Friday, March 6, 2009

Elevator Theology

While I am not sure, I am willing to bet that most of the people that read this blog are people who know me. That likely means that you either live, or lived, in the Washington, DC metro area. So, you know that DC is not like most other cities in at least one major respect (no, I am not looking for the fact that the citizens of the District re-elected Marion Barry as Mayor after he was caught on tape in a sting operation). There are no tall buildings in DC. If you spend most of your life in this area, you don't even really think about it until you go to another city. Then you see things that you don't see in DC.

Things like elevators with television screens showing news headlines, the weather and advertisements. I had only really noticed these in other cities where the elevator ride to the 30th floor, or 67th floor, or whatever, may actually take a while. Since you are trapped in the little moving box with a bunch of other people and everybody knows that it is not socially acceptable to actually say something to someone that you do not know on an elevator, there is nothing else to do. Everyone just kind of stares directly ahead looking at the doors anyway. And even that can be awkward. After all, everybody knows that even making eye contact in the reflection in the elevator doors is not socially acceptable. So, somebody came up with the idea of giving everyone something to look at - and to sell advertising. So, now, everyone stands in the elevator with their heads looking up to the elevated screens learning the word of the day, or some factoid, or the stock prices.

Well, in my new office building in DC, we have those screens in the elevator. My office is on the 11th floor, which is the top floor of the building. I have not timed it, but the elevator ride cannot take more than thirty seconds on most trips up and down (I know, I know, it would be healthier if I took the stairs - but then I wouldn't have this to write about!). That is usually time enough to get two little tidbits. This morning in the elevator, for example, I learned that there are between 40,000 and 100,000 mountain goats in the United States and that the House passed a bill yesterday that would let bankruptcy judges unilaterally alter the terms of mortgages.

By now I suspect that the few of you that are still reading are wondering where in the world I am going with this. So, I will get to my point.

I think in a lot of instances we are getting too comfortable with just getting things in tiny little bits: Facebook status updates; news in the elevator; Twitter; skimming the headlines. And I think there are a lot of times that this same thing applies to exploring and developing our faith. We want it easy, we want it quick and we want it convenient. Maybe we will show up in church, but there are a lot of other things going on, so the service better not run over. Oh yeah, and the preacher better not drag on and on. Share the Word, make the point, and move on.

The problem is, if our faith is supposed to be alive and we are always to be growing in our faith, how can we be doing those things without a deeper level of commitment? Without truly rolling our sleeves up and getting into it? Over the last year I have moved to a point where I take time to read the bible, or a devotion, or something, almost every day and I regularly spend time talking about faith issues with friends. I'm not saying this to shout my own praises or say look at how good I am - far from it. I am sharing it because I believe that it has moved me forward in my faith. It has helped me to actually incorporate this all into my life.

In Chapter 5 of the gospel of John, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath. The Jews question and challenge him. Among the things that Jesus says in response is this:

You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

John 5:39-40 (NIV).

I know that quote seems a little out of line with my point. But I do not think it is. Jesus is not condemning them for studying the Scriptures. That, of course, is a good thing, an excellent thing even. Instead, I think this passage demonstrates that what Jesus is concerned about is the inability to do what needs to be done to bring the Scriptures into life. To take it to the next level.

It is not the Scriptures themselves that bring us eternal life, it is the relationship with Jesus. We need to do what needs to be done to develop that relationship, to nourish it, and to have it be a part of who we are. To have Jesus as our constant companion. I know that I couldn't get there by only doing this in bite-sized versions on Sunday mornings. A relationship with Jesus is about more than a quick fix. I think church is an important part of that relationship - it is a time we set aside to worship. But, I encourage everyone to look for ways to take another step - to strengthen and grow that relationship.

Have a great weekend everyone!


Heidi said...

About the tall building point - i get it! We went to New York City this summer and, while I'd been there briefly before, it didn't hit me as much as this time how tall everything was. I felt so tiny next to all of the massive towers!

As for the digging into you faith - I agree with that too. We went to a church in CA that was almost overly detailed... It took a five years of sermons to get through six chapters of Daniel. That was detail!

Now it amazes me that our pastor did the entire Beatitudes last week in one sermon. I kept thinking, "surely it deserves more than forty minutes!!"

What I like about twitter and facebook and soundbites is that it allows me to look at a huge span of information and pick the items I want to read more about. Those things I am interested in, or think are important, I can look up.

But I'm an "in-the-details" kind of person, and I love research. It is disturbing how many people only see the one-liners and consider themselves informed.

Same with faith. There is a lot of misinformation taught based on very surface looks at scripture - especially things taken out of context. The Bible is so complex and interwoven to only glance at it and think you've checked that box.

Obviously your faith is much deeper and personal if you are integrating it into elevator rides! :)

Matt McCrory said...

Hey Tony! This blog reminded me so much of a sermon series we just went through in the Gathering. The Pastor spoke about how facebook and twittering leads to so much surface interaction but not so much real intimacy/ truly connecting with other people.

I know your main point was the similarity between that and our relationship with God, but I think it applies to our relationships between each other as the body of Christ also. I know that in the college generation there are many who communicate manily via electronically rather than actually placing themselves in the company of others (which would be terrifying, you wouldn't be able to sign off or log out the moment you weren't being instantly gratified.)

Very cool, I enjoyed reading it!