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Previous post: Overwhelmed – Driven to Digital Distraction

As I delve deeper into the conundrum of what it means to live in this perpetually connected digital world, I’ve come to a point in the book “Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy For Building A Good Life In The Digital Age” where author William Powers describes how the personal regimen of one man in the 18th century can teach us valuable lessons for mastering our 21st century life.

That man is Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, as well as being one of a few truly outstanding polymaths, excelling in many fields including politics, science, invention, music, civil activism, statesmanship and diplomacy.

He was a deeply social and active person, so much so that one of his early writing pseudonyms was “Busy-Body”. He was constantly on the move, thinking, reading and connecting…Powers says that Franklin was a master of “doing the eighteenth-century equivalent of social networking”. Everyone that observed him saw that he was a man going places…but it wasn’t until he had a moment of profound “disconnection” that he realized he didn’t known where that place was.

At the age of 20, Benjamin Franklin voyaged from London, England to Philadelphia, leaving him with a great deal of time for philosophical soul-searching, of his life so far, and where he wanted to go. This is an excerpt of his journal from the travel:

Man is a sociable being, and it is…one of the worst punishments to be excluded from society. I have read abundance of fine things on the subject of solitude, and I know ’tis a common boast in the mouths of those that affect to be thought wise, that they are never less alone than when alone. I acknowledge solitude an agreeable refreshment to a busy mind; but were these thinking people obliged to be always alone, I am apt to think they would quickly find their very being insupportable to them.

Despite this, Franklin reflected in his voyage that too many things in his life weren’t going at all the way he wanted. He was pulled in too many directions, and far too busy to properly put his life in order. Despite our hectic lives often seeming to be a very new, digital age phenomenon, Franklin’s writings give us a stark reminder that this type of busyness and “quiet desperation” (next post will examine the life and work of Henry David Thoreau) have always been with us.

From these reflections, he built a philosophy and personal regimen that he attributed to building the man he would become.

Seeing Franklin’s teachings and his own personal struggles in a rapidly expanding and connecting world gives me hope for us. How simultaneously empowering and frightening it is to consider that we are really all the same people! As much as we like to distance ourselves from many of the murky chapters of human history, I find it reassuring to know that there is so much already lived and written behind us to draw from in our own often torturous lives.

I found Franklin’s teachings as shared by Powers deeply interesting, both as a period study, as well as a broader examination of human nature. Take a minute to consider these 13 virtues he developed at the age of 20, and how it can inform us today:

  1. Temperance: Eat not to Dullness. Drink not to Elevation.
  2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling Conversation.
  3. Order: Let all your Things have their Places. Let each Part of your Business have its Time.
  4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality: Make no Expense but to do good to others or yourself i.e. Waste nothing.
  6. Industry: Lose no Time. Be always employ’d in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary Actions.
  7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful Deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice: Wrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty.
  9. Moderation: Avoid Extremes. Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no Uncleanliness in Body, Clothes or Habitation.
  11. Tranquillity: Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity: Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring; Never to Dullness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another’s Peace or Reputation.
  13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

With some small modifications and updating of language, it can be easy to image how these goals could speak to us here in the 21st century. Franklin was confident that with discipline, anyone could follow his philosophy, so much so that he exhorted his readers “follow the Example & reap the Benefit”.

One of the things that I hadn’t considered on first reading that Powers points out is that, though the wording is austere, the goals are positive aspects to work towards, noting as one example “who doesn’t want tranquillity?” Instead of things like “The No Ice Cream or Any Other Goodies Diet”, he gives 13 targets to aim towards (noting in writings that he never comes near to the centre of any of them, but that it is the effort that is rewarding).

It has a great deal to do with attitude, as well. Franklin apparently moved through life and his philosophy in an easy and affable manner, not becoming undone by each failure to live up to these massive ideals, but in quiet congratulation and good humour with each success.

