This is For All the Lonely People… (Generation M, Part II)

Aside

I wish every blog could be written as a letter to my daughter, however… back to the task at hand, right?

’Twas the best of times, ’Twas the worst of times

The other day, a mentor of mine challenged me about the lecture/seminar “circuit” I have begun. Speaking simply, it seemed to him that I could not decide whether I was “for or against” these new Social Media tools.

First of all, it’s a moot point. As we discussed in the first part of this series, it is here – ready or not.

For the record though, I am excited about this technology and the opportunities it presents for our world, and I am eager to identify the ways in which it is changing today’s teenagers (meeting some needs not met before, leaving voids where needs were once met) and thus changing the way we will interact with one another as parents, ministers, educators, and professionals, over the course of the next generation or two.

One example of the reward/risk that is attached with Social Media is the dichotomy of connectivity and loneliness that it creates.

On one hand, with Facebook and Instagram, cell phones and iPads, we now feel more connected to one another than ever before.

However, as Sherry Turkle points out, these tools and tricks actually enable an illusion of connectivity that lends itself to an increased level of loneliness that is powerful, yet harder to identity. Turkle writes:

WE expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship. Always-on/always-on-you devices provide three powerful fantasies: that we will always be heard; that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be; and that we never have to be alone. Indeed our new devices have turned being alone into a problem that can be solved.

When people are alone, even for a few moments, they fidget and reach for a device. Here connection works like a symptom, not a cure, and our constant, reflexive impulse to connect shapes a new way of being.

Think of it as “I share, therefore I am.” We use technology to define ourselves by sharing our thoughts and feelings as we’re having them. We used to think, “I have a feeling; I want to make a call.” Now our impulse is, “I want to have a feeling; I need to send a text.”

So, in order to feel more, and to feel more like ourselves, we connect. But in our rush to connect, we flee from solitude, our ability to be separate and gather ourselves. Lacking the capacity for solitude, we turn to other people but don’t experience them as they are. It is as though we use them, need them as spare parts to support our increasingly fragile selves.

We think constant connection will make us feel less lonely. The opposite is true. If we are unable to be alone, we are far more likely to be lonely. If we don’t teach our children to be alone, they will know only how to be lonely.

 

This technology is making us (as individuals and groups) more power and capable now than every before. As we learn how to maximize our potential with this technology it is equally important that we understand the new needs and risks it creates.

As we capitalize on our electronic relationships with one another and Generation M, let us remember that we are making a connection and not an impact.

We as a “Church” have are positioned beautifully to make that impact in the days to come.

Social Media must always be used as a TOOL for a ministry and not a ministry unto itself. It is the difference between preaching to someone ministering to someone

Relationships are not “in jeopardy” because of this technology, they are in fact, all the more necessary.

For never before has the world been more connected,

AND never before has our world been more lonely.

Stay tuned…

God Help Me, I Might Be an Evangelist!

Evangelist {e-VAN-gel-ist} (n.)

1. Someone who believes in evangelism as a method of spreading Christianity. Ex: The evangelist crossed the road.

2. Someone who recruits others to believe/practice the way that he does. Ex: I don’t walk the dog when my neighbor is sitting on his porch – he’s an evangelist.

3. Someone (recognized by Apple) that promotes Apple products (I swear I’m not making that up! Look it up!) Ex: “The most well-known Apple evangelist is ex-Apple-employee Guy Kawasaki. Kawasaki is credited as being one of the first to use evangelistic methods to promote a computer brand through a blog.”

 

(courtesy of cartoon stock.com)

I’ve never (EVER!) wanted to be confused as “an evangelist.”

I’ve never been comfortable with the idea that I have answers that other people need. Even when (I think) I do have “answers”, I’ve always felt it was a faulty pretense to a conversation to assume that I could convince them they wanted to be less like themselves and more like me.

Sure felt like a lotta pressure.

(Photo Courtesy of Brian P. Gallagher)

 

“Saving” Evangelism

This past week, Tony Jones* referred to a study done by the Barna Group which concluded that conservative evangelical churches are losing formerly–affiliated “young creatives:” Actors, artists, biologists, designers, mathematicians, medical students, musicians, and writers.

Though there some stances of the conservative church takes that to little surprise alienates these young creatives (an opposition to science being a major one), I think this problem extends to the more mainline churches too.

And I would suggest that the way we tend to evangelize – under the premises of us vs. them, “selling” them a product that they’re not even convinced they need – plays a huge role in that.

 

 

(Photo courtesy of Judah Gabriel)

 

 

Listening to *Doug Pagitt’s radio podcast (“Religious radio that’s not quit right”) the other day, I was relieved to find that there might be hope not just “the Church” but also for a young creative Christian like me.

In talking about his new book, “Evangelism in the Inventive Age”, Pagitt said, evangelism (has become) “this practice of recruiting someone else to take on your perspective or your practice.”

 

 

Has Evangelism Been Saved?

Under current evangelism, we are implying that people should stop being THEM and convert to YOU.

