Rev. Yme Woensdregt
“Can you hear me now?” Most of us probably remember the ad campaign for a wireless company in the US. We’ve seen the horn–rimmed “everyman” roaming the countryside, asking from different locations, “Can you hear me now?”
One of the subtexts in these cell phone ads is our hunger to connect with each other. We need that kind of connection in order to be whole, to be complete. The English poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” We need to connect with each other. We are interconnected.
One of the wonders of the computer age is that we can reach out to each other in powerful new ways. It used to be that we could only talk to each other face to face in a much slower–paced society. It was the age of the front porch and the church social. We would visit with each other, sharing our time and our lives.
Today, we do it differently. Now we can connect with friends literally around the globe. I have friends in the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia. I have never met them face to face. But I connect with them regularly, speaking with them through the wonder of the internet, and they have become quite good friends.
I’m not alone. Millions of people make those connections through instant messaging (IM) and texting on their cell phones. Teenagers come home after a day of school, and begin texting and IM’ing the friends they left not five minutes ago.
A few summers ago, I led a youth camp. At the end of camp, the teenagers all told me that I had to get onto Facebook so they could stay connected with me. They wanted to stay in touch.
That’s part of the reality of this postmodern age we live in. People have generally become distrustful of authority (often with good reason), and have rediscovered community as an important and critical need for human beings. That’s not a new thing. Not at all. But it is much more significant today than it was for people of my generation when we were growing up.
E.M. Forster identified this hunger in his novel “Howards End”. The title page has two simple words: “Only connect”. It became the motto of the book.
The church used to be in the business of helping people connect. Leonard Sweet reminds us that the church was where people came to make a connection with God, with each other, with their deepest selves, and with creation.
But somehow, the church got out of that business. We abdicated the ministry of building connections. Instead, we got into the principle business, or the proposition business, or the business of being right. We somehow thought it was more important to ensure everyone was a “real Christian”. We devised ways in which we could test their purity. We checked people’s credentials and belief systems, and if they were not up to par, they were not welcomed into our communities.
But that’s not the church’s ministry. Jesus never called us to inspect other people for the correctness of their beliefs or their opinions or their behaviour. Jesus never said, “Make sure they’re all ‘real’ Christians”. Jesus never said, “Learn the right stuff”.
Jesus invited all kinds of people to “Follow me.” Hang out with me. Learn what it’s like when we live together as if God were really in charge. Learn to live so that your lives show that God’s love is really for everyone, and not just for some. Follow me — and learn together in community to live in peace and wholeness. Make relationships. Only connect.
In column last week, I quoted Phyllis Tickle’s important book “The Great Emergence.” I wrote about two ways of describing community. One way is the “bounded group”: believe what the community believes, then behave as the community behaves, and then you belong. Believe — behave — belong. A different way is emerging: first, we belong to the community, and then we may begin to behave and believe as members of that community behave and believe. Belong — behave — believe.
It’s a good thing to remind ourselves of both of these ways of talking about community and groups. When we break relationships, we are guilty of breaking the great commandment to love God and to love our neighbours. We can’t separate them; both are part of the one great commandment.
That commandment, as well, is not unique to Christianity. It is found in all the world’s enduring religions. As we learn to connect with each other, in Cranbrook, and around the globe, we might once again dare to hope that we can learn to live together in peace and tolerance.
Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook