“In a world of technology, people long for personal, human contact.” (John Naisbitt)
My first reading of Megatrends by John Naisbitt gave me a proper name to an idea I was already experiencing and struggling to come to terms with. When I was working in “GM World,” my standard cubicle (in a standard cubicle farm) sat stoically in the center of a floor of (remarkably standard) information technology professionals. My group designed databases. Nearby was the group tasked with implementing and maintaining those databases. Set between us was a small group of Artificial Intelligence specialists. This was as much a collection of technology experts as you could ask for short of a full Research and Development team. Two experiences supported Naisbitt’s thesis that High Tech people would seek to balance their tech lives with high touch experiences.
The first experience, on its own, seemed normal enough. The younger guys I was working with all wanted to learn how to golf. There were a number of golf leagues in the engineering community that were institutions in their own right. It was quite obvious that to have relationships in the engineering world it was a good thing to be on the golf league (and bowling in winter, too.) It was also quite obvious that most of the players were not very good. Golf is a very difficult game and pretty much requires a lot of instruction, and the earlier the better. But, in the heart (and heat) of summer, there was nothing more satisfying than escaping the cubicle farm and fighting impatiently through rush hour traffic to actually walk on green grass, smell real flowers and laugh at each other’s golf incompetency. Guys who would work until midnight eating Twinkies and drinking Cokes would magically disappear at 3:50 in the afternoon on golf league day— shyly sneaking out ten minutes early like children afraid to be caught by a parent.
The second experience surprised me. It came one afternoon as the older guys were talking around the coffee machine. The topic of conversation was wood joinery and involved an intense discussion of the comparison and contrast of joining wood with dowels or a biscuit cutter. That led into a heated argument of power versus hand tools and American versus Japanese saws. My group had become a nest of wood workers. The “avant-garde” clique within the wood working community had come to prefer Japanese saws and was advocating a purist approach that avoided using power tools of any type. One of the power tool guys teased that the Japanese saw guys were just spending their time in Zen meditation and weren’t actually cutting anything!
I found myself keeping a cook book or two at my desk. Before leaving the office I would find a recipe I was interested in and make a mental note of the contents. Then I would stop and buy the ingredients fresh and go home and cook them. I could do this most days of a work week. I enjoyed the shopping as a transition from work to home and the physicality of cutting and preparing food. It is no surprise then that I rarely baked or roasted anything. I still prefer to sauté or grill—cooking techniques that are more action-oriented.
By now you should be able to see the contrast. Individuals who spend their time in a “high-tech” day will find themselves looking for balance in some form of “high-touch” activity. It would not be a surprise to any of you to reveal my current passion for working on cars—besides being economically necessary—you really can’t make me happier than when I wash the oil and grease out of my hair, eyes and hands and watch something I have fixed actually work!
John Naisbitt took that chapter on High Tech/High Touch and expanded it into a whole book of the same name, High Tech/High Touch (Broadway Publishing, 1999) a book that was written collaboratively with his daughter—a child of a digital age. One cannot overestimate the technology changes since the first book (which have continued relentlessly.) Naisbitt can easily see that the desire to reclaim “touch” has only become greater. Even as some theologians and secularists were prophesying the death of religion many times over the desire for spirituality has maintained and in many ways grown. Yoga is after all a spiritually based self-discipline and it cannot be avoided in our contemporary culture.
Let me add a more current illustration of High Tech/High Touch: adult coloring books! Scattered around the house I can now find here and there adult coloring books of different types and styles. The preferred tool for these is colored pencil but so is colored ink. They are not numbered; you pick your own colors. In the first half of 2016, Walmart reported that it sold $100 million dollars’ worth of adult coloring books. The attraction of coloring is straight forward: if you have a pencil in your hand coloring in lines on a piece of paper you simply cannot be doing anything else.
“People with a lot of anxiety respond really well to coloring books,” says New York-based art therapist Nadia Jenefsky. “There are some choices involved—in terms of choosing what colors you’re going to use and how you’re blending your colors—but there’s also a lot of structure.”
I would propose that this trend is just another version (perhaps a bit more feminine) of the High Tech/High Touch desire. (E-Book sales have leveled off and even slightly declined by comparison.) A human being can only take so much mind bending activity in a day or week—sooner or later you have to engage in something that allows you to process your experiences and to think and to rest.
It was just a few years ago that I read an exasperated blog from a youth pastor begging churches to quit using “extreme” or “radical” to describe youth groups and youth activities. Baby Boomer senior pastors all thought that labelling anything youth related “extreme” would make it attractive. The blogger’s point was just the opposite—amazingly, young people of any generation look for the same things from church: significant relationships with adults and the satisfaction of serving in adult roles. In other words, they want to grow up in their faith and life and be taken seriously in the process (and surely have some fun along the way.) In terms of our discussion, “touch” is by far their most important desire.
