by “doing the right things” whether that means “eating right” or “exercising enough.”  If we are not embracing this asceticism aimed at avoiding the unnameable inevitability of death, then we are instead ignoring our bodies, using them as tools of hedonistic self-indulgence: eating, drinking, smoking, or f…well, you get the picture.

Death isn’t going anywhere, of course, so we are forced to deal with it eventually.  How North Americans imagine death is also fascinating.  Both religious and non-religious people attempt to envision so-called spiritual life-after-death.  Popular television deals all the time with questions of what happens after we die, with entire programs dedicated to exploring that undiscovered country, or at least the passenger lounge before one truly departs for it.  Can a troubled “soul” “cross-over” or will s/he need help?  Is there a place—possibly called heaven—where we go when we die or do we just cease to exist?  Do we all go to the same place, or are some of us punished for our misdeeds, and what misdeed is bad enough to warrant such a punishment?  Can we achieve “higher levels” of consciousness and “evolve” to a point where we won’t need physical bodies anymore?

North American culture is deeply, richly steeped in a philosophical tradition called dualism.  Very basically, it is the belief that human beings are made up of a body and a soul/spirit/mind which animates the body.  In most cases, the belief also tends to be that the soul/spirit/mind is the “true person” and that the body is simply a vehicle that the “true person” roams about in.  This leaves the body in a precarious position.  Do we love it or hate it?  Should we rebuild it if it doesn’t look the way we would like?  Should we ensure that we maintain it as carefully as possible so that it doesn’t break down on us?  Does it really matter what I do with my body since it isn’t really me at all?

Christians often buy into this dualism as well, accepting a tradition that first began to creep into Christianity in the days of the Greeks.  Read the epistles of Paul the wrong way and you end up with something close to dualism (i.e. my soul is the best part of me so I can’t wait to die and go to heaven and have no icky, sinful body to contend with).  In my experience, this is a very common error.  I’ve made it myself in the past, considering the soul to be the only part of me that was made in the image of God.  As I’ve journeyed through my theological degree and been led by the Holy Spirit, however, I’ve come to a different understanding, and that understanding is expressed in my thesis.

Human bodies are made in the image of God.  I don’t know exactly what this means except to make sure that you know I don’t believe that God look anything like us (except Jesus, of course, who has a human body!).  My logic goes like this: without bodies, we would make pretty crappy servants of God.  God created a real, physical world filled with an inexpressible diversity of life, and we are a part of that real, physical world.  In fact, God charges us with a task: the care of that world.  We can’t care for God’s world without real, physical bodies.  Nothing I’ve read in the Bible suggests that God created human souls and then decided they needed flesh-suits.  Whether you take Genesis literally or not, it seems pretty clear that God created/caused-the-evolution-of flesh-beings and then made them come alive mentally in a way not shared by the other animals.  In other words, our bodies make us who we are in at least as fundamental a way as our souls—whatever they might be, exactly.

So if we are Christians, I think we need to take our bodies seriously, not treating them with cruelty or disdain nor abusing them with pleasure-seeking.  When we learn to accept our own bodies as gifts of God, then I think we need to learn to accept the bodies of others as such as well.  If all bodies are good gifts, then it is deeply disrespectful to treat any body as nothing but a manipulatable, sellable object.

Expect more words about bodies on this blog, then, since it is a topic which I am passionate about, and one about which I have spent a lot of time in thought.