Last week when I was doing some research for my sermon, I came across a website with answers to all of the deep and burning questions one may have regarding stuff in the Bible. Literally: "How long does hell burn for?"
I'm not really on the hell bandwagon, so I didn't bother with the answer. I had enough hell talk during my Catholic phase when, as a child, we were taught to believe that if we screwed up we would be spending all of eternity in a hot and fiery place. Not the best way to retain recruits, most likely, but it was pretty effective in other ways. To this day I can close my eyes and easily conjure up an image of tall fires burning everywhere, presided over by a guy in a red costume with a pitchfork and horns.
Or, I can do as I did yesterday and spend an hour and a half at the DMV.
I lost my wallet last week, not surprising given the absurd number of places I go on any given day and the carelessness with which I attend to my things. After a couple of days it didn't turn up and so I subjected myself to the hellfire of the DMV and got a new license yesterday.
It was a very busy day in the land of car registration and license renewal and so I did a lot of sitting and waiting. And eavesdropping. I love how weird this world is, and sometimes the only way to appreciate it is to enter into the fray, to just sit with it and let it be weird.
Most of the people trapped there were looking at their cell phones, but some people were talking to each other. I have no idea why it surprised me, but hearing several conversations that referenced Facebook ("We used to be friends on Facebook, but I heard he got married. He had to delete me, I guess."; "I saw her on Facebook, but I think she might be have moved. I don't know where she is anymore.") kind of threw me, a little. "Wow," I thought to myself..."it really is a thing...it's right there...in the middle of all of our lives. People are deleting each other."
I know that there is a fair measure of hypocrisy in my thinking on these things, still, I feel a kind of tipping point approaching when it comes to technology in our lives. We are human beings, we were born to be in communication with one another, and I don't believe that we are supposed to do the vast majority of it through tiny electronic devices. Or in the bizarrely disconnected world of cyberspace at all. We're doing it; we're all doing it, but it doesn't make it OK. We're losing something important in the process. We're losing a piece of humanity. We are losing the best of who and what we are. We have five senses for a reason. Because babies smell really good and tears taste salty and eyes come in the most incredible array of colors and hands were built perfectly for holding other hands. The kinds of communication we do through our phones and computers cannot ever replace what it feels like and smells like and sounds like to be present with other human beings. And I'm afraid that we're losing that. Every time we turn away from the person that is with us and to our screen, bit by tiny bit, we are losing something important.
This past Sunday in church was like a feast. It totally surprised me by how funny and poignant it turned out to be. A couple of incredibly talented musicians turned up, including Johnny Davis, who swore he would never step foot in church. He came with his guitar and his mom and dad, and I can't even begin to tell you what it felt like to look out and see him there, sitting next to his folks, listening to me talk about Jesus and love. Or what it felt like to sit in a pew and listen to him sing his sweet songs out over a congregation of kind and quiet listeners.
A year into this and I still don't really know what this church deal is. I have no idea how I ended up there or why, but none of that matters anymore. I love it all so much that I can't imagine a future without it. I love it for many reasons, but this past Sunday, while I was gazing out over a room full of people...my brother and daughter and my folks, and Ellen and Joanna and all the usual suspects and some new folks, visiting from California, and Mark and Margaret, and my former mother-in-law, Marion and my former husband's son, Luke, who came up and did the scripture reading with me. And the kids. The kids all lined up in the front row, and Janno with her wide eyes and inquisitive face... while I was looking out over all these beautiful people and then later, after church when everyone stuck around and had coffee and birthday cake...I realized something. I realized that one of the reasons I love church is because for that hour and a half each Sunday morning, there are no cell phones. People are there in church listening and singing and reading and praying and talking to each other. Sometimes I look out and see someone wiping back a tear. Sometimes I look out and see worry on a person's face. Every once in a while someone's laughing. There are no beeps, no dings, no jarring ringtones -- no modern life noises. Only the sights and sounds of people being together in celebration of being together.
Though I love being a preacher more than any other vocation I have ever had in my life, I have always been a little suspect of the idea of organized religion. The whole hellfire, priests preying on innocent children, stance on homosexuality and women's roles, killing others in the name of your particular god has never done anything to help the church's cause, in my opinion. But I understand now that if church is one of the few remaining place in our lives where we turn away from a screen and toward each other, then I hope that churches survive until the end of time. I hope that forever and ever we come together on a Sunday morning and listen to Johnny Davis sing about redemption and oogle over the baby that Ashlee and Matt are fostering and welcome new folks from far away places with a warm hug and listen to kids read Bible stories. I hope that forever and ever we keep filling up that room with hopes and dreams and prayers and the humble and great business of being human, together.