Thursday, January 20, 2011

New World Metaphors

Human ingenuity cranks out things that are windows into the heart of the age. Our technological dreamworks become tools of convenience, toys of amusement, gadgets of annoyance, and objects of idolatry. Since Babel, every epoch has had its technological metaphor. The great tower of Genesis 11 betrayed humanity’s cultural self-understanding. We were kings and queens of the castle, then we got confused.

Dash forward and we can trace a fascinating series of tech symbols since the 15th century. Gutenberg’s printing press of 1450 was a technological wonder. His press made culture-quaking ideas capable of spreading like wild fire. It expedited literacy. It empowered the individual to rise from the dust of a feudal cultural grave.

Fast forward a couple of centuries to philosopher Blaise Pascal. This calculating “homme,” who defined the emerging individual rationalism of the Enlightenment with “I think, therefore I am,” was also apparently the first to wear a wristwatch. If individual reason had won the day, why not individual time, too? The clock became the technological metaphor for a new era, one in which time became money, and the dirty second hand, not the rhythms of creation, ruled the roost.

Things ticked along until the “thingamajig extraordinaire” was sprung upon us. The computer hotwired Gutenberg’s press and Pascal’s watch into a plastic tower making power personal and Pacman an icon. With the Internet the world, quite literally, came home. The computer now amuses, aids and controls. The web connects us to a wide world and disconnects us from our family and neighbours. It can save time and waste it. It can liberate and imprison. It can bring order and disseminate chaos. It is the technological metaphor for the world we all know.

But we haven’t stopped there. The technological metaphor of the dawning world is the smartphone, which puts a shrinking world in my pocket. It seems to have life and yet has none. It is the perfect metaphor for the entitled culture I find myself swimming in. So much of our lives is dominated by these technologies.

How does this apply to the life of the church? Well, for one thing, everyone in our churches is treading in these cultural waters. Even those determined to stay untainted by “the world,” ironically put the world in their pockets or depend on people who do. Pretending we can deconstruct what’s been constructed is irrational.

Furthermore, we are conditioned to think very mechanistically and therefore look at our churches in the same way. True to our technological metaphors, we believe we can and should be able to program the ideal church to put in our pockets. But the church does not exist to be the virtual spiritual equivalent of your favourite app; the church exists to give glory to God!

It’s not that we don’t love the church. We do, but perhaps wrongly. We love her so much we want to control her by making a technological widget out of her. However, we are not called to love the church; that’s what God does (Ephesians 5:25). We are called to love God and neighbour, make no graven image, and, confessing Jesus Christ as Lord, be a resurrected people through whom God reveals his wisdom, not ours, to the powers that be. Without doubt, this requires the creative tools of our technologies, but, even more so, the surrender of our need for programmatic control to the wild, creative and unpredictable breath of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Boys Will Be Men

My sons and I once took on the challenge of fixing the front porch of our old home that required some significant TLC. I’m not much of a handyman, but I can wreck things with the best of men and so we set to work ripping out aluminum soffit in order to get at the beams that were failing after a hundred years of enduring the elements. To add to the fun we discovered a rather substantial accumulation of bat guano piled high on that old soffit as well. What great hilarity for a couple of boys and their dad! Trying to hit each other with bat poop-bombs really impressed the females in the Wagler tribe.
Seeking to reestablish myself as the mostly responsible father, I made it clear we were going to dispose of this crappy aluminum post-haste and so we threw it with an emphatic clatter into our old trailer. To my great dismay one of my sons became determined, despite my protests of what ills will befall him should he play with the guano-infested metal, to build an Ironman suit out of the junk – just like the one in the movies – that would fly and shoot down unsuspecting sea gulls at will. “Good God,” I prayed, “change my son’s mind, or at the very least, build a poop-protecting force field around him – oh – and I beseech Thee, keep his mother from seeing what’s going on.”
What is it with boys and their crazy ideas? What is it with fathers and their attempts to tame their sons? I fought every nerve to pull my son back to reality. This hair-brained scheme was pointless. Still, I let him go – even gave him some tools – and went to distract his mother from getting near the back yard where all this amateur NASA engineering was going on. The suit never got made. Turns out building a rocket propelled suit out of soffit is slightly more complicated than one might think. Still, it was a joy watching the attempt be made and it reminded me of the wonder of being a boy.
Allow me, for just one moment, to ask the men out there this: You were once a boy with crazy ideas, what type of man have you become? Tamed? Tepid? Tired? Ticked? Tactless? Telf-seeking (I really mean self-seeking, but needed a “T” to keep the prose going)?
The truth is that boys will be men. Every man was once a boy, but what kind of man is he becoming? What kind of man am I becoming? Am I more and more the man of God’s making, of Jesus’ rescuing, of the Spirit’s transforming, or just a boy trapped in a body that won’t stop motoring in the wrong direction?
Boys who are becoming sons of the Kingdom are men after God’s own heart. Men, the Kingdom of God is a great adventure! It is, believe it or not, even greater than building a guano-stained Ironman suit. Boys will be men; that you can count on. So, gents, what kind of man are you becoming? Whose man are you? And, how might you join the Kingdom adventure with other men who were once boys like you too?