June 26, 2013
Bigger Chunks of Time
Shouldn't church be the best place to spend meaningful time with people?
How well do your church members know each other? How much do people really share and care about one another’s lives? Does anything in their daily existence allow for anything other than superficial relationships? And do the demands of today’s “social media” and digital connectedness, which require so much individual attention to maintain, ultimately just intrude on what little sense of community (and real sociability) may actually exist in your local church body?
Consider this wonderful piece that appeared earlier this year in The New York Times: ”New York, Unplugged and on Foot”
In the article, journalist Anand Giridharadas tells of moving with his wife Priya Parker to New York City, committed to an idea born during their honeymoon in Sri Lanka: as newcomers to the city, they will commit 12 straight hours, about once per month, to exploring some neighborhood of the city, sans any digital devices. Friends got wind of the idea, asked to join, and were readily admitted into the “anti-modern communal experiment.” The plan called for walking and talking, stopping (for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and talking, shopping and talking—for a complete day, in hopes of fostering “a single, rolling conversation among the group, rather than one-on-one side chats.” The unplugged goal: to be “thickly in one place, not thinly everywhere.” At the time of the article’s publication, nine such encounters had been experienced, in what came to be dubbed “I am here” days.
The description of how these days typically unfold is interrupted by Giridharadas to make two reflections about the time the group spends with each other. First:
“It is, you could argue, a golden age for talk—or perhaps for chatter. More people have more ways to say more things than ever before. But for many of us our communicative lives have become lives of chaos, fragmentation, addiction, alienation, guilt. What we discovered when we turned off our machines and spent whole days together was how desperately we all wanted to talk.”
He goes on to share:
“You see, a funny thing happens when you spend 12 hours with the same people and just those people. It’s unlike spending three hours with them four different times, as Priya always points out. People usually manage to be polite and dignified for the first few hours, which is perhaps why we spend only a few hours with people most of the time. After that, things unravel in the loveliest ways. Their guards come down. Crankiness slips out, but so does the truth.”
I suspect your reaction to this is much like mine: Spending three hours with the same people four different times each month? That sounds like a description of church!
Interestingly, Giridharadas calls these 12-hour adventures “giving our gadgets a secular Sabbath.” In a time when the visible church has largely abandoned any notion of maintaining Sunday as a Sabbath (Do not most of us professing Christians these days occupy our time on Sunday in much the same way as our non-professing neighbors?), perhaps we need to revisit the means by which we together devote bigger chunks of time removed from our usual daily affairs. Shouldn’t our churches be the one best place to thickly rest from the present, digital age?
Jim Gilmore is author of The Experience Economy: Updated Edition