Powers also notes that the power in Benjamin Franklin’s example and challenge is not an easy path to walk, but can be truly transformational…in fact, that is the reason the path isn’t easy to walk. We want to change for the better, and talk about transformative experiences at great length, but how many of us truly want to experience it?

I’m not so sure I do. Not really.

But if we find the courage to work at it, we may be astounded by the results.

To push back against the seeming onslaught of activity and information in our hectically connected lives, many groups (including families, companies and organizations) have tried to enforce e-mail/digital device free time. However, this puts only external pressure on us, instead of enticing us to discover what it is that drives us, and to through personal examination and reflection to reshape ourselves.

This is something I hope to continue to reflect on and practice as I write this series. My first thoughts on this is a goal to reawaken my appreciating and enjoyment of simple pleasures – though sad that it takes such concentration to do. As I move through this process, I realize that many things I used to enjoy are done without the pleasure I used to feel. I realize that, though my desires and passions haven’t changed, I am always thinking on things I feel I should be doing, and often, that the mental itch of social media and online activity are distracting me from the physical present and the now.

How simple it can be to say “cherish life”, but realizing, with the haste of everything that life can entail, how little we actually do it. I hope that we can each, in small steps, recapture our lives, our meaning and ourselves. As we do this, it will empower us to step out into the digital world refreshed, rejuvenated, and more able to enjoy it as a tool and not as something that controls us.

In my next post, I’ll examine the example of Henry David Thoreau and building a zone of solitude in our homes.

Next post: Overwhelmed – Home of Refuge

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Previous post: Overwhelmed – Data Mined

In my previous posts, I explored feelings I’ve been struggling with, and the conundrum of what it means to live in this perpetually connected digital world. I also began exploring the book “Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy For Building A Good Life In The Digital Age” by William Powers.

As I dig deeper into his book, I hope to learn more about his ideas about how to find balance, and find a better understanding for myself, of how to live a satisfying and fulfilling life in the age of globalization, as well as how it is already shaping and informing our cultures.

As I consider this subject, I reflected on all the different stories from the last couple decades that explore these themes. When the concept of cyberspace was still in its infancy,  many (especially science fiction) writers explored what nature it may take, and the ramifications it may have for us. Michael Creighton explored these themes in many of his books, even slipping some philosophical ranting through the character Ian Malcolm in his popular books Jurassic Park and The Lost World. As we have become immersed in the reality of digital, global connection, academic work as well as fictional musings have only expanded. One instance is the anime Serial Experiments Lain, which centres on the exploration of the intersections of digital communication with personal identity and our understandings of reality.

In his book, Powers argues that though the present challenges of instant communication and constant gratification and communication of online interaction is unprecedented, the general problems and opportunities presented are not new to us. In fact, he argues that there are important lessons that can be learned through human history that can give guidance to a good life in our world today.

From the title of the book, “Hamlet’s BlackBerry”, he presents a fascinating anachronism, the thought of Shakespeare’s antihero holding a modern mobile device. But, he argues, Hamlet actually depended on the equivalent of his time, a device I hadn’t heard of.

He points to this text from Hamlet, Act I, Scene IV, after Hamlet has spoken to the ghost of his father. The ghost of King Hamlet Senior exposes the truth of his death, from supposed poisoning by a bite, to having been murdered by his brother, Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, and the new king. Hamlet slips into soliloquy after his father’s ghost fades away, saying:

Remember thee!
Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat
In this distracted globe. Remember thee!

Yea, from the table of my memory
I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,
All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,
That youth and observation copied there;
And thy commandment all alone shall live
Within the book and volume of my brain,
Unmix’d with baser matter:

First, Hamlet mentions the “distracted globe”, probably a triple-entendre on his own distracted mind, perhaps a world that is in its entirety distracted, and making a clever jab at the audience seeing the play performed in the Globe Theatre, whose minds by this time may have been wandering. Though this sense of being overwhelmed may seem to me and to us to be a modern situation and struggle, it may be that the bustle and clamour of Shakespeare’s London may have been just as trying!

