Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. DeeAnne Lowman, Associate Pastor

 

 

 

 “Downloading Spirituality”

Sunday, August 17, 2008

 

 

Romans 12: 1-8


Dee
Rev. Dee Lowman

 

In an attempt to become more hip and cool in anticipation of impending parenthood, I have joined Facebook.  How many of you are on Facebook?  How many of you know about it, but haven’t joined?  How many of you aren’t sure exactly what Facebook is?  Facebook is a social networking site on the Web that allows members to share information, pictures, celebrations, and fun stuff. You begin by joining and setting up your own Facebook page, then you can either invite friends to view your site, or others will invite you to invite them to view your site.  My first friend was Foundry’s own Michael Arichea.  I have 42 “friends” as of today, and I receive requests to be “friends” with at least two or three each day.  I was recently invited to be friends with Anne, someone I haven’t seen since graduation from high school in 1982.  We weren’t actually “friends” then – we were in band together – and now we are learning more about each other and about what’s happened in our lives since then.  She and I are becoming friends when we were only acquaintances before.

 

When I first heard about these social networking sites online, I was concerned about security and such, and that is still a bit of a concern. As an adult, I’ve made the decision not to have any home or real personal information on the site, but I am getting more confident in sharing some of who I am and what I do.  My friends who have children and youth using this site are careful to educate their kids on safe use of this kind of connecting and networking, a word I never knew as a young person.  It is pretty cool to reconnect with people that I’ve moved away from, or that have moved away from me or from us here at Foundry.

 

One of the features of Facebook that I haven’t figure out quite yet is the “What are you doing right now?” It’s a chance to fill people in moment by moment what you might be up to.  I see all kinds of things that members are doing. I saw one yesterday that said, “Matthew is trying to get his daughter to take a nap…”  Another said, “Bill is eating M&Ms.” These may seem inconsequential and maybe even a waste of time, but I felt a real, human connection to the guy cleaning his kitchen and the woman who is “tired of family drama.”  Behind these pages and across the Web, there are people who have lives going on and they are sharing them with me.

 

This is a new way of being connected to people for me.  I am a face-to-face kind of person, one who likes to see the look on someone’s face when I tell them something that is going on in my life – good and not so good.  I’m trying to make use of the amazing technology though, and I’m trying to retrain myself so that cell phones and text messaging, and, yes, Facebook help me be connected to the people I care about.  I am also using all this techno-stuff during the next year to learn together with four other folks who are all taking a class with me.  We only actually meet in person two times during the year, but we are asked to have “meetings” on the phone and online each month. These times are becoming very important to me – sacred if you will. 

 

Oddly enough, the word sacred comes from the Latin word, sacer, meaning “untouchable.”  The book I’ve been reading, My Space to Sacred Space, talks about a postmodern understanding of sacred.  “[It] suggests connections to God, community, and intentionally recognized time and space.” The authors say that the understanding of sacred in the past represented some kind of other-worldliness and set-apartness.  Now in a time of a somewhat cynical view toward institutions, “the sacred is still embraced as significant and holy, but without necessarily being identified as part of a church.” [i]

 

I am fascinated by the ability that generations younger than me have to be so incredibly mobile.  Younger folks come and go here at Foundry, moving across the country or even across an ocean without a great deal of apparent loss.  Jobs and assignments come up and they leave. What I realized was that they still feel a great, strong connection to their friends here, and to Foundry, because they will be online tomorrow or at least as soon as they are settled in their new place. They are connected, beyond space and time and location. 

 

The use of technology in worship is not new.  Many churches for a number of years have been using computer technology to present and enhance worship – images and words and music.  But what I am fascinated by is how we might go beyond all this to help us discover the importance of worship and prayer and connection in the life of the church to ensure the future of the church and the story of Jesus and his love.  But not all technology is something that contributes to the sacred and connection of individuals.

 

Dee I was appalled last week when I heard about an application that Apple was selling for its IPhone.  It was a downloadable application that made a little red button appear on your IPhone screen that simply says “I am rich.”  If you open the application, you’ll see an even bigger picture of the “I am rich” icon – “a multifaceted ruby [that lets] the world know they are rich enough to be frivolous with their cash” as one blogger put it.  This “I am rich” application is a zero-utility application, meaning that it essentially does nothing.  Not sure how a download like this can help us come together except that maybe the eight people who actually bought the application before it was removed from Apple’s website all come together and rejoice at their collective stupidity.

 

These are two examples of the best and the worst of how our computer age has made a difference in our life of values and faith.  While some can choose to use this technology to achieve status and perceived importance, others are establishing ways of “being with” one another.  There is a youth group that prays together on Facebook at the same time every week.  There are others who support one another in their common lives of faith together.  The authors of MySpace to Sacred Space, Christian and Amy Piatt, speak of the “irony of 21st Century ministry.”

