Friday, April 29, 2016

As it is in Amazon ...

Generally I prefer relaxed in a coffee shop environment.  All I need is a good blend of coffee drawn by competent hands, a comfortable place to sit, some table space and free wifi, and I'm a happy boy.  Usually, it goes without saying, the relaxed part comes with the territory.  It's an unwritten social norm that such an environment is for casual connections or introverted joyous solitude.  However, at least once a week I find myself seated in a Starbucks where this social norm doesn't rule the day.  Like a moth to fluorescent light I'm drawn to ground zero in the heart of the Amazon campus to be enveloped by the intensity of a culture that rarely rests.  It's rarely relaxed.
I usually come away from the experience a bit more exhausted and weary, but I keep coming just the same. There is almost never a line of less than a dozen waiting to order and another dozen waiting on orders placed.  Most conversations are animated and elevated to overcome the others that are surrounding.  If I didn't know any better, from observation, I would say that it seems as if the masses decided at some point to take their office on the road, to pause their meetings long enough only to place an order, and then continuing undeterred by the reality that they are sharing their meetings with numerous other meetings, immune to the possibility that such spaces were originally assumed to be a place to detach.  Even the occasional loner and introvert that wanders in is sure to be connected to and continue to work by virtue of their smart phone held dutifully before them.
I used to really detest this environment, until I became intrigued, only later to be drawn in.  I would tell myself that what drew me here was a social experiment. It was like a train wreck that you couldn't turn away from.  I judged them.  But over time, judgement and stereotype gave way to sympathy and concern.  I wished them peace.  It has been written about certain generations and contexts that "they may seem to have everything, but they don't have peace".  That could and, in my opinion, does certainly apply here.  So I spend a good deal of my time praying exactly that for them.  I've added Rich Mullins "Peace" to my playlist for this space as a blessing while I'm among them.  Lately though I've come to believe that there is more to this strange attraction than a prayerful concern.
There's an odd piece of me that is envious.  The energy and zeal, as temporal and eternally inconsequential as it appears to me, is the exact thing that I see so little of in faith communities, my own included.  For one thing, these people are evangelists in every sense of the word.  The tireless way that they propagate their causes is admirable.  The way they are continually and organically connected in community and they are not beholden to or identified by their physical walls is what I dream of for the church that I am trying to lead in this neighborhood.  When they are finished at the end of the day, many of them will simply move theirs or morph into other gatherings around other tables in neighborhood establishments over a meal.  They envelope and consume the neighborhood and their influence is undeniable, not as individuals, but as a movement.  Oh how I wish the church could be seen once again in this way.
Even while some anomalies and oddities in Christian circles venture back towards ancient, organic, and missional models of community, most are still trapped by their walls.  We are either trying to lure those not yet knowing Jesus or coercing those who do to experience God for an hour and ten minutes a week in a relevant and respectable setting.  You might be shocked if I told you that I rarely, if ever, see the connection, zeal, and intensity that I witness here in any of the church gatherings that I am part of.  And then again, if you lived here and you were honest, you'd probably admit the same experience.  We think its pioneering and brave if our small group gathers in a coffee shop or we hold theological discussions in a pub.  We think its cool and incarnational to drive ourselves downtown on Sundays to an urban campus without really connecting ourselves to the people who live there.  We feel we've put ourselves out there if we arrange our busy lives to accommodate gathering 1.8 times per month behind our walls of comfort and we tell ourselves that we are for social justice when we collects socks for the homeless.  Then we wonder why we live in the age of those "done" with church.
One day I am certain it will be observed that "they were continuously connected in community, they ate together, played together, and shared their message with great enthusiasm, and together changed the world".  The question that I can't get away from is, will this be said of the Church, or only of Amazon?