Hi folks,

Getting over the jet lag and re-entry after the Philippines and turning my thoughts again towards this topic.  But for today, I want to ‘forward’ (read ‘steal’) an excellent blog post from my Meadville student colleague, Liz James of Saskatoon.  It is most definitely on the topic and deserves your attention.  Check out her Sunday service video invitation at the end of this post and read more of her stuff at: http://www.sacredlego.com/sacred-lego/  

Chimpanzee Church

DateSunday, February 19, 2012 at 04:23PM

So, my friend who is not named Anna graduated from high school recently with fantastic grades.  She attributes this not to her sizeable intelligence but to the fact that “a reasonably smart chimpanzee could get good grades in high school“.

“Right, of course,” says me, trying my best to appear as though my high school grades would have differentiated me from a non-smart Chimpanzee.

“Really,” she continued, “you’d be amazed at how easy high school teachers can be to impress.  Like my history teacher said one time that history repeats itself, and I said a spiral would be a better metaphor.  History spirals out, coming back to the same things but in different, broader ways.  He made this big deal about how brilliant that theory is–can you believe it?”

“Ah”, I said, now trying to appear not impressed by her theory, and still smarter than a chimpanzee.

But the more I think about it, the more I love it.  As “web 2.0” takes off, I’m struck more and more by the ways in which we are circling back to old ways of doing things.  People criticize the modern attention span as a product of the internet–“people never sit and read the classics for hours any more”.  To which I have to respond that I, for one, never did.  And, it’s not natural to sit for hours at a time absorbing a message from one source without interacting with it.  Sure, if you discipline kids strong enough you can get them to do that–but the high rates of trouble paying attention in school indicate that something is being forced.  We Chimpanzees can attest to that.

In the cultures we evolved in, we learned by conversation.  Information was interwoven with it’s source, with relationship, and with the co-creation of meaning. But, beginning with the alphabet, information became divorced from relationship.  As media became more and more “mass”, this continued until millions of people sat glued to footage of the exact same moon landing.

Web 2.0 isn’t an extension of mass media, it’s circling back to a village paradigm in which we interact as we learn.  The conversation is the heart of things again.  Reputation matters.  Viral spread of information mirrors patterns of gossip that are present in villages.   Learning happens through exploration.

“We spend so much time working to make this community.” a friend of mine who grew up in a Masai village once said of our congregation “And then we don’t spend time being a community.  It doesn’t make sense.”

It doesn’t make sense to him because he’s not steeped in the product mentality of recent decades in our culture. He thinks in “village” mode and doesn’t understand the point of institutions.  Doesn’t trust them.  Kind of like the occupy people.

Somewhere along the line, we got the idea that the heart of church was the structure and the product.  The professional worship service, the polished website, the thriving committees.  I’m not sure that’s true.  First of all, there’s a lot of “product” out there, and we’ll never do a better job of invoking awe or brilliant insight than mass media can afford to do.

Time and time people say that they are in our congregations for the community.  If that’s true, it’s not what we say that matters nearly so much as how well we listen.  If we viewed ourselves not as offering a religious product” but as “hosts of a spiritual potluck supper”, how would that change our focus and priorities?

I was pleased to post the following comment on her blog: Good comment, Liz, worthy of a High School grad for sure. You point to how whatever is dominant in culture becomes the acceptable norm. Let’s remember to be cautious about that, since slavery, sexism and communist witch hunts were all once norms, as is the mass consumption of fast food today.

And speaking of Liz’s ideas, she has just posted this invitation to services on the Unitarian Congregation of Saskatoon’s website.  What a great way to say hi.