But the part that Powers really wants to focus on is the table, also called a “writing table” or “table book”, basically the precursor to the modern notebook/tablet. These earlier notebooks used a coated parchment or paper, marked with a metal stylus, and could be later blotted out with a sponge to be used again. So in Hamlet’s speech, he thinks of his mind as a singular tome cluttered with meaningless trivia, scattered and unfocused, where everything except the knowledge of the “murder most foul” of his father must be wiped out.

Powers talks at length about how many people of Shakespearian England, and perhaps Shakespeare himself, relied on a table book to keep their helter-skelter lives in order. A common practice would be to have this impermanent object always close at hand, and to have a heavier journal kept at home. At the end of the day, the scribbles and notes of the day could be gone over again, carefully weighed and judged, and everything of value could be copied into the permanent journal, before the table was wiped clean. This practice could be an important time of introspection and examination of the busy days behind and ahead.

So in the same way, we may actually use our phones and mobile devices in this way, and bend the new technology to an old practice. But Powers notes that many (including himself) prefer an old paper-and-binding notepad for his notation. It could be simply nostalgia, he notes, but he thinks it goes far deeper. This is how he says it:

In conventional thinking about technology today, the fact that paper is a three-dimensional medium – that it’s made of atoms rather than bits and therefore takes up space – is considered its greatest weakness. Like you and me, it has a body and is stuck here in the physical world. My notebook can’t fly from here to China in seconds the way digital data can. However, just as the strength of digital devices (their ability to bring the crowd closer) is also their weakness, the weakness of paper can also be its strength.

As I took down notes as I read in a coffee shop, I found myself nodding along. I actually faced this conundrum, as I found myself transcribing notes onto my phone, my hand aching for the pen and paper I hadn’t thought to bring with me. The phone notebook is of course handy, but one of the major flaws I found was the alerts popping along the margins as I wrote and read, online messages vying against the quiet sounds of coffee poured and conversations around me. The alerts meant people reaching to contact me in a different medium than the world around me – these can be pleasant, but it can also be mentally taxing.

I found the format of the digital notepad interesting as I contemplated it from this new perspective. Though it exists in bits of code, the background looks like a yellow notepad found in every stationary store, the default font choice mimicking handwriting, to give it a seemingly personal quality. Phone keyboard sounds often come with the option of sounding like the harsh clack of a typewriter, many device covers are available that look like the pebbled and worn surfaces of a favourite leather notebook. And so on. Almost as if chosen to try to make the transition easier, warmer, more tangible, more personal.

So one of the first strategies may be simply to devise ways to disconnect as we reflect and write. This is obviously something I struggle with, and seems oddly ironic to say from an online blog, and as many of my favourite authors write blogs that I follow. However, it is good to have down time for personal reflection, contemplation and meditation, on ourselves as well as the information we take in.

Like all things, it is much easier to say than to do.

Powers reflects that we cannot cut ourselves off “cold turkey” from our digital dependencies and expect the results to go well. But he holds up the example of one exceptional man that created a personal method to reshape his nature, and create a pleasurable and productive life for himself, to astounding results. I’ll share his thoughts in my next post, and reflect on how this man’s method can inform us today in the digital age.

Next post: Overwhelmed – Ben’s Example

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Previous post: Overwhelmed!

In my previous post, I explored feelings that I’ve been struggling with, and the conundrum of what it means to live in this perpetually connected digital world. I also began exploring the book “Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy For Building A Good Life In The Digital Age” by William Powers. I hope to continue writing about how we can easily become overwhelmed with technology and living a life continually connected, but as I started to write, I ended up with what is something of an aside – this post.

