Mobility and anonymity.
Every year I recommend several books to colleagues in the wide ministry cohort. One of them, The Secular City by Harvey Cox (The MacMillan Company, 1965) seems an odd selection. You'll notice that it was published in 1965, like 54 years ago. What isn't obvious is that Cox was a liberal theology professor at the Harvard Divinity School. That a theological conservative like me would reference his book seems somewhat out of sorts. The reason I recommend it? The Secular City envisions the role of faith and the church in the future urban world. In many ways it was a glimpse into the exponential times characteristic of culture today.
Cox's main thesis is that mobility and anonymity w characterize exponential times. In short, he pictured a world on the move inhabited by disconnected people. His was a different take on the velocity and complexity themes so evident in the culture around us. And, it was a very accurate prediction, this mobility and anonymity. Today we can travel faster and farther than ever before in human history. What is more, technology has given us motion far beyond actual physical movement. I mean, it isn't called the information superhighway for nothing. At the same time, the innovations of this technical world have enabled us to hide behind screen names, groups, delete buttons, and caller I. D. The machinery of this new world has morphed from the dynamics of connectedness to the new sophisticated disappearing acts of unplugging. We can tell Alexa or Siri or our other automated sidekicks to ignore whatever is trying to intrude on our agenda at the moment.
So, what's a workable strategy for navigating this mobility and anonymity? Here are two that Scripture driven---
1. Don't get gnarled in the traffic.
Being in the world but not of it (See John 17: 15-19, ESV) is a distinguishing challenge for believers. Scripture proposes a dynamic interplay between believers and the world around us. Yes, we are light in the darkness, seasoning that enhances. preserves, and creates thirst for Christ and the treasures of heaven. Influencing the world around us for the sake of the Gospel is the deep stuff of our commission from Christ. Making disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching means strategic positioning where this influence can be real.
Still, there's the alluring rush of the world's traffic. It appeals to our base nature, that old self with it's craving for pleasure in any denomination, ego mania at every turn, ambitions, goals, stuff, pleasures, and pursuits aimed at anything but heaven. This highway is bumper-to-bumper and magnetic. Who doesn't love a crowd. It is an element of personal mobility because it's fast, appealing to hordes of our family, friends, and neighbors, with no ability to meet our most profound human needs. As a result, it's on to the next fad or trend, even the next church. You know, mobility.
The Apostle Paul wrote about this kind of linkage with that other world---
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness
have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is
there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an
unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are
the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will live with them and walk among them,
and I will be their God, and they will be my people.' Therefore come out from them and be
separate, says the Lord."
1 Corinthians 6: 14-17
Some believers overplay this element of the world connection by cloistering themselves from every world influence. Being in the traffic of fast, complex times isn't the wrong here. It's getting gnarled in it where the traffic that defines where we're going at what we're doing.
2. Stay connected to the people in your circle.
Anonymity is the old world term for being disconnected. Today, being disconnected simply means keeping preferred distance from the people with whom we share life's journey. We're known by a few intimates but basically invisible in the more recent proximity metrics of friends, followers, ignore and delete buttons, and fictionalized "about" segments. It's easy to maintain and has become the norm for many people, believers included. I mean, who doesn't have a few annoying people on our friend list or in the next pew. It's about selective relationships. And, that's a problem for people sent into the world with the influence of Christ.
Scripture gives us clarity about our relationship with fellow believers and with those outside the body of faith as well. The 59 "one another" passages of Scripture, referenced in this space on so many occasions, give specific guidance in staying connected to the Christians in our life circle. There's certainly abundant instruction about relationships in our immediate and extended families. Regarding those outside of Christian belief there are pages of biblical reference material to give us direction. My mind is drawn today to words the Apostle Paul wrote---
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let
your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how
to answer everyone...
Yes, these are exponential times. Velocity and complexity define them. Harvey Cox was pretty accurate 54 years ago when he predicted mobility and anonymity as markers in the urban new millennium. Jesus commissioned his followers to live in that world while modeling spiritual stability and clear identity as elements of our influence. Following the crowd or disconnecting from the people who comprise it cannot fulfill the mission we've been given.
Happy and blessed 2019!
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