Mark Twain’s helpful words on Zoom meetings

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain,  (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, 1889)

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author Derek Maul lives, worships, and writes in Wake Forest

Just to be clear, I am not a huge fan of video-conferencing. I don’t like the telephone much either. At the same time I am all kinds of grateful for communication technology. Zoom, Skype, Facetime, WhatsApp, Verizon, Spectrum – they all keep me connected.

I am also tremendously impressed by the commitment and the resolve of all the people who are willing to participate. We all know we would rather sit down together, in person, share a pot of coffee, and enjoy the simple fact of presence. But we can’t right now, and that’s that, so why not make it work regardless?

What amazes me – blows me away, really – is the authentic spirit of presence so many people bring to the experience. It happened again at my Wednesday evening men’s meeting. 15 men “hanging out” with each other for 90 minutes! Here – for me – is the typical sequence:

  1. Preparation – reading, research, outline, etc.
  2. Logistics – making sure I have a quiet room, coffee, materials at hand, sign-in instructions at the ready.
  3. Panic – “I can’t get in!” “Zoom doesn’t know who I am!” “My codes won’t work!”
  4. More panic as people are texting things like, “Where are you?” “Why doesn’t my password work?” “Do I have the time wrong?” “Are we still meeting?” “I’m stuck in the waiting room…”
  5. Finally in: Greetings, introduction, prayer.
  6. Listening to the guys check in and experiencing joy at seeing their faces.
  7. Teaching, listening, taking notes, asking questions.
  8. Inspiration from what the guys share.
  9. Deep satisfaction, elation, even euphoria because my soul is being fed.
  10. Wrap-up, prayer, goodbyes.
  11. Hanging around a few more minutes to talk with the guys who are not yet ready to leave.
  12. “End Meeting”, reflection, gratitude.
  13. Exhaustion, because the entire thing took an hour and 50 minutes (and it is intense to keep the ball rolling and everyone focused). Plus, genuine wonder at what is possible.

Mark Twain:

This brings me to the Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) quote above – “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” Our eyes (and our ears), are nowhere near enough to make something like a small-group meeting come alive. We have to employ our imaginations.

But is it merely imagination? It sounds a lot like faith to me. Faith calls things into being that already are. It’s like the understanding C.S. Lewis was referencing when he suggested that the glimpses of beauty, and love, and light we experience through faith are evidences of the more complete truth of beauty, and love, and light etc. that exists in “heaven.” In other words, we could not imagine them without glimpses of the actual truth of the things having first leaked through.

“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1).

So these video meetings we are having are not virtual, or pretend, or facsimiles, or a kind of fiction, they are constructed of the same stuff – they are not representations of the real thing, they are the thing itself.

I am with people, not pictures of people:

IMG_E9723 (2)I don’t look at the screen and see pictures of people, I look through the screen and into the real selves of the men who join me for prayer, and study, and sharing, and encouragement, and inspiration, and real fellowship.

Like the scripture says (I talked about this in last Saturday’s post), “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Ah, but this I can say: heaven is going to be a little bit like actually being together after this wilderness of isolation. I believe I will have to be careful when that day comes, as my heart may well explode from the excitement and the joy!

Till we gather again – DEREK

commentary disciple-making leadership Men's ministry

derekmaul View All →

Derek has published seven books in the past decade (you can find them at https://www.amazon.com/Derek-Maul/e/B001JS9WC4), and there’s always something new in the works.

Before becoming a full-time writer, Derek taught public school in Florida for eighteen years, including cutting-edge work with autistic children. He holds bachelor’s degrees in psychology and education from Stetson University and the University of West Florida.

Derek is active in teaching at his church: adult Sunday school, and a men’s Bible study/spiritual formation group. He enjoys the outdoors, traveling, photography, reading, cooking, playing guitar, and golf.

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