Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Refuge in Rainy Lake

I spent the Memorial Day weekend at a great little inn on the shores of Rainy Lake, Minnesota. It has several names… Rainy Lake Inn, Tara’s Wharf, and Sand Bay Inn. Currently it goes by Rainy Lake Inn and Suites (http://www.taraswharf.com/). There are four suites, each with at least one bedroom, a living room, and a kitchenette. All with tremendous views of the lake and decks to sit out and enjoy the view. In addition, attached to the Rainy Lake Inn is Tara’s Wharf Ice Cream Shop
and a gift shop called the W.A.Genius Signature Store (http://www.kdwagenius.net/). I was in the one of the more casual rooms, but the suites were beautiful. A great refuge. The building itself is actually over the water and so the lapping of waves on the shore and the pier rocks you to sleep at night.
I was up visiting my friend, Kirsten Wagenius, proprieter of the said gift shop. She is carrying mostly items from local artists and a few from friends in Chicago (including some of my photos on various cards, coasters, and framed prints). This was her opening weekend. We spent one late night putting final touches on the store and then opened for business. It was a bit of a slow weekend. Memorial Day was still a bit cold and the gas prices seemed to have discouraged some people from traveling… which is too bad! It was a stunning weekend.
I’ll add more photos later, but here are a few from the first sunset.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

My First Virtual Birthday

So, now that I am a full-time student, I spend most of my days sitting at home trying to read and write, preparing for my qualifying exams. The last time I did this, the internet was just picking up speed. I think I had just established my first e-mail account and I was lucky if I checked it once a week… and always in the computer lab in the basement of Caroline Hall. There were distractions… but the distractions were clearly separate from my work. The T.V., reading a novel, cleaning my house. Now, as I sit on the computer trying to take notes or formulate questions, with just one click I can make my way into a whole world of distractions. And in the midst of these distractions, I have found my way to facebook. Yes, I find myself checking my facebook account every few hours. Who is doing what? Who is reading what? Who is making friends? Did anyone write a message on my wall?

At first, facebook was a bit disarming. I would get e-mails from friends I had known for years asking “if I wanted to be friends.” Did I want to be friends? I thought we had already established that! I didn’t know it was a question! And I found that as I went to “invite someone to be my friend” I would get a bit anxious. Would they accept? Would they want to be my friend? I have since grown used to the language of facebook. And have even begun to add applications, letting people know where I live and what books I read.

Recently, I also decided to add my birthday to my profile… and just in time! Late on April 28, the birthday wishes started rolling in. I was so surprised! Good friends, acquaintances, former students, and many who had never celebrated my birthday before. One person would post. It would show up in the news feed. Another of my “friends” would see it. Another post. Another news feed. A virtual birthday party! I even received a virtual piece of cake and balloons.

I am not entirely sure how I feel about my virtual birthday party. On the one hand, I felt very celebrated. More than in quite a while… (well, last year was an exception) It was quite the party. I reconnected with old friends. Stayed in touch with others. I even received virtual birthday cards from my little seven year old nieces who live miles away. On the other hand, honestly, I miss getting cards. There is something about being able to touch and feel a card. And cards take a bit more effort, a little more thought… and the sacrifice of a stamp. It is not the cards that I miss, really, but the materiality of my relationships. I love how the internet allows me to stay connected quickly and cheaply, but it is no substitute for real live human beings. Perhaps I am feeling this more acutely this year. With so much time at home alone, I find most of my relationships taking place in the virtual world. It is one thing to have the virtual world enhance an already rich life of relationships, but it is another when the virtual world begins to substitute for the material world.

Perhaps I am just old. Perhaps for those who have always had a virtual aspect to their relationships there is not the disconnect. Yet I have to wonder… how is this virtual world changing how we understand relationships? What it means to be “a friend”… can friendship be fully defined in the virtual world? How is our understanding of what it is to be human changed? How is our understanding of community changing? And how do these things change how we understand church? And God? (after all… what a friend we have in Jesus…)