Murray Jardine’s book The Making of Technological Society: How Christianity Can Save Modernity From Itself got me thinking about my church. Let me describe for you what a typical Sunday morning service is like. About five hundred people swarm into our large building, most arriving within a minute before (and just after) the beginning of the service. Most walk directly into the sanctuary, only speaking to the door greeters and those passing out bulletins, sharing a brief “good morning.” Our services are exactly one hour with no room for error, as there is only half an hour to get one group out and another in. There are four songs played by talented musicians, a 20-minute (lightly humorous) sermon, an offering and communion, and a greet-your-neighbor moment. And then there is rush back out to the parking lot. I have stood in the lobby on a number of Sundays to watch people leave the service (manning an information booth on service opportunities that few take notice of). It is an amazing sight to see 500 people exit a building in a less than a minute. In little over an hour, hundreds of Christians have done their Sunday duty, most without ever saying more than good morning to two or three people.
Herein lies a major theme of Jardine’s book, the idea that “we must redirect our orientation at least somewhat away from vision and toward speech and hearing, and this can be done only by constructing local face-to-face communities whose people do indeed talk with each other more.”[i] Jardine suggests that at the heart of our modern Western society are two major issues: work and time. He describes the long history of changing attitudes toward work that led to the consumer and capitalist society we have today. This further resulted in our passion to work harder and longer, which is having devastating effects on our families and our communities due to the loss of humanity and morality. He reminds us of the importance of personal interaction in a quote from Leon Kass: “Who we are to ourselves is largely inseparable from who we are to and from others; thus, our own exercise of dignified humanity will depend crucially on continuing to receive respectful treatment from others.”[ii] Here is where Jardine’s analysis is most thought provoking and simple: The lack of face-to-face interaction within our neighborhoods (due to urban sprawl, closed off subdivisions, separation of workplaces and shopping centers from most homes, all resulting in longer commutes) and in our families (where working long hours provides less and less actual family time) have contributed to a moral and social breakdown. We have forgotten that who we are is not determined by what we do (work, earnings, accumulating of stuff) but by our relationships. And today, there is just so little time for those.
Jardine’s solution is very simple (so simple it is rather shocking at first glance). “First of all, I argued that in order to really recapture a sense of speech-based place, we will need to reorient ourselves away from our currently intensely visual orientation toward a more oral orientation. This is turn would required that people would spend more time actually talking to each other” (italics added).[iii] Shocking isn’t it? The answer, he suggests, is that less work and more thoughtfully designed neighborhoods will provide greater opportunities for interaction with others, and this will have tremendous effects on personal worth and dignity, on the health and functioning of families, on values and attitudes toward material possessions. This is because less work means more time for family, for neighbors, for community and for service. But in order to do this, there must be a change in both our attitudes towards work and towards our neighborhoods. Jardine writes: “Thus what is required is the formation of local communities that can put the biblical understanding of human agency into practice to develop an alternative to liberal capitalist democracy as it approaches its collapse.”[iv]
Where is it best to formulate these alternative communities? The answer to this is the Church. If the Church is going to lead the way in this charge, then it needs to a place that embodies the very idea of face-to-face interaction, where people actually talk to each other, where people take time for each other. Yes, a truly radical idea. And yet, as I look at my own church, I don’t see this! I see instead a reflection of our disconnected culture. We have structured our worship services to accommodate our busy, modern, disconnected society, where we require no more than an hour out of one’s busy week to worship without ever having to engage with anyone. If our deepest need as God’s creations is to “image” the divine relationship and love of the Trinity, to find dignity and direction in our involvement with others, and if the key to fixing family and morality in society is finding “speech-based space” for real interaction, then I see many of our modern churches as unable to provide a way forward for our dying and hurting society.
My solution: Our churches should gather around tables of food on Sunday and celebrate Eucharist as the early church did, recapturing the Eucharist as a shared meal. How often do we sit down and eat a meal with others (even strangers) that does not illicit conversation and create connection? Yet, every Sunday, my church shares in the Lord’s Supper – where we share the same cup and bread, symbolic of our deep unity and connectedness in the love of God, and yet we never say a word to those sitting next to us at the table. Frankly, we just don’t have time to really enjoy a meal with each other! The Church is best equipped for creating connection and community that is so desperately needed for the individual, for the family, for the neighborhood, and for the society today. But only if the Church because a place where people take time to simply talk…and care.