you might want to pour some coffee....this is going to get a little wordy...
Sorry for yesterday's vague assertation that I am, in fact, not crazy. In some sense it felt like the most controversial thing I've written in a while. As support for thought, allow me to offer you something I wrote back in October (one of those four or five months I refer to as 'back when I still had a book contract'). :)
Eons ago, before the age of the wheel and cable modems, mankind operated en masse. Each man was an individual, and the whole of mankind was one. One man, one vote. Each man a solitary drop in a sea of humanity. We meant all and they were us.
Somewhere along the line, someone discovered how to isolate and care for fire. With that occassion, the fire keeper divided the whole of man into two groups: those whose tents he would not burn down with his newly found skill, and those whose tents he might be persuaded burn down.
The immediate ramifications of this division led to a flurry of activity. Those in the might burn down column of the spreadsheet quickly got to work on taming fire for themselves, and as various members of that column mastered the skill, those in his personal won't burn down? column would gather around him. Before long, hundreds - yea, thousands - all circled around their particular fire keeper, formed a closed group, went into a cave and sat down order a pizza and watch a dvd. While fire was rampant in their community, they felt relatively safe, albiet isolated.
In the natural, one would not expect an act of terrorism to be particularly good for the liesure industry. It just seems counterintuitive. Widespread panic has never bode well for those who cry ?eat, drink and be merry?....especially when conventional wisdom is saying ?cry, hide and be wary?. That is why the purchasing frenzy following the September 11th attack on the World Trade Centers struck me as odd. I'm not talking about the surge in gas masks available on eBay, or the opportunistic Home Depot manager who moved the duct tape and plastic rolls to the same aisle...the purchases I'm talking about were considerably less practical in the physical sense, although for some folks they were necessary for psychological survival.
I'm referring to the growth in sales of home entertainment systems designed to give us all the comforts of going out without actually leaving the house. According to Pam Danziger, author of Why People Buy Things They Don?t Need, even in the midst of an overall economic downturn, retail sales of radios, telivisions, and other electronics grew by 7.9% in 2002.
CD players, DVD players, large screen tv?s, surround sound and video games with more control buttons than a fighter jet poured out of big box stores at every interstate exit across our land, all in the name of safety. People tugged them into their SUV?s, hauled them home, and converted what had been a living room into a media center. Life as we know it may have changed, but at least we were going to be entertained.
Once all the toys were plugged in, we called others on our immediate don't burn down list of friends and invited them over to share a pizza and a movie. Somehow we felt safer at home than we did anywhere else. Never mind the fact that we?d all just watched the two most formidible buildings in the New York City skyline crumble to the ground. There was a sense that we were invincible in our fortress of vinyl siding reinforced with cable tv wires. We were nesting, and choosing those we let into our nests with great care.
Not much has changed since the taming of fire. By and large, when danger comes near, we retreat into smaller circles. It?s happened throughout history. During the bombing of London in World War Two, people gathered in homes for small games of cards. At the height of the cold war, cautious suburbanites across America added bomb shelters to their list of projects around the home, sure that they would wander out of their shelter after a nuclear holaucost with their own tribe, ready to repopulate the earth.
There have been adjustments, however, since the cucooning of 1940?s London and 1950?s America. In earlier waves of separateness, being cut off from others really meant no contact. If you were going to live in a remote mountain chalet, far away from hustle and bustle of the city, you got what you were bargaining for - complete isolation.
In the New Mellinium, however, we cucoon with full access to the outside world. While we gather around our private fire, we tune into shows about other people as they?re gathering around their fire. We gather with a small group of dear friends and reflect on how lucky we are to have a place to belong, meanwhile we?re watching another group very much like us prepare to vote someone off the island.
For the first time in history, we can search out and watch the world develop without making ourselves vulnerable to the same. We moved from being world participants to world spectators. Ever on the lookout for Orwell?s Big Brother, we inadvertently became Him. We assuage our need for community by gathering with small groups of people like us to watch other people who seemed to have found it. We became communal captives, believing that there truly is such a thing as Must See TV, which provided us a steady diet of sit-coms that were eeiry parodies of our own lives - off-beat characters trying to find friends.
How does this prove I'm not crazy? Well, perhaps I am. But I've learned in the last few days that, while I might be a little off-beat, I am not alone. And neither am I wrong. If we fail to move beyond huggy-smoochy consumer-infected i'm okay-you're okay small groups to genuine covenant relationships, we're toast. God help us to see the self-serving attitudes we bring to our pathetic relationship structures in the church.
And please don't refer to this as a rant. Rants are spur of the moment. This has been boiling for a good year or two and only now am I feeling the pressure valve begin to turn. Much steam to come.