 

“The church will find its relevance not in reflecting the culture around it, but in transcending it, offering something that extends back thousands of years, tapping into the needs of human nature. In a world of every-increasing abstraction, mired in a flood of data irrespective of the quality of content, the church must be the catalyst that allows for sacred space wherever and whenever two or more gather to seek it.”[ii] 

 

When I hear the part about “the flood of data irrespective of the quality of content”, I think of Wikipedia, the online “encyclopedia” that allows users to edit the material in the entries.  Students of all ages are being warned not to use any of these materials as source documents.  There is no objective verification process for what is out there and anyone can post information that may or may not be factual or helpful.  The church needs to be a source of relevant and helpful information about God, the world, one another, and a life of faith. 

 

I was talking about my sermon at our staff meeting this week, and one of our staff members said that she downloads spirituality every week.  Theresa, our Minister to Children and Families, is seldom in worship here.  She is, like others, with our young children, supporting their learning experiences in our Sunday School ministry.  So she downloads sermons to her IPod and listens to them during the week.  It is important for her to hear God’s word for her life, so she is intentional about making time for that during the week.  Soon there will be a downloadable version of the sermons from Foundry on our website.  Currently you can listen online, and podcasting is coming soon.  For those of you, like me, who don’t know much about podcasting – trust me.  It’s a good thing. 

 

The apostle Paul could not have possibly imagined the kind of world we would find ourselves living in at the beginning of the 21st Century when he warned against being conformed to this world.  Paul wanted people to retain a connection to what was real, what was true, what was important for a life with God in Christ.  Paul wanted to warn people against the seductive nature of the world; he knew that the life of a Christ-follower would never be easy. This is still a good warning for us.  We need to guard ourselves against being seduced by the things of this world that take away from our relationship with God. But we can use what the world gives to help us share our story and the story of Jesus in ways that help us stay connected with God. 

 

About eight years ago, newspapers around the world ran a story that shocked the technology world.  Microsoft founder Bill Gates declared that computers could do little to solve the planet's gravest social ills.  This revelation, it was said, came after Gates became disillusioned with the state of the planet and the potential for the world’s computers to solve the problems.  It was previous to this public recognition that Gates and his wife began giving away large portions of their fortune to AIDS-related charities, agencies that would address maternal and infant mortality rates around the world, and efforts toward international family planning.  I suspect that Bill Gates had not anticipated admitting that his computers have limitations – not a great marketing slogan.  It had been his life’s work to fashion computers that would transform the world, and he had done that.  Computers have and continue to change our lives.  But what he revealed was that there was no substitute for real human interaction when one is working toward change. You will notice that Bill Gates, while he has since stepped down from the CEO of Microsoft to spend more time working on behalf of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, hasn’t stopped using computers altogether nor has he recommended that others stop either.

 

Let us, for a moment, use the notion of computer technology to ponder the Divine-Human connection.  When I was reflecting on Paul’s words and a possible sermon topic, I first thought about our relationship with God as a download – we connect with God and download what we need from God.  In the process, we upload our prayers and our concerns, our confessions, our burdens, and our intercession TO God. What I really found out was that my relationship with God is like Facebook more than it is like a download like the “I am rich” application.  On Facebook, friends can check in with one another at a second’s notice, post links to things we are thinking about, and send greetings and pictures to one another. I don’t want the kind of relationship with God where I download something of a religious nature and show it on my IPhone so that others can see how pious I am.  What I get from God is not a zero-utility application. The nature of God invites us to look through a window to the Divine – a sacred, untouchable space that reveals to us all we ever really need to know about ourselves and about God and about others.  Our gifts, our truths, our place among the other people of the world – our “layout” if you will of our homepage.  Again, from the Piatts:

 

“In these sacred moments of intimate communion and sharing, the overwhelming awareness of the Other begins to give way to the unique personhood of each individual with whom we have such meaningful contact.  Each person begins to be valued not for what they can do, but for who they are as part of God’s inspired creation.”[iii]

 

 

We are part of God’s inspired creation.  We are invited to the sacred places where God meets us and invites us to be friend.  As part of Christ’s body, it is up to us the church to ensure that all generations who seek God can find God in us, in our places of worship, even online at our websites and social networking sites. The rest of what Paul says is this:  “Be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Let us not be so cautious of the world that we miss the opportunity to share God and be the presence of Christ for the world.   

 

 

www.foundryumc.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[i] Piatt, Christian and Amy Piatt, MySpace to Sacred Space:  God for a New Generation, (St. Louis:  Chalice Press), p. 3.

[ii] Ibid, p. 7.

[iii] Ibid, p. 31.