In my last post, I said that it is a brave new world for us as we become more deeply connected through a variety of technologies, with more seemingly developed everyday. In some ways, it is also starting to resemble something from George Orwell’s “1984”. The Wall Street Journal recently shared this image (click for an expanded version):

datamines

All of our online activity is tracked, recorded, mined, harvested, aggregated, compiled, analysed, bought and sold. All of this information is immeasurably valuable for advertisers and marketers, as they work to understand their target markers in an increasingly competitive and tough economic environment. All of our activity can provide valuable insight into our wants and needs, desires and dreams. Not only does it give impressions of our singular activities, but tracked over time, our digital and physical movements can provide better understandings of what drives us over a period of time. Aggregated together with everyone around us, this can paint quite a picture of our collective nature.

This information could be used for a multitude of purposes. This information is gathered at great expense so that we can more cunningly be advertised and marketed to, but it could also be utilized by planners, sociologists, psychologists, demographers, cartographers etc. to better understand our communities, societies, and ourselves. The potential for us all to gain understanding from this information is immense.

One thing I take from all of this is a certain sense of irony, that our Conservative government abolished the mandatory long form census, as it is too “invasive”. Even as private companies mine and harvest everything we do, gaining much more intimate information from us through the services they provide us. Even as government steps back, making it more difficult to provide services we pay a great deal of taxes for efficiently and effectively, private companies step forward to fill the void.

This is something we should all be conscious of, but I think we find much easier not to consider, as it is often joined with a sense of helplessness. Either we connect and provide aggregate data for companies, or cut ourselves from the services that we depend on. From an information science perspective, I find it very fascinating to have our physical and digital presences twinned and inspected, that a more complete picture of our existence can be mapped. For many, this kind of analysis can be very unnerving.

As I continue this series I’ll cover some of the highlights of William Powers’ book, starting with his explanation of “Hamlet’s BlackBerry”, and also write about some strategies I’ve found as I work through finding balance between online and offline time.

Next post: Overwhelmed – Driven to Digital Distraction

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Confused. Disappointed. Anxious.

Unfocused. Distracted.

Overwhelmed.

Stretched too thin. Unknowing where to turn, never know if I’m doing enough.

Feeling I’m never doing the right thing.

More and more often, I find myself struggling with these kinds of feelings.

Both to my relief and somewhat horror, I know that I am far from alone. So very far from alone.

This is really the conundrum of social media, where we can instantaneously connect with people from all over the world, share ideas, thoughts, perspectives, stories, photographs. Borders dissolve. Community expands. We can reach anyone, anytime we wish.

As a global community, human knowledge has never been so accessible. We write, we edit, we collaborate, we make, we destroy. This is the future humanity of countless novels, scholastic dissertations, philosophical musings, wild and fantastic dreams.

It is truly a brave new world.

It also has a very dark side.

As with any major shift in technology, ability and perspective, it opens a Pandora’s Box of questions without easy answers. With so much information at our fingertips, it can be deeply overwhelming. As we become one collective community, we are exposed to more information than we may ever be able to really work with or healthily take in.

There are issues of easy anonymity. Humanity has always explored aliases and alibis, but with the creation of instant connection over technology, a person can be almost anyone behind a manufactured avatar, and reach to others all over the world. This gives people that may be otherwise suppressed astounding liberty, but it also gives damaging and defamatory actions considerable freedom.

Every day, the news from all corners of the world brings us another tide of misery.

Every day, our e-mail, social media accounts, our online obligations, our sources of enjoyment and entertainment, draw us in deeper.

With so much grasping for our attention, so much to see and do, our mind wanders more and more, our attention span wanes. Our wonderful technological tools and online resources stop being helpful, and become a mental hindrance, and an overwhelming addiction.

Thankfully, the potential and the challenges of this new reality also challenges us with important questions like:

  • How much information is enough?
  • Why? How to we measure enough?
  • Should we reach for as much interaction and information as possible? Why? Why not?
  • Is face-to-face interaction inherently better than online interactions? Why? Why not?
  • How do we live a good life of online social interaction, and healthy “disconnected” time?
  • How do we identify when we are in control, and when the moment has come when our technology controls us?

