Faith Works 2-18-17
Things I Didn't See Coming
Recently a tech company created a charming video based on "The Jetsons," updating that 1962 cartoon's opening with 2017 special effects, and our own particular view of "the future."
"The Jetsons" purported to be how we'd be living in 2062, and some of what they presented has already come along, even though we're still way behind on flying car technology. Self-driving cars are apparently just around the corner, with all that a two-dimension transformation will bring our society.
That makes me think, as a pastor and a leader in church community life, how changes affect us. I just read a good essay on the prevalence, in some circles, of a Sunday 11:00 am worship service. The question wasn't so much about Sunday as it was THAT particular hour: 11 o'clock. It's not Biblical, it's not even all that historically traditional . . . and it seems to be rooted basically in a village and town model of a largely agricultural community where morning chores and time to travel meant 11 was the hour. Sunday school, recall, is another non-Biblical innovation, if innovated in the middle 1800s and becoming common around the early 1900s.
So it's a hundred years old, but that doesn't make it an eternal necessity. Anymore than 11:00 am on the signboard is. Or any other particular time of day. So many churches now have Saturday evening services to usher in Sunday, or Sunday afternoon worship, and so on.
When I was a kid watching the cartoons on Saturday morning, I couldn't image there would be a time when you didn't have Bugs Bunny starting the weekend… or that you could watch cartoons on your lap any day or time of the week. The shape of entertainment and weekends have changed, but church, not so much. Should it? In some ways no, but in many ways, maybe so.
That debate about religious essentials is an old one, and I'm not sure I want to get right into that side of the question, so I want to change the subject even if it's just a quarter-turn on the dial, and ask this: what did I not see coming, what has changed in our society and circumstances that weren't anticipated, at least by me, and what might that tell us about how to move our feet to keep standing firm in shifting sands ahead?
I want to offer a few of my own "things I didn't see coming" this week, and would be happy to hear some of yours, although I know I've got enough to carry on to a second week already . . . but let me know which topics come to mind for you under this heading.
One big surprise for me in the last thirty years has to do with debt. Credit cards were already widely used in the 1980s, so the cashless society was not exactly a surprise. What has been a source of continuing amazement to me is the general acceptance of debt. Dave Ramsey has made a career out of arguing against it, and teaching people how to work back out of it, but the need for his work has been a testimony to just how much headway the basic trend has made into our lives. Every time I think personal indebtedness is starting to creep back down, it seems to make a resurgence. Mortgages with less than 10% down, reverse mortgages, crushing credit card payments that are still not touching principal, loans of a wide variety of mechanisms mostly not well understood but still widely used: helping parishioners deal with debt is a huge issue I didn't see coming.
Likewise gambling. Las Vegas existed when I was a kid, and Atlantic City came along, and then the casino boom exploded right here in Ohio. Lottery and gambling vacations and slots just a forty minute drive from my house: this touches every family, and not in a good way. The Methodists spoke out against it to the end, but it's over, at least for this generation. Gambling is simply accepted, by everyone, as a fundraiser, an activity, a vacation program, and a tool for paying public obligations (like education) -- and we're all expected to play. Not gambling makes you a very odd duck indeed. Not that I mind being that sort of fowl, but it didn't used to be odd among clergy & Christians.What didn't you see coming?
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about the changes that caught you and your church off-guard at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.