Pagitt is clear that this “evangelism” is not what it began as, nor what it should be now:

Evangelism oughtta be when you help a person find the harmony of God in them in such a way that their life can be made more full as who THEY are… Evangelism outght not to be about conversion but about RESSONANCE.

 

The reason we live in community, he says, is to be reminded that what we know is powerful.

And what we know is incomplete.

Being among others, then, adds to, completes, and rounds out what we know. Evangelism is including somebody into the process of seeking God.

So Now What?

For what it’s worth – I tend to be so vain that I think the song is about me – maybe the church would be better served to be reaching out not under the paradigm that “they” need us and focus on the fact that we, as people actively seeking of God, need them.

From the young & creative to the old & boring and everywhere in between, I think the proper enhancing of Christianity and the realm of God comes most effectively when we love our neighbor not for their benefit, but for ours.

This re-claimed version of evangelism reminds me to consider that I do believe in enhancing the realm of Christianity, and provides for me a platform to say that I am indeed an evangelist.

And, frankly, I’m excited!

God help me – help me to sincerely love and include others with the sincerity of someone actively seeking your face – I’m an evangelist. Amen.

 

Footnote

*I am a proud alum of the first ever SocialPhonics Social Media Summer Camp under the tutelage of emergent church (or is it Emergent Church) leaders Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt. As an aspiring blogger and an aspiring authentic Christian, I actively follow them – Tony’s blog and Doug’s radio show.

It’s the aspiring blogger in me that has tried to not link (literally) with them just for the sake of name dropping or generating traffic, but today, I couldn’t resist. I highly recommending following both of them (metaphorically and literally).

An Apology to Jefferson Bethke

Ya know, sometimes, I can be a real ass snob cotton-headed-ninny-muggins when it comes to my theology.

At some point, between being accused of “lacking passion”, or being “un-Biblical”, or even worse, “un-Christian”, I began defending my theology by attacking the theology of others.

And in many instances I tend to become as “holier-than-thou” as I accuse others of acting.

So a few weeks ago, when I saw Jefferson Bethke’s Video “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus”, I took the chance to have the fight I’ve been waiting for.

Maybe it was because he used the word “hate.”

Maybe it was because I found out he went to a conservative mega-church with a controversial pastor.

Maybe it was because I found him to be biblically/historically inaccurate.

Maybe it’s because his anger against the church reminded me of my own struggle with the church over the last several years.

Maybe it was because I was jealous of his rapping skills.

But I was looking for a fight – and the more I read about Jeff Bethke, the more I’m convinced, he was not.

I wish I would’ve appreciated Jeff’s gift to poetically raise issues in a way that could’ve gotten my own students talking about the benefits and challenges of religion like Brian Kirk did.

And I definitely wish I would’ve chosen to engage Jeff in conversation like Kevin DeYoung did.

In an Email exchange between him and DeYoung, Bethke wrote:

I just wanted to say I really appreciate your article man. It hit me hard. I’ll even be honest and say I agree 100%. God has been working with me in the last 6 months on loving Jesus AND loving his church. For the first few years of walking with Jesus (started in ’08) I had a warped/poor paradigm of the church and it didn’t build up, unify, or glorify His wife (the Bride). If I can be brutally honest I didn’t think this video would get much over a couple thousand views maybe, and because of that, my points/theology wasn’t as air-tight as I would’ve liked. If I redid the video tomorrow, I’d keep the overall message, but would articulate, elaborate, and expand on the parts where my words and delivery were chosen poorly… My prayer is my generation would represent Christ faithfully and not swing to the other spectrum….thankful for your words and more importantly thankful for your tone and fatherly like grace on me as my elder. Humbled. Blessed. Thankful for painful growth. Blessings.

Grace and Peace,

Jeff

I’m not saying I was wrong in what I said, but I sure was wrong (and obnoxious) in how I said it.

I think DeYoung says it best:

A friend wrote to me yesterday and said, “This is a good test for both Jefferson and for yourself. Is he the kind of guy who would be willing to write a critic with humility? And did you write the piece in such a way that the one being criticized would feel comfortable chatting with you?” I hope we are passing that test. Through the years I haven’t always aced this kind of exam.

I sharpened my teeth alongside people who were willing to listen to and empowered my passionate words but also loved me enough to challenge me to dig deep for truth and clarity.

Shame on me for not taking the opportunity to share that love and challenge with somebody who is clearly both passionate and talented.

I’m not agreeing with everything that Jeff said in his video, and had I given him a chance to dialogue, I would’ve learned that he probably doesn’t either.

Oh if I had a dollar for every time I spoke in ways that misrepresented how I really felt… I wouldn’t need to blog anymore, that’s for sure.

For what it’s worth, Jeff, thank you for using your gifts to raise a conversation about the church in a way that gets my students both talking and listening. I believe that you have talents, gifts, and a passion that all seem to be ferociously ignited by the grace of Christ.

I’m sorry that I did not extend you that grace.

I am reminded that what makes you and I, and anybody else different can either divide us or bring us closer together. Our different views can either tear us away or bring us closer to a clearer understanding of our God.

That’s what makes religion dangerous.

And that’s what makes religion beautiful.