Editorial by Mission Leader of KM
This past week while driving to work I noticed a new VicRoads sign. It was another piece of mounting evidence that the world has gone Pokémon mad. On the same day my husband, a teacher, came home exasperated that his yard duty roster had to be reorganised to accommodate for the virtual placement of Pokémon balls.
I must confess to being a former victim of such virtual insanity. There was a time I was so addicted to Farmville I was setting my alarm to ensure I harvested my crops before they died. I understand the attraction of these games, particularly for young people. Users will defend their popularity on the basis that they are simply harmless fun (although VicRoads seem to think otherwise). But as I watched my 12 year old son play in his first football final on the weekend, I reflected on all the benefits he gains from being part of that team and wondered what impact our heavy and regular online engagement has on our sense of ‘real’ connectedness.
I recently attended a presentation by William Cavanaugh, Professor of Theology at DePaul University in Chicago. It was the first time I have heard the term ‘excarnation’, coined by Charles Taylor in his book ‘A Secular Age’ to describe the disembodiment of our spiritual lives. As Prof Cavanaugh explained it we are living in an age of rapid consumerism, characterised by the fleeting nature of what satisfies us. This week Pokémon Go is the must-have app, but who knows what might be next? By the time this piece is published the world may well have moved on.
Excarnation in this context refers to a lack of deep personal engagement with the world around us, and an ‘easy come easy go’ attitude towards the objects which fill our days. This is problematic if it undermines our innate human need for connectedness. As Prof Cavanaugh put it, there is only so much virtual reality our students can take before they need something they can sink their teeth into. Our Christian faith is the antithesis of this; enfleshed in the person of Jesus it is inherently incarnational. We long for an embodiment, an enmeshment in our world that fully engages us in all facets of our being – mind, heart, body and soul – such that our very existence is held in a loving embrace.
While I’m only mildly puzzled by the Pokémon craze, I’m deeply troubled by the pain of our world. Each day seems to bring fresh news of horror inflicted by humans on one another; bombings, shootings, acts of senseless terrorism, the rise of civil conflict, state-sanctioned executions and judicial systems which cause more harm than healing, adversarial political contests laced with racism, misogyny and other hurtful forms of bigotry. There is an ever-present air of hatred and fear of ‘the other’, in whatever form that other may appear. But I am also detecting, like a dandelion appearing through the crack in a footpath, a yearning for re-engagement, a groaning to be held. We live in a world crying out for closer connectedness; deeper and more meaningful relationships which respect, value and indeed love the other. In the words of a well-known song what the world needs now is love, sweet love, a love that is deeply, beautifully and mysteriously incarnational. So by all means enjoy chasing those Pokémon balls, but don’t forget to look up from time to time to engage with the real world.