Sunday, July 25, 2010

Disservice

Wesley launched his hands into the air. Had I been standing a few inches closer, he might have caught my jaw in an uppercut. For the price of praise, a bloody lip was a widow's mite. This was Momentum Youth Conference, and Wesley was ecstatic.

So were the other 1900 kids as we sang. And I still can't decide if that is glorious or a shame.



The first day I attended conference, Aaron Keyes and his Atlanta-based band led us in worship. Typically, I join the words 'worship' and 'leadership' tentatively. (Across the country worship leading undoubtedly rises above the tasks of preparation and presentation. Smiles and segues move listless congregants along. Once in a while people are encouraged to rise, bow, clap, or pray silently. But my suspicion is that most worship leaders do little more than advance singers to the next slide, who have learned well from their pastors to 'stick to the script.')

Aaron Keyes was not a typical worship leader. Behind the heavenly teeth and devilish hair, he showcased a passion for the Psalms, sensitivity to the Spirit, surplus of joy, and excess of humility. He challenged us to pray for God's 'manifest presence,' distinguishing this concept from omnipresence. He uttered a few Hebrew gutturals. He spoke theologically rich names for God from the Old Testament.

Youth bounced and shouted. Adults clapped and spun around. Led.

The problem is that Aaron Keyes does not lead worship at my church. Or yours. And the speakers at conference do not speak at my church. (Or yours). One of the keynote speakers, Greg Speck, likened the euphoria of the big event to Thanksgiving diner. Feasting every day (or Sunday) is unsustainable. The collision of crowds, celebrity speakers, rock stars, and pubescent spirituality is unsustainable.

And the problem is that these kids will return to churches that struggle to excite, energize, and relate to the younger generation. At my church. Or yours. The music will remain dated to placate the generations. The sermons will remain theoretical to appease the theologians. The relationships will remain surface to sustain comfort. In a word, weekly church gatherings are irrelevant.

Worship, Aaron Keyes would likely tell me, is service to God in body, heart, and mind (Romans 12:1-2). The spiritual act of service we call our youth to must be both sustainable and relevant.
If Sunday morning's gathering, in the post-conference, real life context proved anything, it was that youth who attended Momentum may have eaten too much turkey. Body, heart, and mind appeared lethargic.

Then again, maybe the local church portioned out stale bread. Somewhere there has been a disservice.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Real

Florescent lights disturb me. At my previous job, they hummed an infirm melody and squeezed my pupils. Their partner in crime was the computer screen. She glowed indispensably. Artificial light pressed down on me. Processed light peered into me. These were more oppressive than middle management.

Light was originally intended to catalyze, not oppress. In the beginning, God tamed chaos, subdued darkness, and made room for life by creating light (Genesis 1:2-5). Light distinguished night from day, evening from morning.

God gave us light. Prometheus gave us fire. Edison gave us the bulb. Ergonomics gave us tiny working cubes and overhead florescent tubes. And we got 'eye fatigue.'

This is the moral of the myth of progress: The more we follow the industrial, unnatural, energy-efficient lights of our world, the worse our eyes will get. Paul said, "the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, so that they might not see the light of the glory of the gospel of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4). Therefore, he prayed "that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe" (Ephesians 1:18-19).

Light is a metaphor for Father, Son, and followers of God (1 John 1:5; John 8:12; Isaiah 49:6; Matthew 5:14-16). The light we shine is not real like a sunrise, but it is not artificial like an incandescent bulb. What is real about our blaze is that it is personal.

Light reveals and reflects. Light creates environments and changes them. Its shades and shadows, tones and temperatures, excite warmth and intimacy or inspire silence and awe. As does God. As does Jesus. As should I (Matthew 5:16).

Sadly, Christians are too often considered processed, artificial, and oppressive. We hum infirm melodies and squeeze weak pupils. Perhaps we should flip the switch and get real.

Friday, July 2, 2010

iPads and Literature's Digital Graveyard

My girls read Alice in Wonderland before going to bed last night. They were captivated. However, it was not the alternate reality that Lewis Carroll painted with psychadelic brushstrokes. Nor was it the amiable Alice, the heroine whose curiosity models the pre-school psyche.

No: they were mesmerized by the screen. It glowed and folded. Shifted and steamed. It interacted and entertained. This is reading in the digital age. Correction: This is reading on an iPad--large screen, full color, sensitive to the touch.

I hate the iPad. I am one-third anti-trend, two-thirds envious. But as I watched my girls and their cousins (it is their father's iPad) fight over whose turn it was to smudge the screen, I considered the ramifications of virtual reading.

To some degree, producers of this eDition of Alice in WonderPad, were simply upgrading previous versions. Books used to come on parchment scrolls. You didn't turn pages, you scrolled down. Pages came later and helped in marking location. Illustrations did not always accompany a first edition. Often these stemmed from the suggestion of publishers or enthusiasts. The import of pictures increased the dimensionality of a book. Unfortunately, the precise visual element illustrations aim to bring to a work often reduces it. (Movie reproductions are just as guilty; I cannot read the name Frodo without envisioning Elijah Wood's steely blue eyes.)

The fairest comparison to WonderPad is the Lift-the-Flap book. Historically, kids are more eager to displace trees to find monkeys hiding behind them than they are to follow a narrative. But my example underscores the key difference: Lift-the-Flap books typically forfeit story for surprise. The content is irrelevant in said genre; the book exists purely for the flipping of flaps.

Alice in Wonderland was not written to manipulate cupcakes or watch bottles descend from the ceiling or control the view from a window (each features of the WonderPad version). Carroll created a surreal, if not haunting, escape from our world, which is the goal of fantasy --suspending reality and stretching the mind. The genre is damned when its reduced to screen magic.

Never before has bedtime reading so deeply grieved me. Last night I nearly cried. I saw the future of books in a digital graveyard. I watched my daughters trade their pure love of reading for virtual reality. And I know they loved it; I could see the glow on their faces.