I don’t think that there is such a word as “languaging”…at least my spell check doesn’t like it. Wait a minute…I’ll check it on a dictionary website…(annoying moments later as you read this…) nope, no such word! Anyway, there have been some amazing things revealed in the last few months regarding research on how language is developed and the implications of the research that is leading to some important insights. It got me thinking about how people who love and follow Jesus actually language or verbalize their faith and Kingdom life. I don’t know exactly how to spell all of this out…so be patient with me as I attempt to put a few things down for you (and me for that matter) to consider:
This whole thing started with a blog that I read on the Iblogo site. You’ll have to check out that blog yourself…trust me, these guys have a serious commitment to finding ways to communicate the story of God in history through the scriptures. They are the team behind the ‘story-telling’ movement within student ministry as well as the creative thrust behind Mike Novelli’s books (Mike obviously being the author, but even Mike would most like “praise” the team he works with) published by Youth Specialites/Zondervan regarding the story of scripture. Here’s what the blog stated…they were reflecting on a new app available for Iphones and Ipads:
The more I’ve thought about it, the more all of this buzz about the new Color app actually reminds me of Deb Roy’s TED talk. There’s no doubt that Mr. Roy’s approach to researching the development of his son’s language is, at first glance, a bit creepy. Documenting every waking hour of your family’s life by using an array of ceiling-mounted cameras all over your house? Yep, creepy. But the genius of Deb Roy’s research approach, and what the developers of Color seem to be attempting is that they’re creating tools and systems that don’t have fully-defined specific uses yet. But as Mr. Roy and MIT’s work is demonstrating, the ability to record everything, archive it, analyze it and share it with others can have the most wonderful, human and un-creepiest results.
Well, this caught my attention…so I watched the video. In fact, I posted a reference to it on this blog several days ago. Secondly, I was so energized by it that I sat down and pontificated (that’s a good word, trust me) at the dinner table about how this research spoke to me about one aspect of being a follower of Jesus in these post-modern, post-Christendom times…that being, we as followers of Jesus are losing the battle for attention (at least participation) in culture. In other words, our conversation is not involved or seen as relevant in the broader scope of conversation in culture. Now, let’s admit right out of the box, there is a sense that being a “theistically” focused and God-passionate person would be counter-culture in these times…that is understandable. But the message (to state it that way) of the Gospel is not being “heard” in public discourse. Confused? Not sure where this is heading? Let me spell it out a bit differently:
No one talks about his or her faith and relationship with Jesus in the context of culture (daily life)…faith is seen (still seen despite many efforts by some to encourage and challenge otherwise) as a “private” or intensely personal matter. In fact, we even state the faith is a matter of the “heart”…something that in an increasingly materialistic culture means basically nothing in terms of common understanding. Culture is highly sensualized…driven by the senses…so to say something is of the heart, doesn’t mean much to the average person. Or also let me put it this way – in the “churchworld” where we are still a “text-based”, and “print-based” environment, we set the agenda in our subculture. People within Christian circles understand what we are talking about…but, and this is a BIG but, we are no longer a major factor in the communication of culture. This is a major shift in how faith and the things of God are perceived. I would encourage you to look closely at the Deb Roy talk…see the images that pop up when the team at MIT analyze PUBLIC data regarding people’s conversations. Then imagine the salivating that is going on in think-tanks of media, politics and marketing as very smart and savvy people envision strategies on how to influence cultural discourse specifically by flooding public awareness (through texts, emails, tweets, posts, blogs, and numerous other methodologies that I am completely ignorant of)…essentially my friends, structures that are flooding public awareness are controlling the cultural conversation…unless we (as Kingdom people) find ways to participate in the “conversation” we will only be seen as increasingly irrelevant.
I’ve been asking myself bluntly…”how do we participate in the conversation?” If others will be able to (foundationally) “control” the conversation by upping the level of networking structures and linkages that sets the conversation, how do we get “in” on that? HOW do we “up” the level of our input into cultural conversation so that we are not seen as increasingly irrelevant but more importantly so that people know what we stand for and who (or whose) we are? You see, I think we may be able to hypothesize that those “structures” that are in weaker social network positions will be seen as increasingly irrelevant in influencing culture (or, to use the language I’ve already used, the “conversation”). Here’s where I’m going with this – we have to begin to make the case for flooding conversations with things of the Kingdom in order to participate as a full player in cultural discourse OR as we hang on to the privatized sense of faith we won’t be culturally relevant. Here’s what I’m trying to say bluntly – how do we get followers of Jesus to talk? How to we get people “talking” about Jesus (as we see in the gospels when word spread about Jesus so much so that it changed and challenged lives)? If Jesus gathered crowds, how does He gather crowds now (and I’m not talking about crowds gathered in church buildings)? Look and listen yourself – I hear plenty of people talking issues of faith and Kingdom and Jesus within safe walls and gatherings…but all of the sudden, you see them transition into daily life and the words stop. For some reason we can talk news, relationships, weather, sports, current events…but NOT Jesus in the context of daily conversation…few friends of mine on Facebook talk matters of faith (many are fearful or concerned about being seen or marginalized as a fanatic)…there might be a spattering here or there…but not consistent embedding of faith into real life. So, as often happens, matters of the Kingdom and Christ-followership get compartmentalized and shelved from daily impact.
I’m spending considerable time contemplating, praying and sketching out – how do we integrate faith into our lives so consistently that it naturally flows within every relationship we have without us squelching it because of fear, apprehension, etc. I really do believe that most people who don’t understand or appreciate people of faith don’t understand because they don’t see faith fully integrated into a daily life experience…it is relegated to special times, services, gatherings…not embedded into real life…is this all making sense? How do we participate in cultural conversation on their level and step forward instead of back? In other words, how do we consistently and naturally language faith? How do we up the level of input into the cultural discourse so that we can be seen as, at least, full “players” on the same playing field as those other agendas that are being taken seriously by people in culture…not as we are often seen by some now – totally detached from reality.
Here me on this – I’m not saying that people should learn how to give sermons, evangelistic talks or quote bible verses…I’m talking NORMAL conversational interactions…nothing “heroic” here…just normal life and normal, day-to-day participation in people’s lives sharing the core of meaning and purpose in our hearts within those relationships. At least then we are part of the conversation… part of something that is shaping meaning in the general cultural landscape.
You can see clearly, I don’t have this all figured out…I’m thinking and wondering out loud – but the crisis is intensifying. In addition, we shoot ourselves in the foot all the time…a person comes to faith, starts to become serious about following Jesus and we “warehouse” them immediately…teach them our insider language, encourage them to focus their lives on all things institutional and, over time, as they learn the language of faith they opt out of participating in shaping the language of culture.
Do me a favor…if you had the patience to plow through this rambling post, push back or post something of what crosses your mind when you watch the video and contemplate the above. That would be helpful…until next time! More to come…I promised, much less extensive!