Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Communication and Communities of Faith:
The old paradigms just don't seem to work.

I'm at Westminster Woods speaking in partnership with friend and colleague Rev. Matt Prinz at the Central - Middle School - Camp.  We had the vision and desire to try speaking together - it may very well be the first time this has ever been dared here - as a reflection upon the reality of how we communicate culturally these days.  It's much more about conversation, dialog and participation than upon lecturing, passivity and indoctrincation.  The campers seem so far (after 2 speaking experiences) to be into the conversation form and format, making comments, participating.  Hopefully the experience helps to set the parameters and context for quality follow-up conversations in smaller groups.  Isn't that how we really learn?: small group discussions, reflecting upon what we've already "learned" or experienced.  How is it then that more often than not in the church we think we learn best by rote, by imitating a "master" by listening to a speech.

In tonight's campfire gathering I asked what we do in church.  The first response was "sit down" One of the last was "be bored" and "kill time while the boring pastor drones on".  Quite possibly harsh.  And most likely true.  Thankfully it wasn't a youth from my church.  Somehow we've come to interpret and practice experiencing God as listening to a sermon.  Maybe that's where the church is getting it wrong.  Maybe it's because of that passe communicative style that our churches are emptying without being revitalized because of death, attrition and even division.  

Another example of the splintering because of communication changes and style/form transformations is the recent departure of the new pastor at Riverside Church in NYC.  This is a big deal: a big church gig, in a highly respected progressive church which is often lifted up as a model of multicultural faith community.  Yet I wonder if what happened is that a question of communication.  Progressive criticize conservatives.  Conservative criticize progressives.  Yet what neither "side" recognizes is that they way (not necessarily the subject matter) that they communicate is out to lunch, not inherent or reflective of the ways that we communicate, relate and educate in our society today.  "God Needs You to Get Out of the Bubble..." [Religion Dispatches blog]

What I found in tonight's campfire talk was that the kids were honest about church, how they listen and how they talk to God.  The forms lifted up around them as models to emulate don't seem to interest, enthuse or be practised in large part by them. So if the way that we have been doing it, isn't working.  Why do we expect it to eventually if we just keep doing it over and over?


Gene said...

A quote from Einstein:
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Too often in churches it's, "but we've always done it that way." Even if that way doesn't work anymore.

We enjoyed this past Sunday's sermon, even if your friend's guitar was trying to escape :-)

Anonymous said...

Leave it to kids to be honest and in a certain way, more insightful than adults.

I agree with your relative about the word "sermon." It does sound moralistic and the connotative images the word stirs up in my brain aren't good.

Monte said...

I think that this conversation is so key - and yet doesn't happen in general in our churches (and other places/contexts/social networks in our lives) where we can easily be trapped by tradition. I guess it does take a middle-schooler - freed from self-awareness by the overwhelming awkwardness of early adolescence - to speak truth.

It's funny how powerful words are and can be for us in connotations, and what they evoke, even in casual conversation.

Good thing I left the guitar at home Gene - otherwise it'd have tried to escape from camp and most likely be roaming Bohemian Hwy near where we are.