There is something selfish and self centered about the internet. In a world where our voices have been silenced and our actions have been muted the internet is the only real megaphone anymore. We want our 10 minutes of fame; or ideas 'liked.' In doing that, we hope people notice us, not realizing we also need to notice others. Everyone has a blog. Anyone can post videos. Everyone hopes those ideas and thoughts are seen. And here I am. Everyone is talking so loudly, desperate to be heard for just one soundbite, just one sentence, that I feel like I am drowning in the sound. Meanwhile, in the real world I feel the silence is so deafening it swallows up my words. They are washed away before I can ever say them. The difference is so stark it is no wonder it is so difficult to translate the digital experience into a real relationship. None of us want to be the voice in the wilderness crying out. None of us want that attention. But, in the sea of voices our sound are only really heard if it means something, because otherwise it is only a drop of water that can be ignored in the massive ocean of sound. It is safer to speak when everyone else is speaking too. It is much more difficult to stand in truth when truth means standing alone in the field of silence.
My ears hurt as I hear the collective voice crying and screaming: I am alone. I need relationship. I want to be connected to something greater. They don't actually say those words. It is read between the lines. It is written between the smart comments on Facebook. It is seen behind the instagram photos. It flirts on any of the many match making sites out there. Meanwhile I cry back: I have learned where to find relationship. I have learned how to reconnect with others. But I fear the noise is too loud. I fear the answer I have found has been drowned. I fear it more and more as I realize the megaphones that once existed in the real world are broken or in major disrepair.
What do I do? How do I continue? My voice is meek. My voice is soft, and God calls me to use it? How do I speak over the Corporate sounds? They are the only ones with working megaphones anymore. How will anyone hear my voice? All the Whos down in Facebook are yelling "We are here! We are here!" and at the same time those pleas cannot break through the internet into reality... We need a "Yopp" to throw all those voices over the top and break through. And I am not sure if what I am yelling is "I am here," or if God might have given me the "Yopp."
This is what I want to say: I know how you feel. Before the internet I too desperately wanted to be heard even if the only note I was able to get out was, "I am here." I saw the world connecting and I wanted to be part of it, but I was damaged by life. I had to fix myself first. It is so fitting that my first solo was "Amazing Grace." It taught me God loves broken little me. I wanted to share that message with everyone else. Today, I still sing that song, but my words are more expansive and my tune is the cadence of the written word. Today I am no longer saying, "I am here." It has been replaced by, "God is here, and God hears you." Oh, if only my voice can rise above the flood to share that. How simple it is. How needed it is. Maybe that can be the bridge from the digital experience to the real relationship. Maybe now, before we all drown in the sea of words. Maybe now, when God's love can help us into the life boat.
John 17:15-18 CEB
This past week I spent a wonderfully fulfilling time at a leadership conference for Church Planters and Church Revitalizers. It was sponsored by the Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation. I will be taking much away from the conference, the most important being relationships with like minded Disciples who want a restoration of God's Church in today's fragmented world. Knowing God does not leave us alone in our task is one of the most uplifting pieces of knowledge.
I write this today because there was a sneaky theology that kept being thrown out. It was like proof text and it was being used as a shield to block a critical thought in Church Planter ministry. More than twice this past week I heard the words, "We must be set apart from the world; not in it."
It used to be, mission was a one way street. The Christian organization would take their worship, their images, and their words and expect the overseas culture would embrace it. It was ok, but the work of mission really didn't take off until they stopped trying to force the images that worked for the missionaries and began listening to God's call to find the images that worked for the group they were trying to reach. It was understanding that God was already alive and working in the community. It was the way St. Patrick did evangelism- using their pagan symbols and world around them. A perfect example: he used the three leafed clover to explain the trinity. To help them understand God he had to understand and live in their world so he could speak their cultural language. (Cultural language being something greater and deeper than physical language. People communicate with more than words. The unspoken truths of a culture sometimes speaks louder than words.)
Now, let's bring it together. The reason the collective church is drowning in it's own death is not because they were immersed in the world instead of set apart from it. Their problem today is mission. Churches do not know what to be set apart from and what to be immersed in. Listen, the natural order of life is to return to what is most comfortable to us. Nature was from the chaos and from the chaos we wish to return. Our ultimate goal is to be set apart from that which will return us to our un-created state: chaos. We are to immerse ourselves in that which brings us closer to God, our created state: relationship in the form of love. Mission is the natural result of being immersed in love and separated from chaos. Mission is relationship. It is learning the spoken and unspoken language of the people you are called to reach and using that language to create relationship. The collective church in the United States is dying because they have failed to do real mission for way longer than I have been around.
That is why the mission statement for Fig Tree Christian is this: "To be a place grounded in knowledge of Jesus Christ through education and connection to God and others." As a minister I realize it is a fools work to say what projects and goals are going to arise from this experience. The need will arise from the relationship, and relationship can only happen in God's love. It is where the core values of Fig Tree come from: "Speaking the truth, teaching the truth, and living the truth without fear. Connecting and connected to bring the Body of Christ together to know God better."
We are not outside of the world, but we are set apart to keep the chaos from overtaking us. We have disconnected for far too long. We have lost who are neighbors are. We need to stop un-friending and start reconnecting. Let's start piecing the Body of Christ back together and start working again. Set apart to work within the world.