One of the realizations I’ve come to is a need to take some time and analyse just what I want to do with technology, and why I do it. I realized that I’ve been on Facebook for so long (since 2007), that logging on and regularly checking has become so natural, so normal, that I no longer even think about it, or wonder why it is that I find it devouring so much of my attention and energy. Nor do I really pay that much attention to each version change, and it is only really recently that I find myself noticing the slow creep of advertising and other unwanted content into the interface. I wonder how many people this is true for, how many people globally are plugging in, without entirely even knowing why.

Unfortunately, this has only become exacerbated when I (fairly recently) bought my first smartphone. Instead of closing my computer for the day and saying goodbye to all online contact, my phone is always in my pocket, and providing a constant siren call of easy information and distractions. With it not only comes new highs of online availability, but the necessity of new strategies to keep it from overwhelming.

Every morning when I start work, without thinking, I open three tabs: E-mail, Facebook, Twitter. What astounds me as I look back, is just how easily I did it, and it never seemed to occur to me to simply not do it. Not until I eventually realized that I was moving freely from work to social media and back, that I saw that there might be a problem. And it all happened so slowly. And as this happened, I found myself feeling more agitated, more often, partially because I found myself impatient, skimming through almost I’m reading, often without entirely taking it in. Instead of thoroughly reading through and appreciating the full impact of what I was seeing, I unconsciously mined it for what was pertinent information, without really taking any of it in. At first it seemed just efficient use of time, but in time I’ve discovered part of my agitation is from feeling frayed and stretched, and as if I’m seeing everything and understanding nothing…and unable to stop.

In recent years, a “slow food” movement has arisen as a counter-culture to the saturation of fast food. I’ve come to wonder if we may need a “slow information” movement, a more contemplative, slower lane in the information superhighway. Maybe it already exists, if we can just find it.

Not surprisingly, I’ve found it all draining. Instead of enjoyable posts and exciting stories from friends, my mind and thoughts seemed to latch to infuriating tirades, catastrophic news and inflammatory/shocking posts and exchanges. Both uses have coexisted since we’ve started connecting in cyberspace, but as I feel myself bogged down in time online, it seems to be all I can see.

Another positive of these experience though is that it has challenged me to find strategies to unplug, disconnect and find/re-discover where I find my “zen”. As well as our online interactions, we’ve worked to connect and re-connect with friends, including social nights revolving around things like board games, or simply meeting to talk, eat and share (more than a little disturbing to us was the realization just how novel this concept seems). The warmer weather has helped to help draw us to places away from “screens”, activities like walking in the community, or working in the garden together.

One of our favourite ways to disconnect is an evening walk to the community library. With all of this buzzing in my mind a few weeks ago, as I browsed I found the book “Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy For Building A Good Life In The Digital Age” by William Powers.

William Powers opens the book with a hypothetical room, one that defies reality by being both massive and intimate, by somehow allowing billions of people to simultaneously interact. The room is a place of wonder and endless possibility, where people share anything and everything together. It is a place where at first we think we could never tire from, where there is always so much to see and experience. But in time, the insistent messages and pictures and people and objects people bring to our attention are wearying, even in their seemingly endless variety. Soon the experience becomes overwhelming, but when we ask others in the room about a way out, they seem perplexed, some, even disturbed. Why would you want to leave? This room has everything you could ever need…doesn’t it? And…haven’t we all always been here?

For those that seek a way out, they may meet with confusion from those that find enjoyment and purpose in deep immersion in technology. But they may meet others that are always seeking and searching for a way out. As I dig deeper into his book, I hope to learn more about his ideas about how to find balance, and find a better understanding for myself of how to live a satisfying and fulfilling life in the age of globalization.

