An ongoing conversation among many religious bloggers and internet writers about religion is the possibility of virtual community.
The number of responses, in various forms ranging from likes to comments, I received following my Ethical Musings' post about having cancer both surprised and encouraged me. The responses were all positive; a majority promised prayers, though none – thankfully – responded with meaningless platitudes about God's healing power. A substantial number of times, the response came from someone with whom I had once worked, whether as his or her boss, his or her priest or chaplain, or his or her colleague or friend. The internet does not have to be a bad, mean, or scary place.
Juxtaposing virtual with physical community seems to me to create a false dichotomy. Physical community – actual human contact – is essential. Virtual community can enrich, expand, and extend physical community but is never a substitute for the foundational experiences of actual physical community.
I also have learned in very personal ways that community, whether physical or virtual, requires significant commitment of time and energy to sustain. No longer can I deal with every email the day I receive that email, a praxis I learned and adopted when in the Navy. These days, I often lack the requisite emotional and spiritual strength to reach that goal. My "good" days – days when my energy seems relatively high and I am more focused and optimistic – in contrast to my "bad" days limit my ability to respond.
I hope that people do not interpret a delayed response negatively. Delays reflect my reaching the extent of my perceived capacity in that moment. Not all things are in every moment possible for every human. Rejection of that view, with its implicit judgment of the person who fails to break through illusory constraints, is one of the harms that I had not previously recognized yet is inherent in most versions of positive thinking and its close cousin, the prosperity gospel. There is a time for all things, even a time for answering electronic communications. Real community, whether physical or virtual, provides persons the space and time needed to process ideas and feelings.
So, I am grateful for community whenever I experience it and in all of its forms. However, I know that healthy community offers me the space and time I need, which, given my cancer, may not always match the expectations, even the most well intentioned of expectations, of other community members. I am especially appreciative when a correspondent explicitly acknowledges that the ravages of cancer may limit both my ability to respond and the predictability of that response.