By Maria L. Evans
If someone were to ask me to sum up the entire theme of the Bible in a single sentence, my answer would be, “The Bible is a story of humanity constantly searching for a place with God that they can call home.” We see the non-permeability of “home” for the Hebrew people and their need to create a home with God despite being slaves in Egypt and aliens in Babylon. We see Jesus trying to bridge our physical and spiritual home through his life, death, burial and resurrection. We see the tension of “families” working out their homes in the early church through the Epistles. We hear the promises of home in the Psalms and assurance, particularly in Psalm 84, that we sparrows will find a nest with God. The Bible is about finding home when home seems most elusive, and not as a luxury–we are called to find it. Our Anglican theology, particularly in the words of Eucharistic Prayer C, reminds us that God calls us again and again to this place called “home.”
Until very recently, I hadn’t really thought much about how we re-enact that journey on the Internet. What does it really mean to get on one’s computer, open our browsers, and click on a button called “Home?” What are we looking for? What do we expect? What seems to be expected of us?
The recent changes in Facebook, and my friends’ various reactions to it, created some interesting windows through which to view the reality of “home.” Notice I am not saying “cyber-home,” or “virtual home.” We have moved to a place in our ability to incorporate connectivity to each other in a way that the Internet has become an extension of our body, albeit a less-than-fully-functional one.
I’ve mostly found myself more irritated than incensed about the various rounds of Facebook changes and find the people angry enough to want to leave Facebook somewhat bewildering. Yet, I empathize with their anger, hurt, and frustration. But what has been more illustrative to me is I believe I am getting glimpses in how each of us sees that elusive thing called “home” differently.
I am a tail end baby boomer. I did not grow up with the Internet. When I first discovered it, it was not a home at all–it was a mysterious foreign land that I felt called to strike out and explore. We were pathfinders and explorers then, and having a computer in our homes carried some degree of being electronically and mechanically facile. We preferred using handles to using our real names, and it felt exotic and cutting edge. We were explorers, pathfinders, and risk takers–and yes, we did our share of sinning along the way. (Literally, the day Napster came out, I had filled an entire outboard hard drive full of music.) I’ve certainly had to come to grips with my own forms of Internet repentance. There were a lot of things we did back then that we suspected weren’t quite kosher, but until someone told us “no” we were not going to worry much about it.
For me, in some ways, now that the Internet is pretty much a utility, like our light bill and phone, and social networking has created a living room within our living room, I feel a little bit like Jeremiah Johnson, the fur all trapped out, and the wagon trains becoming settlements, knowing a certain way of life I enjoyed was over. Civilization came to the Internet. Like the Wild West, we are in a place where the boundaries and rules are still being worked out. Yet I have also lived here in the Internet long enough that I have experience and knowledge in what used to be foreign territory, and perhaps understand its nature of “home” in a unique way. My own Facebook wall has seemed to become this safe and mostly welcoming place where people talk and interact and make new friends with each other–I only provide the context, the hospitality. Dare I say “I am in the world but not of it?”
In short, my Facebook wall has become, for me and my online community, not so much my private home, but an abbey, and it’s clear I am the Abbess. I don’t seem to go looking for people; they come looking for me. It’s the atmosphere and the company that people look for on my wall, and I am not so worried about the “furniture,” i.e. the platform that drives the engine of Facebook.
Likewise, my physical home is in the midst of a remodeling project that has taken eleven years for me to formulate “how I wish it to be.” Only three rooms of my house are physically livable at the moment. I spend a lot of time outside by my chiminea in the evenings. Privacy becomes relative when contractors show up at 7:00 a.m. on a whim. Finding contemplative space in my own home has become a priority.
It goes even deeper. I’ve discovered through making timelines of my spiritual life for my online Education for Ministry class, that I grew up accepting that my physical home was a tumultuous and rather unstable place that could very easily be affected by job loss, death, divorce, alcohol, drugs, and personal despair. Yet I became rooted–literally embedded–in the geography of northeast and north central Missouri. I learned early on not to depend on people and a physical address to provide me a home. “Home” had to be something bigger and more enduring–which is why my lifelong desire has been to seek a relationship with God.
It’s interesting as I observe other people’s reactions to Facebook’s changes. For some, changing the platform of Facebook has been literally like someone breaking into their house and rearranging the living room furniture. For others, there’s an immediate move to tighten down their privacy settings–to “hole up.” Some of the folks younger than me, who have always had social networking, and had come to Facebook from MySpace some time back, are simply eyeing Google+ as “the next place they’ll move.” Still others grouse a bit, roll with it, and discover new things in their being faithful and staying put. Frankly, there are about as many reactions to it as there are personality types–and we are all still trying to adjust to these changes “in community.”
I have this sense that changes in Facebook mimic something we’ve never quite discovered in ourselves about how we feel about our physical homes. Likewise, how we feel about changes in our family homes, our worship homes, and our work homes mimic something in our stories of finding our home in God’s Realm. Perhaps all these changes in social networking are simply an invitation to explore our relationship with God and our relationships in “God’s social network”–both in our life and actions, and through the Bible as our Frequently Asked Questions site. Perhaps that icon marked “Home,” is not a home–but a gateway to one we never imagined.
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, Missouri, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid