In a world full of social media severity, political hyperpartisanship and increasing racial and class-based segregation, Assistant Professor of Theology Dr. Marcus Mescher wants the Xavier community to embrace a culture of encounter.
Mescher’s recent book release, The Ethics of Encounter: Christian Neighbor Love as a Practice of Solidarity, spurred the subject of his livestream last Monday. The video is still available to all on YouTube.
Mescher noted that while he had hoped the livestream could be more conversational, its remote nature led it to be held in a lecture format. He was able, however, to incorporate viewer questions at the end of his presentation.
During his livestream, Mescher explained that the necessity for a culture of encounter stems from societal separation. He believes that this separation is a product of social media, political division and class disparities.
Mescher recounted a high school trip to the Dominican Republic where he encountered extreme poverty, noting that encounters like that are what help individuals to connect.
Mescher likened the concept of the culture of encounter to a “theology of neighbor,” represented well by the actions of the biblical good Samaritan.
He also noted that this culture of encounter is achievable amidst current social distancing mandates; the theology of neighbor can be found in books by underrepresented authors and videos by voices with opinions in contrast to one’s own.
He noted that media can still be as damaging as it is useful during this time, however, when used to feed a “distraction addiction.”
“It’s a tool for self-care or to connect, but I do think we have to keep scrutinizing social media so that it does affirm human dignity and provide meaningful connections,” Mescher said.
“There’s room for leisure and entertainment, but those aren’t the best ways to deal with our feelings,” Mescher continued. “I don’t care how many hours of ‘Tiger King’ you binge; that’s not going to solve your feelings of anger.”
Mescher also noted that this culture of encounter must permeate church communities, a hope that has been made difficult after many state’s closures of in-person religious services.
“The problem with (religious services over) Youtube is that it’s unilateral; it makes me a spectator,” Mescher said.
“I do think it’s interesting that at Bellarmine they’ve had more than 500 people tune in (on time) and 3000 people per week. But it’s not the same as picking up the phone and speaking with another parishioner, ‘Is there anything I can do for you, is there anything I can pray for you?’”
Mescher noted, to conclude his talk, that he believes a culture of encounter can lead to a culture of belonging.
The Ethics of Encounter is available for purchase on the Bellarmine Chapel website, and his talk can be accessed on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCTQVwjTefg&t=4s.