Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Faith Works 6-24-17

Faith Works 6-24-17

Jeff Gill


Living in the in-between



Going past me in the intersection, I saw one hand pushing hair back across the driver's head, and the other hand holding a phone to one ear.


Perhaps some people drive better with their knees than I do with one hand. Or two. Who knows?


The stickers and window tags are common, exhorting fellow following drivers to not text and drive, or to put down the phone and drive. And the sight of impossible drivers somehow maneuvering while both hands are busy with non-steering activities are just as common.


I'm not writing to address traffic safety so much as the impulse, the compulsion, the general pull towards the immediate. Immediate response, immediate gratification, immediate answers. Right now has become just in time, and wait a minute is impossible, or at least implausible.


We can look up the greatest hit of 1967 in seconds, and realize that "To Sir With Love" did in fact beat out "Ode to Billie Joe" even as we confirm that the electoral vote totals in 1836 resulted in both the election of Martin Van Buren and the formation of the two-party system as we know it today (even if it was Democrats and Whigs back then). To research and compare print sources is a concept reserved for graduate school, where once high school sophomores knew how to navigate a card catalogue or vertical file.


And in faith communities, the expectations for contact and follow-up have become more immediate, and mostly direct, where not long ago we had prayer chain leaders and church secretaries and "While You Were Out" slips on the desk.


Folks text or message or post to the pastor, and the church Facebook page had better answer queries quickly, as in within minutes or just a few hours, or see a bad comment on the up-front page. People are directly asking about more and more things, and expect quick, not to say prompt responses.


Some of this, to be candid, is efficient and helpful. And sometimes the direct contact makes clergy develop a second Facebook profile, just so they don't get bombarded with odd and askew questions the moment they open up a browser window, about obvious schedule matters (already posted on the church website or Twitter feed etc.) or broad issues that really require a meeting face-to-face.


The wider social question around social media is about what all this immediacy is doing to us. Pastors worry that people don't want to wait for Sunday, they want communion, symbolic or actual, when the need is felt; contrariwise, they don't want to have to go somewhere at 10:30 am on Sunday when their religious impulse was really more active on Saturday or last Thursday. Can I stream the sermon? Would you post a pdf of the message's main points? What's our YouTube channel, anyhow?


There's something about the Biblical worldview that pulls me back from trying to meet all those desires, not to say needs. In the vast arc of Biblical narrative, we see again and again how we live in the time between, our soul's progress is taking place in the middle of promise and fulfillment, that we are caught within the story that goes from "once upon a time" to "happily ever after," from already to not yet.


"Not yet," in fact, comes up again and again in Christian teaching. Jesus rose from the dead as the first-fruits of righteousness, as God's down payment on the eternal. The believers might still die, but not forever, and not to a resurrection that's guaranteed next week. God blesses the peacemakers, in Jesus teaching on the mount, but not "right now," because the blessing comes when "they shall be" not "as soon as possible."


ASAP is the modern acronym for everything, but the SOP (standard operating procedure) for the Divine is to work in terms of centuries, mostly the 14th. We wait in faith, we remember hints and promises and indications, and we trust in a full and future fulfillment.


Smart phones don't promote that kind of thinking, or are not configured for those waiting for a better signal to result in tagging ourselves as "first in line" for communion, or dinner. Computer technology supports the idea that reality is what we can confirm quickly, online, with keystrokes.


This is where daily Bible reading and regular prayer become so important to us. To help reaffirm those ideas about "the already and the not-yet." To give us a place to stand as the outward realities change. The world around us may expect speed, but we look for truth, a concept that can be blessedly slow.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about your life between the already and the not-yet at, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.