As I write this, listening to video game music (Final Fantasy IX) performed on piano….finding it somewhat ironic as I contemplate the necessity of switching off. In no way do I mean that we should walk away from our technology, or this new global reality. But we should be aware of how it impacts us, and the vast and deep implications it has for us all, something I hope to learn more about every day.

I hope to continue a series on this, covering some of the highlights of William Powers’ book, and some strategies I’ve found as I work through finding balance between online and offline time…hopefully interspersed with posts on community as well!

Next post: Overwhelmed – Data Mined

glass repair

Previous post: Working Together

In my previous posts, I outlined the challenges facing our church, and our pastors’ thoughts on what is happening, and where we go from here. With everything happening, how can we move forward together? Are we irreparably damaged, or can we find a solution that everyone can agree to?

There are lots of questions about what move (if any) would be best for the church community, and the greater London community. I sometimes irreverently refer to the protestant church as the Church of the Holy Amoeba, because, given enough time, it will inevitably split. I would naturally question the idea of our church branching in different directions, but as I work with the different communities within the same building, I wonder if it wouldn’t be the best thing for everyone involved if a very specific church plant were to emerge and go in its own direction.

This entire process has been a stark reminder for me, and for our church as a whole, just how fallible and human we are. It has forced us to face ourselves and each other, and to be honest about our weaknesses and shortcomings as well as our strengths. It has been a time of great vulnerability, but I hope that through it we may re-focus on what really matters.

A split by any other name might be just as bitter, some are suggesting. Could this be an amicable church plant, taking those willing in a dynamic direction, or are we just kidding ourselves? Would it just be a spiteful split from the mother church?

There is a great deal of excitement about the plant. An associated church that is close to the downtown have already said that they would give us worship space (including the use of their sanctuary Sunday mornings) and they seem eager to have us as partners. As well, the team that have come together to support the proposed plant want to develop strategies for working closer with the communities around the church, “being” the church for the city instead of focusing/dithering on what happens Sunday mornings. (When a committee has to decide where the lectern will be placed on Sunday morning you have officially missed the point) There is a great deal to work out yet as we see if this move may be feasible, but one of the major stipulations would be to ensure that a strong relationship remains with the main church, including occasional joint services. I and the larger group proposing the plant don’t want to simply “walk away” from our main church, though I feel that having some breathing room may be the best thing for everyone involved.

There is also a great deal of concern, trepidation and consternation about the proposed plant. One of the major concerns is that many of the projects headed by the church currently won’t be properly supported, including youth ministry and outreach work like community dinners, along with a fear that general leadership will leave the church with this move. There are questions of whether any proposed Tangible Kingdom-esque projects could be launched successfully from our existing church, without a plant needing to happen at all. There is also concern that this move is being done for the wrong reasons, out of spite because the group proposing the plant didn’t “get their way” in different changes that have been voted on in the church. There is fear that even if this plant were to happen, both groups would remain poisoned and corrupted, and only spread the contagion further. I definitely agree that no matter what action is taken, healing within the entire church has to happen.

There is a lot of legitimate concern here, and something that would have to be worked out as a proposal was shaped and voted on. There would have to be a lot of discussion of who would go and who would stay should a plant happen. However, with this, I hope there would be a lot of earnest discussion and assessment of strengths, and sharing of power and responsibility as people choose to be part of the plant or remain, perhaps both as their desire and their calling guide them. Many of the younger people from the contemporary service have signalled they would stay with the main church, so in these early days I think it is realistic to believe many of the current and future leaders of the church would stay, so the feared “hollowing out” of the congregation wouldn’t happen.

There is so much more work to be done, and discussions to have together. We will continue to think and pray over what would be best for us, our congregation(s) and the broader community, and I hope to continue to post what is happening here.

Next post: Meeting Together

broken glass 2

Previous Post: Staying Together

In my previous post I laid out the problems and opportunities facing our church, and the possibilities for our future.

