I managed to make it through most all of the holiday season with only one or two trips to the mall. Online shopping allowed me the luxury of avoiding the experience of standing in front of the large lighted mall map, trying to figure out how to find a particular purveyor, which also means looking for the little star that says, “You are here.” For all its shortcomings, the mall is one of the few places that gives you that kind of geographical certainty: here’s the context and here’s where you are in it.
Though I’m still happy to not be at the mall, I thought about the map as I began reading Transformational Architecture by Ron Martoia, one of the books kindly sent to me by the folks at The Ooze, and one that falls into the expanding body of literature focused on how our world is changing and how those of us who are followers of Christ must also change if we want our faith to be a transformational part of the conversation. I’m only about fifty pages in, which means Martoia is still setting up his argument, but he’s already got me thinking, particularly, about how we contextualize ourselves when we look at what is going on around us when there is no map to say, “You are here.” I should say the thoughts that follow are less a critique of the book – since I’m not far along at all – and more of the rabbits my mind went chasing as I read, which also means I’m not sure about the coherency of what follows.
I am challenged and intrigued by the conversations swirling around the shift in our world from modernism to postmodernism, and the corresponding claims that we are living in a profoundly transitional and transformational time and (not but – and) I wonder how well we can tell where we are on the map of history. Nobody who lived during what we now call the Middle Ages saw themselves there. How could they have been in the middle of anything when they when nothing had yet come after them? As profoundly as Galileo and Copernicus changed how we think a bout our place in the universe, when we start talking about what it means to be living in these days in more existential terms it becomes difficult to do so in a way that doesn’t make us the center of the universe once more: we are alive at the most critical time in history, or we’re going to usher in the next Reformation, or we are living in the next Enlightenment. Some years ago, as globalization and the Internet were exploding alongside of civil wars around the globe, Umberto Eco said the signs pointed to our being in another Middle Ages rather than a Renaissance and he pointed to the increased tribalism that has continued across our world.
Who knows where we are.
One of the statistics I heard about the time Eco was saying his piece that has stuck with me, though I’m sure it’s now outdated, is the amount of information in the world doubles every five years. We live in an age of informational overpopulation. Not only can we not know everything there is to know, we can’t even categorize or process it fast enough to keep up. When I go to check email, the headlines on AOL read like some sort of bizarre found poem, and it changes every few minutes. As I’m writing, here are the headlines:
- Israel Flattens Hamas Homes
- Disabled Man Left Overnight on Bus in Freezing Weather
- Superintendent Chosen to Fill Colorado Senate Seat
- Obama Family Moving to Washington Hotel
- Longtime Senator, Creator of Pell College Grants Dies
- Caroline Kennedy Critic Changes His Mind
Those stories are more connected than most. Beyond the news, Facebook means I have more information just about people I know than I can keep up with. Most anywhere I turn, I being given something else to add to the pile of stuff to know and, often, to set aside. If I’m taking a stab at where we are on the map, or at least how the world has changed while I’ve been walking around on it, the information overflow is at the heart of it: we are at the corner of We Have Too Much Information and What Am I Supposed To Do With It.
No, let me change that. Perhaps it’s more like the intersection of All There Is To Know and Based on What I Know, Here’s What I’m Going To Do. At least those coordinates give us somewhere to go.
Here’s what I know: the more global the discussion becomes, the smaller I tend to think. When we start talking about changing the world, I find myself thinking about the people in my kitchen, my church, my neighborhood, my family. Luther drove the nail into the door at Wittenberg, it seems to me, not so much because he was intent on altering the course of global Christianity as it was because he “could do no other.” People like Gandhi, Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King Jr., Mandela, and Mother Teresa were meeting the needs in front of their faces first; the universal movements that followed grew out of the particulars.
And they all took years to come about.
Last Saturday, Ginger and I went to see The Tale of Despereaux with our friend Jay. The movie has stayed with me because it is such a wonderful story of forgiveness; perhaps that’s why it comes to mind again now. As I try to contemplate my place in the universe and what I can do to live transformationally, one sentence keeps coming to mind: I want to be more forgiving.
It was St. Francis, who lived smack-dab in the middle of the Middle Ages who prayed
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
As a middle-aged man working out his faith in the middle of a world larger than I can comprehend those are words that give me some sense of where I am and what it means to be here.