Book Review: Any Body There? Worship and Being Human in a Digital Age.

Any Body There? Worship and Being Human in a Digital Age.

Craig Mueller
Wipf & Stock
Paperback, 129 pages, $19.98
(also available in hardcover and e-book versions)

The nexus between humans, their worship, and their technology has manifested itself in a way that is incredibly new to our experience. Given this newness, it is not surprising that when it comes to technology and worship, prevalent attitudes seem to be contentious, and often cluster uncritically around either total rejection or total acceptance; opinion frequently outstrips information.

Into this complicated situation steps Any Body There? Worship and Being Human in a Digital Age. In this book, Reverend Craig Mueller is at once shepherd, mentor, companion, teacher, referee, and something of a Sherpa, helping us navigate paths that can be tricky and steep.

That the title is three—and not two—words is significant. As a starting point, Mueller posits that Christianity is both incarnational—believing in a God who was and continues to be embodied—and sacramental—expressed in signs and experienced through the senses. His approach to both of these categories is solid, yet broad enough to allow latitude in application across various Christian denominations.

Reflected throughout the book is his experience as pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Chicago. It should be noted that his pastoral work with the diversity of backgrounds in his growing congregation and its young median age (a majority in their twenties or thirties) shape his perspective and practical theological applications as much as his own denominational context does.

The genius of the book is the conversation or interplay it sets up between “traditional” worship categories (body, time, beauty, mystery) and the relatively new categories we’ve come to experience through technology (connectivity, selfies, GPS, virtuality). There is an honesty throughout the book in expressing the ways in which technology impedes worship and community, along with some practical awareness of ways in which technology can be a servant, not a master, of the Christian congregation. Technology is made for humanity, and not the other way around.

Mueller argues, or offers convincingly, that in a technological age—in which increased connectivity can actually decrease human connection—worship needs to be more embodied, more tactile, more sensate, more engaging of the whole person and not merely an exercise from the neck up. This can be done—and he gives examples from his own congregation—without resorting to mere historical re-enactment of Christianity’s previous centuries.

There is a clarity and accessibility to the book’s presentation (chapters are about 10-12 pages in length) and its writing. This makes it useful to people across a spectrum of theological education or technological experience. Helpful “Spiritual Practices” at the end of each chapter lead the reader into further reflection, and offer possibilities for action. Both those in official ministerial positions and the congregant in the pew would benefit from reading this book. For those who are intrigued or wish to explore more deeply, an extensive bibliography is provided.

Most highly recommended!

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