Out of Body Experience: The Omnipresence of Mankind in the Digital Era

In the 1970s, Astral Projection and OBE (Out of Body Experience) became a big thing, which isn’t all that surprising when you consider that it coincided with a lot of drug experimentation. This illustration to introduce the concept of God being omnipresent, fully present everywhere all the time, was lost on many of my middle school students. They couldn’t quite get past what would happen if your body needed to go to the bathroom while your spirit was floating around Antarctica watching the penguins march. I suggested that it would be advisable to only practice astral projection while sitting on the toilet just in case. While I don’t actually give much credence to OBE, you have to admit it resulted in some of the Beatles best work. Still, my students have a point. If your soul really could float away from your body for a brief jaunt it would be a very disconnected experience. Your body would sit there like a vegetable while your spirit is just floating around eavesdropping on the world, neither having enough presence to actually have an impact because you are literally two places at once.

In reality what I just described above is not all that different from our current cultural phenomenon of social media. Instead of Astral Projection we now have Digital Projection. Our bodies are walking, working, eating, and even interacting with others while our spirits are floating around the digital dimensions eavesdropping on the world. Neither having enough presence to actually have an impact because you are literally two places at once. I’ve caught myself on numerous occasions having a virtual out of body experience detached from what was happening right in front of me because the deepest parts of me were consumed with the digital dimensions I inhabit.

I’m not suggesting that we throw off social media and all the things that divert our attention from what is happening right in front of us. Social media is not evil and will not  be the catalyst to the decay and demise of human society. However, I do find it interesting that we live in the very same tension with one another that we as Christians often struggle to understand about God. “If God is fully present everywhere all at once then why doesn’t he step in more often?” It’s haunting how often that can be said of us. Never has there been a time in human history where more can be known about an individual without actually and very rarely experiencing their full relational presence. We, just like God, can be right there without others in the room sensing and experiencing our true presence. The question we must ask ourselves at any given moment is why we don’t step in more often?

Go Beyond Affinity: Finding Real Community In Church

189594_712152423977_1757242_n            This past Sunday I was at the memorial service for a friend who has passed on. It was a lovely service because quite simply she was a lovely person. All four of her children took turns speaking and everything they said was beautiful, full of love and gratitude for having her as a mom. I had never met any of her children, all of whom are just a little bit older than me if not the same age, but none of what they said was at all illuminating. It was not illuminating because all the wonderful attributes of compassion and investment of time they described had been experienced by myself and pretty much every adult sharing the same pew, all of whom are young enough to be her child. When I think of Christ centered community I think of Tom and Jeanne Gould.

When I was a college student at Spring Arbor University I served in the worship ministry of a local church as a vocalist and volunteer in the youth ministry. This church didn’t have a college or young adult ministry and yet I felt right at home as a young adult college student because families of students, other volunteers, and fellow worship team members showed an interest in me, and welcomed me into their homes. When I think of Christ-centered community I think of Andy, Trish, Janine, Taryn, and Scott.

The first church I began going to without my parents started with getting involved with the youth ministry as a Senior in High School. They had a college ministry, but that’s not where I felt most at home. I felt most at home with Vaughn and Marilynn, so much so that most Sunday afternoon’s and evenings were spent in their home. A good number of Friday nights were spent hanging out with them as well as going to the movies and getting something to eat. Sure they had two kids my age, but our friendship deepened when their kids where away at college and I was still in town. When I think of Christ-centered community I think of the Lipperts.

All of us are looking for community. Many leave churches because they can’t seem to find community. I’ve heard many people lament the absence of a college ministry, or young adult ministry, or a young married ministry, or you name it ministry. There isn’t a ministry where they can get easily plugged into and get community. Then there are others who find the ministry for them, their demographic, and still leave because real community evades them even within the group.

Even though I wasn’t a student at the University of Michigan (I went to the local community college) I was looking for community and thus began attending Campus Crusade meetings with friends who were students. I never quite got plugged into that group even though there were some friends I made that I could hang out with probably because I wasn’t a student and though I lived in town I didn’t live on campus. Oddly enough the place where I did find community was also on the campus of University of Michigan, Athletes in Action, which was basically Campus Crusade for the athletes. Not only was I not a student at UofM, but I certainly was not a division I athlete. Yet just this weekend I connected with a friend that I know through AIA that was in town on business because we’ve been friends ever since we met thirteen years ago. When I was in Chicago two years ago on a Conference I was able to catch up with a friend who lives there for coffee that I met through AIA. I was invited to go on my first overseas mission trip with AIA in 2001. My reply was, “but I’m not even a student here much less an athlete.” The reply I received was assurance that despite those things I was definitely a part of that community. When I think of Christ-centered community I think of Donte, Robyn, and Bruce.

