Almost daily, I am flabbergasted by what technology can do for us. I used to carry around a Thomas Guide book of maps in my car so I could find my way to the various homes, hospitals and churches I needed to visit. Now, I have an app on my iPhone that not only shows me where my destination is in relation to where I am, at that exact moment, but will also give me detailed directions to follow – if I so choose. Facebook keeps us up to the second on where our friends are and what they are doing, even if they are on another continent. With an HD, flat-screen TV, I now even find hockey at least somewhat interesting…because I can finally see the puck !
But, ultimately, as always, the question becomes, “So, what?” What does it all amount to? In her highly encouraging book, Reframing Hope, Carol Howard Merritt notes that, “…facts are so ubiquitous and nearly free now,” that they are, “…less important to us.” (p.72) Further, she writes, “Whereas we once needed researchers to dig up each piece of information from expansive libraries, the Internet and reliable search engines have placed the facts at our fingertips…In light of this shift, what we really need are people who can present those facts within a context and with an emotional impact.” (p.73) What we really need is to understand how all of these fragments of information, and experience, fit together in a meaningful whole.
For me, I am reminded of the context and experience the emotional impact, most often on Sunday mornings, gathered together with this oddball, glorious, broken group of people at the top of Queen Anne Hill. Every week we bring all those fragments of fact and foolishness, joy and tears that we have collected through the days and ask, “So. what?” It’s not as if it always comes together in that moment, or every time. Still, it seems that over time, after hearing the Story over and over again, after listening to the prayers, singing the hymns, even chatting over coffee after the service, that a piece will fall into place. Then, given more time and attention, another piece will find it’s place in the picture and I feel a little closer to whole.
Merritt shares a story towards the end of the book that helps me understand what the church is all about, or, at least should be. She writes about a pastor she knows in a small town in South Louisiana, surveying the damage to his community after a hurricane:
Walking around the area…it pained the pastor to see the houses torn apart and contents spilled on the ground in broken and tangled heaps. As he walked among the tree limbs, he saw in the dirt [a photograph] of a smiling face. Bending over to pick it up, he realized it was a wedding photo that the storm had ripped and discarded in the street. Someone, somewhere, was missing the photo. He wondered who it could be. So, he decided to open the basement of the church and allow the community to have a photo lost and found. He set up long tables and invited the whole town to bring in any pictures they had picked up out of the storm debris. People came with the bits of anonymous family histories: proud men standing in front of cherry-red Chevrolets, women posing in their Sunday best in front of bursting azalea bushes, anxious couples going to their high school dance, and small children playing on the park swings. Along with the crumpled bits of pictures, people began to pour into the fellowship hall, recognizing parts of their own lives and those of their neighbors. Years after the fact, people still talk about the church that opened its doors to all the torn bits of people’s lives.” (p.137)
Here’s hoping that all churches might, “…open their doors to all the torn bits of people’s lives,” that we all might find that place where we can gather all the fragments together, that person who can put it all together, the bits and the bytes, and make us whole.