A dilemma of connectedness
Connected or disconnected, that is question 1 today? It's certainly debatable. Of course, we've got plenty of sanctified church rhetoric to argue the degree to which we are connected to the dark world around us. You know, in the world or of the world, conformed or transformed, friendship or acquaintance, citizen or alien, and many other comparatives. What is more, there's the truth that the word "connected" may express a little too much intimacy with that world out there. Just the same, being "disconnected" may seem a too distant from our nearest mission field. So, let's use the more trendy contemporary replacement---engaged. That's it. We're here to engage the world. Good grief. How we love our word games.
It is a dilemma for every Christian and every church, however we wish to verbalize it. We must find agree that Jesus commissioned us here to influence that world beyond the doors of the church, vessels that bring some salt and light into it. No matter how we try to tiptoe through the gray matter we know that the world is suddenly connected like never before in human history. And, if we're going to live in it beyond the cloister or bubble, we're going to be connected as well. To engage this connected world may be a more appropriate dynamic. And, I'm sure, you have more brilliant metaphorical descriptives than I can imagine.
Is the world more connected today than ever before in history? The answer is, without a doubt, "yes". How connected are we? There's a YouTube clip I watch regularly and show in churches when given the occasion. It is Did You Know? (Updated for 2018), a composite of astounding facts about our connected world. Please take five minutes and watch it by clicking here. There's an ad also but you can maneuver past it. You know there's more data about our nano-second nearness than even the most sophisticated video can express. Still, it is an eye-opener. Pause and take it in.
Question 2: is ours a consumer culture? Most researchers, market observers, and economic analysts will say "yes" to that one too. This is a culture where manufacturers of goods and services market their products to specific population cohorts. Watch TV any night or day and make note of advertisements aimed at citizens who are known to watch television at certain hours. Like the recent Nike phenomenon and the Betsy Ross shoes. Well, yes, they did alienate the older segment of viewing audiences. Their research indicates that younger audiences, thought to be those who drive their sales markets, will love their anti-establishment choices and buy their products as a result. Or, note the advertisements for all of the health products when Boomers are watching. Or, the phone calls about burial insurance or Medicare supplements at six every evening, dinnertime for most Boomers and Builders. Or, the wiz-bang toy commercials airing on Saturday mornings before college football games. They surely know who steers the spending habits of most families.
So, yes, it is a connected consumer culture. And, it registers to some degree with every segment of our population. Social media, high-speed wireless, emails and messaging, on-line shopping, delivery services, GPS, XM radio, packaged clothing, Siri, and hundreds of other technological enhancements bring the consumer world to our fingertips. You can even purchase the car of your dreams on line and have it delivered to a auto vending machine. Good grief? Connected and consumer.
Ultimately the motivation of our connected consumer world is more. More money, more stuff, more relationships, more time, more accomplishments, more sales, more exposure, more profit, more education, more house, more savings, more retirement, more leisure, more everything. Several years ago a friend and I were discussing the advance of this connected consumer world. One conclusion about it was a refrain we were hearing even among our believing friends. It was a summation of the times. People seemed to be saying, "I don't want much, I just want more!". You know, a more lavish and comfortable life, more than what is already apparent. Consumer culture, indeed. And, dear one, it is the season.
The truth is that none of us, unless we relocate to the cloister, can hide from or escape this advanced connected consumer world. It is in our homes, and even in our churches. I mean, a local congregation approached me once about a branding strategy in their immediate community. Without doubt, we are certainly in it. In the mystery of his ways our Sovereign God had placed us right here right now. And, the real question might be how we can be in it, but not of it? Can we unplug, move to a remote cave somewhere, and function apart from the world we're supposed to engage for the sake of the Gospel? Can we disengage from the world we're commissioned to engage?
Of course, the answer is no. But, we can live in a culture like this one and seek to preserve the character of Christ and the precious biblical values that should influence that world with salt and light. You know, like the contentment so modeled by the Apostle Paul two thousand years ago. He wrote to his friends at Philippi---
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to
Philippians 4: 11, ESV
What a spiritual virtue, contentment. Living in a culture like this one isn't wrong. Surely God placed us here with a message of redeeming joy and blessing. But, when this world steals our contentment, we may have moved from being in it to be of it. And, that's a problem. This is a dilemma of connectedness today: how to be in it, without being of it, and becoming captives of more.
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