The point I want to make with all of these stories and illustrations is this… If you want to find and be apart of Christ-centered community you have to be willing to go beyond affinity. If you’ve grown up in the church you’ve probably been conditioned to settle for affinity. From the time we are infants to when we are Seniors in High School our community in church is shaped around primarily being with people who are the same age and life-stage as our self. We unconsciously look for the people like us. It’s no wonder that most college students and young adults won’t even consider attending a church that doesn’t have a ministry for their age group and will eventually leave a church if they age out. Affinity is not bad it just has a way of robbing us of true community if we’re not intentional. It’s comforting to have “likeness” but we may find that something is missing without some diverseness and depth. Moreover, if we refuse to take a risk and invest relationally in someone else because they aren’t the same age or life-stage as us we could seriously miss out on some beautiful relationships. Even amongst those who are the same age and life-stage as us we often discover that there can be a disconnect because we haven’t discovered the deeper more significant and lasting affinities we have with people. And there is no deeper more significant affinity than having Christ in common. How else could I be friends with a raging Ohio State Buckeyes fan like Tom Gould?

When I first came on staff at Church at Charlotte I tried to help breath some life back into the 20s-30s group. It worked for a little while before things fizzled out again but when I think of that group I think of the couple who were well past their 20s and 30s by about twenty to thirty years that invested in that community. Even after the group fizzled out Tom and Jeanne continued to invest in many of the disbanded members. Tom led a Bible study with many of the guys, and together they went out to eat with and hosted many of the women in their home. Therefore there was a whole pew of people with whom the words of Jeanne’s children at her memorial service resonated with because they experienced the same kind of relational investment.

If you’re someone who is struggling to find community in a local church it might be time to go beyond basic affinity of same age and life-stage. If you’re someone who is well connected in a local church within a homogenous group it might be time for you to start going beyond affinity so that others can find community. Go beyond affinity and go deeper to find meaningful and lasting relationships

Melissa Harris-Perry and Our Collective Need to Respond with Grace and Peace

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Romans 12.18 “If Possible, so far as it depends on you live peaceably with all.”

In case you haven’t heard the comments made by Melissa Harris-Perry have created quite a stir amongst many. Not least some within the American Church. In case you haven’t heard it or seen the “Lean Forward” advertisement here is the quote that rose the ire of many…

“We have never invested as much in public education as we should have. We haven’t had a very collective notion of, these are our children. We have to break through our private idea that children belong to their parents, or children belong to their families, and recognize that children belong to whole communities. Once it’s everybody’s responsibility and not just the household’s, we start making better investments.”

Many have seen this as an attack on the nuclear family and the role of parents. Some have even said that it sounds very socialist. I don’t know a lot about the woman, but as a fellow Black American I can imagine that some of her comments about children belong to communities is harkening back to a part of Black American Culture that existed well into the 70s. The comedian Sinbad even told stories about this part of Black culture in one of his stand up routines; if you got in trouble at school which required a call home, then the ladies in the neighborhood and your grandmother (assuming she lived in the neighborhood), knew about it and gave you a piece of their mind/disciplined you, before you even reached home and had to face your own parents. It could be possible that Harris-Perry is harkening back to concept of “it takes a village/tribe” as a way of encouraging people to consider how they can invest in the youth in their community beyond their own (And not in the exclusively discipline fashion of the 70s).

As a member of the church and more specifically as a youth pastor this got me to thinking… No one ever freaked out when someone said, “It takes a village…”. In fact I’ve heard many in the church use the analogy in positive ways to encourage the role of community within the body of Christ. No one ever said in response to that, “it reeks of naturalism or early western pagan spirituality”. As a youth pastor I promote the idea that parents have the most potential influence in shaping their children, and while I have a role to play and something valuable to add, parents are (and always will be) the primary stewards of their kids. Personally I feel all the drama surrounding her comments just highlights something else that I’ve observed lately, which bothers me.

So many within the American church seem to be on the hunt accusing people of being socialists like its the 50s again in the midst of the “Red Scare”. It makes us look as though we are more concerned with protecting the American republic we’ve been born into (and gratefully so), democracy, capitalism and the “American Way” more than our concern for announcing the gospel message of God as King. A huge part of the Gospel is that all nations all kings all rulers, and all forms of government will be found wanting. All of them, including America no matter how much we rise or fall as a nation, will fall and be done away with when Christ returns (Revelation 17.14). His kingdom rule will fully and undeniably invade not just heaven but earth too resulting in the New Heavens and New Earth that so much of scripture points towards and eagerly awaits. Not that politics and government are insignificant, but when a sizable amount of our PR and announcements concerns our loathing and fear-mongering of liberals, socialists, or ultra-conservatives and politicians in general then the likelihood of the gospel falling on deaf ears increases. Announcing and living the gospel needs to be the foremost of our concern. The gospel calls those of us who claim to submit to the rule of the king the good news announces to do our best to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12.18), and to pray for those who are in positions of  power and influence (1st Timothy 2.1-6). Living at peace with and praying for those outside the body of Christ is a powerful witness.