A hundred and fifty years ago, Henry David Thoreau sat on the edge of Walden Pond and watched lineman put up wires along the tracks of the Fitchberg Railway.
“We are,” he said, “in such great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph between Maine and Texas. But Maine and Texas, they may have nothing important to communicate… Our inventions are but improved means to an unimproved end.”
Thoreau and his insight made me smile, even chuckle.
One has to wonder how he would have reacted to most of our phone conversations these days (or at least the ones I overhear on public transit!).
And what would he think of our “communication” that comes across the internet almost non-stop? Cute kitty videos and hateful, targeted, political rants. Improved means to an unimproved end!
Lord knows, I’m not against the technology that makes communication quicker and easier, especially over long distances. I treasure how I can stay in touch with and even see images from friends’ lives in Europe, South America or China. And one almost can’t remember how we did business without shooting e-mails back and forth.
But I suspect that our technologically enhanced communications can never replace a good face to face chat. Catching up. Reconnecting. Putting all our pressing agendas aside and not trying to accomplish any other goal than really to hear and to be heard by someone.
…To experience “communion,” borrowing a powerful religious image, with another person. Or relying on another religious allusion, to pray horizontally instead of vertically — in loving conversation with a neighbor instead of with God.
It’s summer time, when we hope, our lives slow down a bit and we find some space. Perhaps you could make a commitment to intentional, direct and personal (in-person) conversations this summer? If you promised yourself to accomplish a certain number each week, it could be a spiritual discipline for the summer. What if you decided to do so with someone from church each week?
You have heard me remind you that Jesus never traveled anywhere faster than his own two feet or a donkey’s four feet could carry him. That’s tops about 3.5 miles per hour, and limits one’s traveling range.
Ok, some might dismiss my point, suspecting I’m enlisting Jesus in my own green agenda — advocating that life can happen without the speed of combustion engines. Or, if you are feeling more generous towards your pastor, you might figure that I’m just coming up with compelling excuses for you to slow down, relax and stop worrying so much about all you have not gotten done.
But now I’m going to add another insight. Jesus never communicated with anyone except speaking directly with them. His life’s work was completely dependent upon person to person, direct conversation. Sometimes, he even directed his audience NOT to tell others what they knew about him.
Think about that. He had none of the technological advantages that we rely on. Ok, he was smart enough to recognize how to utilize a natural ampitheater — a sloped hill — for the Sermon on the Mount. And I often wonder if that bit about “tell no one about me…” maybe it was a brilliant strategy for getting people to talk.
But he never asked anyone to write down what he said or did, that it might be shared. Rather, he made his peace with the people he could speak directly to. And perhaps, he counted on the Holy Spirit to make sure the message got passed on and spread…
Who do you want to talk to? Start by thinking who you have not spoken to for awhile. Or focus on who you’d like to hear from or be known by. And then set a time to sit down together, one on one, and chat. No greater purpose. No long term goal; no immediate agendas. Just the blessing of connecting with someone, literally and figuratively.
If you decide to try this spiritual discipline, you could evaluate your effort with a much broader question: What am I communicating with my life? What message do my words and actions leave people with?
Communication is a fine art. Remember, Jesus was referred to by the 4th Evangelist as “God’s Word.” And we can be masters at it. Or is that disciples?
See you in church,