Yesterday I did something that may seem anachronistic in our high tech mobile technology world. I drove five hours to Chicago to attend a meeting that lasted a little more than an hour and then I turned around and drove home. Yes, I could have done the meeting by Skype or maybe even by a conference call but let me tell you why I think that there are times when it is worth the effort to show up in person.
I spend a lot of time these days on the phone and more and more time on Skype. Since I have a job that covers a fairly large geographic area (14 counties) it is often more efficient if I can take care of business by electronic means. Factor in the fact that I work with nine other superintendents and a bishop that cover the entire state of Indiana and the logistics can become even more daunting. In that circle I am a proponent of using technology to our best advantage and often help my colleagues expand their use of technology for meetings that otherwise might require multiple people to spend hours in the car.
However, yesterday I made a ten hour round trip to attend a meeting. Why? Because there are times when technology cannot bridge the distance between us. There are times when there is no substitute for sitting in the same room and having a conversation where you can talk to another person face to face. Where you can evaluate their posture, the intensity in their eyes and flush of their face. Where a deep sigh doesn’t get lost in the filter of microphone limitations.
Yesterday’s meeting was important to me and at least part of my future. And so I made the effort. I showed up. And I can’t help but think the positive and productive meeting that we had was in part due to the fact that we were all in the same room sharing the same biological, if not cosmic, energy.
It was just a reminder to me to think about those times when I am tempted to “phone it in.” Sure, I might get things done from a distance and there are certainly occasions when that is the best use of my time. But there are moments when we need to show up, to be physically together in order to help one another along life’s journey.
I am a pastor so my thoughts often turn to church when these kinds of life lessons come along. It is easy these days to experience church without going to church. We can watch television programs but also we can experience “our” church through sermons and worship services on the Internet. There are times when that is probably a good thing. But we lose some things in that transaction and I think there are important things that happen when we gather together in the same room and share time and space. When the passioned plea for prayer is not filtered through my computer speakers but falls directly and intensely on my ears. When I can smell bread and wine as well as my neighbor’s perfume.
So, for all my excitement about electronic communication, in the end I still believe that there are times when there is no substitute for showing up, for the firm press of a handshake, for hugs, and experiencing each other’s presence. It is the final payoff of which electronic communication is just a promissory note.