We have learned to see our world through megapixels. Our reality is affirmed by likes and taps on screens. Today walking down the street I saw two men engaged in a verbal fight that almost came to blows over one having walked into the other while looking at his phone instead of where he was going.
As the one man imitated a stooping figure face towards the pavement tapping at imaginary phone, I pictured the image that depicts human evolution moving from primates to modern humans. Have we passed our pinnacle in evolution I wondered? Will we gradually go back to being nonverbal bent backed creatures who walk along interacting through touchscreens?
Let’s hope not, because I’ve seen the Matrix and it looked like Neo was not happy when he woke up in the primordial soup that was the prison for his mind! No thank you! Don’t get me wrong, I like having a smart phone as much as most people, and like a lot of us, I’m pretty bad at putting it down. What’s worse is sometimes when I’m home alone, I find myself reaching for social media, only to end up feeling totally alone.
I was checking through the gospels and it turns out that Jesus didn’t have a cell phone, but was a master communicator. How is it that Jesus’ message went viral at a time when there was no “click to share button?” Why is it that at a time when we are more connected that ever and communication technologies seem to have limitless capacity, the church can’t seem to get the message across effectively?
One answer might be that we’re to busy looking for an app or platform to do it for us. There are so many tools that help us communicate and stay connected that we can forget the most important ways.
Jesus told stories that identified with peoples basic human needs. Jesus communicated truth with authority and creativity. People liked to listen to him. Jesus spoke to people with pure motives, there was no hidden agenda. The hearers of Jesus’ teaching knew that he was the good shepherd, ready to die to sheep, why? Because they trusted him, he was real, they had a real relationship with him, and he practiced what he preached!
Jesus was a straight talker, he got to the point, and he asked engaging questions to challenge people to move beyond what they thought they knew. Basically Jesus told stories and built relationships, and not only with the in crowd, with the out crowd too. In fact Jesus went out of his way to eat, speak and associate with people that his contemporaries thought were beneath them.
When the first apostles began spreading the good news of Jesus Christ risen from the dead, the message was carried from person to person, part of an ongoing oral tradition. Gradually the apostles began writing extensively to fledgling churches. The messages of hope and encouragement were shared aloud in house churches; communities who were learning how to live in a new way. Words, conversations, questions, gatherings, these were real communities living in relationship. This is how the good news of Jesus Christ spread across the known world without anyone having to Google it.
Now is a time when our cell phones, our tools have become to big for us, pulling us away from real conversations, isolating us behind our key pads as we battle for friends, follower and likes. The matters that were urgent, now get missed as we are constantly notified about everything else.
Today I discovered that a person from my church had been in hospital. When I asked why they hadn’t called to let me know, the answer was that they had, but no one answered. They went on to acknowledge that they know how busy we are and wanted to let me get back to my work. Ouch. The old saying goes: “a bad workman blames his tools.” Did my phone fail me, or have I not been using the wrong tools?
When someone isn’t in church for a couple of weeks, do we notice? Do we ask where that person is and try to find out? Too often the answer is no.
We are connected in the Eucharist in a way that unites us, past present and future with the whole body of Christ across time. You’d think that in such an intense relationship, we’d be close to the people in our present given the multitude of ways we can connect using technology! Perhaps we’re relying too much on voicemail, email and text messages and not enough on building relationship.
Time to get out from behind the keyboard and look up from the phone. Put those tools back in their box and do what Jesus did: tell the stories, ask questions, love people genuinely and build relationships where we know more about each other that our online profiles, and notice when someone is missing.
If the church is the people, not the building, then we should know our people better than our building, so we can leave our building ready to serve all people and practice what we preach.
– The Revd. Lucy Price
Photo Credit: Selwyn van Haaren