I love to sit in the window seat on an airplane; I love the birds-eye view. On one trip I looked out the window as the plane descended in preparation for landing and saw beautiful lavender trees dotting a popular southern California city. This was a pleasure trip for me; I would be visiting my daughter. But it was the first time I had visited when these trees were in bloom. I leaned over to ask the man next to me if he was from this city. He was. Did he know the name of that trees with the beautiful lavender blossoms? No. I sent a text message to my new friend (now husband) and asked him what the trees are called. The Jacaranda trees? Yes!
After landing I was relaying the conversation to my daughter and her husband; he said he had never noticed the trees. She had seen them, though. I was stunned! How is it people who live their lives in a beautiful climate surrounded by trees and plants taking turns blooming year round don't recognize or see it? I was captivated by the joyful color distracting me from concrete and traffic. Now it is not my desire to be critical of these two men who didn't notice or recognize the trees; we all are susceptible to being too busy to notice the truer things in life, things of substance.
Richard Louv wrote a book titled, Last Child in the Woods. He quoted Edward Reed's thoughts from, The Necessity of Experience, “There is something wrong with a society that spends so much money, as well as countless hours of human effort—to make the least dregs of processed information available to everyone everywhere and yet does little or nothing to help us explore the world for ourselves.” Louv adds, “According to Reed, we are beginning 'to lose the ability to experience our world directly. What we have come to mean by the term experience is impoverished; what we have of experience in daily life is impoverished as well.'”
Before we get too far and you perhaps assume I am writing only about our disconnect from nature, I am not. Another time maybe. This is more about the disconnect I see and experience all around me. Our experiences with nature, with everyday ordinary life and with people often happen without any awareness. It seems to be getting less and less personal; our senses and our hearts have been muted by over-stimulation and with the artificial.
It happens even in our churches. We can spend years within a church body, appearing to create community, and not be connected – not really knowing one another. As much as it surprised me that a native southern Californian would not be familiar with trees blooming boldly all over the city year after year, dropping delicately scented blossoms upon the sidewalks like flower girls scattering petals in preparation for the bride, many who look belong to a particular group of people aren't personally connected. How can that be? Activities announced fill the Sunday bulletin and spill out all over the days of our lives in churches. But I have to ask: like the world of technology creating impoverished versions of experiences with the natural world, are we relying on impersonal experiences in our churches to give the illusion we are connected as the body we are meant to be?
In The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson writes, “Jesus is an alternative to the dominant ways of the world, not a supplement to them. We cannot use impersonal means to do or say a personal thing—and the gospel is personal or it is nothing.” Peterson challenges the Church to consider whether or not we are following Jesus the Way and is He transforming the way we live and do church or are we conformed to the way of the culture. We have to be intentional on this battle front for it constantly seeps in around the door frames of our churches and confuses our thinking. Bob Benson puts it this way, “The influence of mass economy—standard operation procedures, checklists, symbols, signs, style, slogans, contests, and other activities—begin to lead the church subtly away from being a place of substance.”
This isn't a witch hunt to discover what groups are cloaked in the cultural facade; the culture has left marks on all of us and it keeps us from being personal. Oh, and if we get personal we might just learn a thing or two about one another. This is certainly a scary idea, so lets just go back to doing and not being with one another. Sadly in my work as a counselor, I have bumped into a lot of lonely Christians. Granted, I challenge them to consider the role they may take in keeping themselves lonely, but there are times when even I feel as if I am riding around in a bumper car version of Christianity. We bump into one another at church or the hospital when in crisis, we do the right things; all the while we have this big padding of bubble wrap around us to keep from being vulnerable, to keep from being personal. Relationships take a lot of energy and sometimes they hurt and sometimes I think I don't really need all this mess. But what about the Way—the way Jesus does relationships?
Being a human means there isn't enough of me to go around; I can't be best friends with everyone but I can be personal and show a genuine interest in those who rub elbows with me in the church pew, in the check-out line, on the bus or anywhere God gives me opportunity to connect with another human being. Being connected means I make time to get to know a few well and to bear each others' burdens and to rejoice in each others' successes. Laura J. Boggess, author of Playdates with God, says, “Research shows that the happiest people are those who invest in experiences and relationships—not status, not stuff.” Happiness isn't my goal, but the plan I have to climb out of the safety of the bumper car and invest in relationships the way Jesus did means I will experience more joy. I encourage to get to know someone better and allow someone to know you better: get connected. In the process you might start noticing the lavender petals scattered about your feet.