Recovering Embodied Presence in the Way We Lead
Karl Rahner writes: “There are many matters in which the Church could well be more modern than she is. But the time is beginning already in which having the courage to be old and human is going to be the most modern thing at all.” It may sound paradoxical, but the journey forward into the future, when marked by wisdom, will always reach out to the past - retrieving its rich and treasured gifts for guidance and understanding. Any futurizing attempts that neglect this will always create the genuine possibility of dehumanizing people. And this hasn’t been truer than our pursuit of all things digital and technological.
We live in a digital age. Our lives have revolved around computers, iPhones, iTunes, Apple watches, the Internet, Social media, ebooks, streaming platforms, and apps for some time already - that’s just the start. Now we are moving more and more into augmented and virtual reality experiences. For example, churches have services in the metaverse, and people’s avatars take communion and get baptized. And new words are being formed, such as phygital and virtuality, that make us wonder, what is reality? Are we in a Matrix of sorts or heading to a singularity event where we will transcend all biological limitations? Will technology become sentient?
This article is not a rant against all things digital nor a call to return to the rotary phone or typewriter age. I am grateful for our technological advancements and how they serve us well in many areas of life and industry. We need to recognize how digital technology and media shape and form us, for better and worse. As Father John Culkin said, “We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us.” Media in all its forms have formative powers. In his landmark book, The Medium is the Message, Marshall McLuhan, wrote: “All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive… that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered… Any understanding of social and cultural change is impossible without a knowledge of the way media work as environments.” And this is true of our leadership.
Christian leadership exists and functions at the crossroad of incarnation and innovation, a place of grounded pioneering where we cultivate the practice of embodied presence with people in the pursuit of embracing the new and the good of technology. It’s about being here in the now with our bodies; it’s about going analog in our leadership. This invitation to be analog, in the words of Jay Kim, is a call “to come out of hiding from behind our digital walls, to bridge our technological divides, and to be human with one another in the truest sense—gathering together to be changed and transformed in real-time, in real space, in real ways.”
Digital technology provides accessibility, convenience, choices, efficiency, and unprecedented ability to scale and communicate. Yet, at the same time, these provisions have shaped many people to be impatient, lacking in depth, insulated, distracted, and competitive, which have contributed to the rise of stress levels and mental health issues in our society. Digital media is being called the “new opium of the people.” As leaders, we are responsible for countering these effects and outcomes by intentionally creating spaces for people to not only connect and communicate but to commune in significant ways. And this can only take place in actual, tangible, physical, and non-simulating encounters with one another. This is at the heart of embodied presence, and there are no illusions to true companionship here. It may not be convenient or efficient at times, but that’s the point. In this environment, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control are cultivated. Virtues cannot be fully developed virtually - it requires physicality and locality. I appreciate how Brene Brown articulates it: “We get from the head to the heart through the hands.”
Here are some analog leadership practices you can engage in:
- Evaluate the impact of your digital tools on you and your team by asking these questions (adapted from McLuhan’s 4 Laws of Media): 1) What is Refined - improved, enhanced, and developed? 2) What is Reversed - when pushed to its limits (opposite effect/unintended consequences)? 3) What is Recovered - retrieved and restored? 4) What is Removed - made obsolete, antiquated, and out-of-date?
- Monitor your digital usage and determine where boundaries need to be placed for you and your team around your use. Implement regular periods where you fast and unplug from your digital instruments (especially with your waking-up and bedtime routines).
- Create spaces to encounter and experience people in real-time and real space, without the interference of digital media (eat, pray and play together; go on outdoor adventures). Consider making areas in your home and office device-free zones.
At Chemistry Staffing, we are thankful for the contributions of digital media, and we want to steward those resources well as we serve churches and pastors across our country. And part of that means cultivating analog dynamics to our leadership. We believe that leadership begins with modeling our values and convictions, which sets the stage for motivating and mobilizing our teams. Please contact us; we would love to discuss how we can help you develop analog leaders and teams that leverage the good of all things digital.
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Dr. Allan Love