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Life, fast and slow

I love moving quickly.

When I was growing up, my parents called me a vacuum cleaner for eating at the speed of light. (I won’t say that doesn’t still happen.) I joined track and cross-country, where the entire goal was to move faster than everyone else. And ever since I first got my hands on a Popular Science magazine, I’ve always wanted to move on to the latest and greatest in tech as soon as I could. I’m not an early adopter per se, but I have an unending appetite for what’s next.

This sometimes puts me at odds with my work as a pastor. In church we are often slow to adapt, slow to advance, slow to make decisions and slow to act. We do things like silent meditation, where part of the goal is simply to slow down. We sing Taizé songs and praise songs that repeat the same chorus over and over again (sometimes ad nauseam) to allow the words to penetrate our souls. We pastors often repeat things, replicate adjectives and reiterate points over and over again (often in threes, just to be Trinitarian). We don’t just practice slowness, we excel at it. You may have discovered this for yourself in a never-ending worship service that made it seem like you found an anomaly in the time-space continuum. Chances are, that slowness was intentional.

The natural contrast between the speed of technology and the slowness of the church sometimes makes me wonder if the two are simply opposed to each other. Many in the past have thought so. Personally, I’ve come to a different conclusion. Voraciously reading the latest smartphone review doesn’t turn me away from God: it puts me more closely in touch.

For me, this is because technological improvements mean good things are happening. This is easiest to see in medicine. I have good eyesight because someone developed glasses and contacts and the equipment that diagnoses me. I have friends who are alive only because we discovered how to manage diabetes with insulin injections.

But in any field, technological advancement tells me something about human nature. In large part, technology is developed because people are optimistic.

When a person invents something new, they make two claims. First, that we don’t know everything. Second, that we can know or accomplish more than we do currently. The fact that we have millions of people working to develop new technologies means that millions of people are staking their careers on hope in the human race. To me, that’s inspiring.

When Samsung or Apple develops a new smartphone, they claim that they can improve on last year’s performance, that they can put a better device into people’s hands and that they can put their best effort from last year to shame. That dedication to improvement, seen in a variety of tech industries, is an attitude of humility, a willingness to grow and pride in good work well done. Just imagine if churches were filled with people with these kinds of attitudes!

What would church look like if we believed that we could improve on our past performance? What if we believed that about worship – that our worship this year could, in fact, glorify God better than it did last year? Can you imagine what it would look like to offer an Apple-like press conference every year announcing new worship features? (In the congregation I serve, I imagine it might look like this.) What if we believed in the potential of brainstorming, experimentation, fast failure and bootstrapping like many tech companies and successful startups do? The major differences between a “small church” and a “startup church” are attitude and energy, not resources or marketing.

Yes, technology moves quickly and church moves slowly. But the church can be enriched by embracing the hope of a fast-moving tech industry – and the tech industry could be enriched by the peace and relationship-building offered by the church. To paraphrase a great Scripture: There is a time for speeding up and a time for slowing down. Looking ahead to what’s new connects us with an active, volitional, mobile Holy Spirit who is planning new things for us. Slowing down to remember who we are and whose we are connects us with a God who is constant, ageless and loving. Both aspects are part of who we are in Christ: rooted in Christ and sent out in Christ’s name.

I will keep finding hope in the new technologies that people continue to invent. I will keep seeing God as we discover more and more about this world that God created. I will keep upgrading to the latest and most expensive smartphone, God help me. I will keep living, fast and slow.

ALEX BECKER serves as the pastor of Langcliffe Presbyterian Church just outside of Scranton in the wonderful town of Avoca, Pennsylvania, where you might catch him out for a run, or more likely a walk.

 

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