Youth, like all people, want to be a part of something and not used as an attribute of someone else’s anxiety (Where are the kids?) or as a senior pastor’s pride (We have the biggest youth program…)
My reading on the expectations of “unchurched” people regarding church is very similar. The Christian pollster George Barna discovered that most unchurched people expect a church building “to look and feel like a church.” These attributes were further described as including stained glass windows, a high ceiling and distinctive art work and symbols, like a Cross! The mega church philosophy from the nineties of making churches look like ambiguous food courts was exactly wrong. Those churches grew because they did other things well (preaching, small group ministries and music) and not because of their design. A church is supposed to “feel” like a sacred space set apart from the world—not be conformed to it. Individuals expect a church to provide an experience that is spiritual and a community that believes and acts according to its distinctive beliefs— it must be authentic and “set apart.” Again, it’s the “high touch” that matters.
A sense of community is essential to growth of a Christian and Biblical world view. The “truism” is that Christians are raised in litters like puppies and not individually. One of our functional work groups (or committees) is Fellowship. This intentional knitting together of the congregation is intended to provide the touches that create an acceptance and feeling of being a part of something. Belonging is a fundamental human felt need. One goal that I try to design in our welcoming process at church is to have three to four touches in the course of worship. There is a greeting in the Narthex by both a host and a greeter. I typically get a chance to welcome a guest before worship. There is a greeting of peace during worship-- which has both a spiritual purpose and a fellowship dimension. After worship should then be a time of conversation and welcome. This sets the tone for life at Immanuel.
The challenge is always to develop opportunities for deeper relationships (deeper “touching”). Groups should have all of these three dimensions: discipleship, fellowship and service. What should change in each is the emphasis. The Altar Guild primarily serves, but it should also take time to study, pray and enjoy a fellowship activity. The Men’s Prayer breakfast prays and has a time of fellowship but it always also engages in a devotion. The various Bible Study groups primarily study but also enjoy their time in fellowship and can look for opportunities to serve.
I encourage each of you to find an opportunity to be part of a “small group” at Immanuel. If there seems to be a group missing you are always welcome to identify a need and help fill it. The leadership team of Immanuel are encouragers and helpers in ministry—not controllers. In my experience, the best ideas “bubble up” from the congregation and then are supported and acted upon.
The best evidence from Holy Scripture is so obvious that an individual text cannot hold it. Israel as a whole community is the means by which the Kingdom of God is brought into creation. The name of the Patriarchs represents the entire people: the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses and Aaron and Miriam led the people out of Egypt. King David accomplishes much with his Mighty Men (it is when he acts individually that he fails.) John the Baptist had disciples who he then gives to Jesus to join His disciples. The mystery of the Holy Trinity is even hidden in the complexity of a set of mutually supporting relationships! Christ is The One who dies on the Cross. But it is Peter and Paul (even with their differences) who change the world in the name of Jesus and build a Church to proclaim it after their deaths.
Many times I will say to you that life is too hard to be lived with a stubborn independence. No matter how individualistic or introspective your personality there is a huge difference between a gift of introspection and singleness and a prideful separation from church and community. I know that there are people who are separated from church by hurt, pain and sin. For this I apologize even as I beg your forgiveness and our reconciliation. As imperfect as the Church is, filled with imperfect people, it is still the earthly means by which Christ gathers His people to hear His Word and receive His Grace. There is no other call and no other means by which Word and Sacrament are delivered. Christianity is a communal religion. A Christian individually confesses his faith in public “I believe…” But a Christian then worships and serves in a community of faith gathered around Word and Sacrament.
It is in the gathering that we are then prepared for the sending. This is the origin of the term “the Mass.” The “missa” is the “dismissal” or “departing.” After receiving Holy Communion, I say to you “The Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting. Depart (Missa!) in peace.” Isn’t it obvious that you cannot be sent in peace and blessing unless you have been first gathered?
Here Luther in the simplest way describes it perfectly in the Third Article of the Creed.
“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”
What does this mean? I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.
This is most certainly true.
I cannot imagine a more “High Touch” solution to the “High Tech” impacts of our current culture and world.
A week later Jesus’ disciples were again in the house and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Take your hand, and put it into my side. Stop doubting, and believe.”
Jesus invites you to touch him, even to touch the marks of the nails that held Him to the Cross— for you.
Let us always remember that it is in the substance of what we do as a church body that will attract others to our church.
It is in how we “touch” people, like Jesus touches us, that makes a difference. Amen