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Hallo again to all.

This week, for the first time, we had the opportunity to fly a quadcopter. With a small video camera attached, we planned to use this personal sort of unmanned aerial vehicle to soar around the plenary at a conference we attended. It felt a bit like flying a remote controlled aeroplane. It was truly fun and exciting to experience this new device that is now used for everything from delivering pizzas and beer to disaster relief. Seeing the faces of conference participants from angles that would not have been previously possible was thrilling indeed.

After our maiden flight, though, we were left with a lingering sense of guilt over the recreational use of a device most frequently used for military purposes. We are told that unmanned drones have the benefit of keeping the operator out of harm's way. Throughout most of history, military opponents had to face each other man to man— first with spears, and later with swords and guns. Bombers had to fly over area they planned to bomb, seeing the land that was about to be laid waste. Unmanned drones allow areas to be flattened and lives lost through the movement of controls by people half a world away.

Leaders tell us this is safer—it keeps 'us' out of harm's way while hurting 'them'. Recently, however, we have learned that drone pilots are still suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It isn't working. In some ways it is worse—they don't know what those whom they have killed were or might have been.

Even with one's 'enemy' we cannot overestimate the importance of seeing another face to face. Recognizing the humanity of another through seeing and touching and hearing that other.

Recently, Archbishop Justin Welby wrote of the importance of intimacy in a fast paced technology driven world. Disagreements with those we cannot see more and more develop into 'flame wars' and we read of cyber bullying leaving teens finding respite in suicide.

Welby writes:

I will remember for a long time a letter I received in the last few years from someone who’d gone through a particularly difficult conflict in the church. It was full of what can only described as deep trauma and sorrow. It had been deeply damaging.

There were lots of reasons for this, but one that has been on my mind recently has to do with electronic media that we value enormously – Twitter, blogs (this is after all a blog), email, text and all the other ways in which our communications have been made more or less global and instant. (I am aware of numerous other forms but don’t want to end up sounding like an advertisement for particular apps).

The trouble is that subtleties, tone and access all get muddled up. That’s not a new comment - it’s been said many times - but every now and then things happen which make it even clearer.

The subtleties we lose when we communicate electronically have to do with expression, with touch, with the face-to-face aspect of relationship. Social media does not show tears in the eye, a hand on the arm when saying something painful, body language that speaks of inner turmoil, deep distress – even gentle respect. It is simply there – usually forever.


Love often says don’t tweet. Love often says don’t write. Love often says if you must rebuke, then do so in person and with touch – with an arm around the shoulder and tears in your eyes that can be seen by the person being rebuked.

In Horatius Bonar's hymn we find that the reminder that God knew the importance for us of this visual and tactile experience. Not only coming in the form of Jesus, but leaving us with a permanent and never ending view of himself, which we see and touch every Sunday.

Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon Thee lean.

I have no help but Thine, nor do I need
Another arm save Thine to lean upon:
It is enough, my Lord, enough indeed;
My strength is in Thy might, Thy might alone.

Throughout history wars have been waged and ended in ways that are up close and personal. Distance between combatants has made war feel more imaginary or theoretical. The Eucharist gives us God, up close and personal, in our faces and in our hands.

See you next week.

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1 March 2015

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