One of the possible solutions out there is a church plant from the contemporary service with a very specific focus on mission and community work. This church would be somewhat modelled after ideas like those proposed in the book “Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community: The Posture and Practices of Ancient Church Now” by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. This new church would be lead by one of our pastors and a group of congregants interested in forming this new church. They would most likely be from our contemporary service, focused on being a part of the community around the church, and working deeper to connect with the communities where we live as well.

Recently, our entire church had a congregational meeting lead by an outside moderator to discuss the different strategies that we could use to move forward. They were:

  • Do nothing for the present, take time to heal
  • Another attempt at a blended service
  • Sharing the upstairs sanctuary space, with two distinct services
  • Launching a church plant from the contemporary service

Regardless of which direction we decided to move in, it was quickly decided that doing nothing really wasn’t an option, as the problems we face would probably only get larger the longer we leave them to fester.

Before the meeting started, both our pastors spoke from the heart to share their perspectives on everything happening. Here are some of the main thoughts that came from their messages:

Senior pastor:

  • Our church is being tested. Many in the congregation are asking why we can’t simply pull together, make concessions, and continue has a united family. There are challenges ahead for all of us as we imagine what is best for our church community and the city of London.
  • Many are meeting-weary and exhausted. Many are feeling frustrated and discouraged, feeling they’re not being listened to, valued or respected. Many different perspectives are being shared at our meetings, and it’s difficult to find common ground and build together.
  • There are many questions of which move is best for us and the community. What would be healthiest for us, and enable us to work in the community? Would a new church plant be a better extension into our city, or would it only see our current projects wither? What happens to those currently projects supported by the church?
  • Are other churches doing things like this? What other projects are happening elsewhere? What can we learn from them?
  • Quite shaken up by the possibility of a new plant, opportunity but also very painful. Loves everything about our church (community, staff, the downtown, the Karen community from Burma/Myanmar, diversity of beliefs/nations/worshipping styles), doesn’t want to see it all fall apart. But, also sees the passion and energy of those working towards the plant, what can we do but bless those seeking this new way, and set them free?
  • This shouldn’t be seen as a split. Our church has had several healthy church plants in our history, and would maintain a strong connection with this new church should it go forward.

Associate pastor:

  • Read the book Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter 5 years ago, and since then have tried to follow this method. Teaches how to fixate less on worship time as the primary focus, and how to really “do” ministry. Less talk, more serving.
  • Goal of “TK” ministry is to work more in relational networks, and do tangible work in our communities. Many people mourn the loss of the neighbourhoods they grew up in, this returns focus on being there for one another, get to know your community, being good neighbours.
  • Important not to do work with motives (ie. end goal getting neighbours to join your church etc.), but because it is a good and fulfilling thing to do. Be a positive force in our communities, see our city transform for the better.
  • Has shared vision with others in the church association, there seems to be a lot of excitement and potential support for a plant.
  • This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to how things have been going, has been contemplating such an action for years. Ever since starting ministry, has dreamt of leading this kind of project, think that the time has come.
  • Maintaining a strong connection to mother church is a must.
  • There is a fear that all the young congregants/families will be leaving, but this isn’t the case. Each person/family will have to choose what is best for them, and many have said they want to part of this new adventure, but many want to remain as well. There is a very good mix.
  • This church plant would be a “win-win” for everyone. There is a church that would be willing to host the new plant close to the downtown, and the existing church would be left with a large reserve of money and a prime downtown building.
  • We need to make clear judgements, know that we are making right decisions for right reasons. Hope that this new plant and mother church will only strengthen and grow together as we go our own directions, see each as extension of other.
  • There is great excitement to be “blessed and released” by our church, hope that this project can happen, and others can see that this is positive for everyone involved.

In my next post, I’ll look at the different perspectives shared at the meeting, and share some thoughts on how we can move forward. I hope to continue to consider and develop an understanding of what might be best for our church, as well as the larger global community. This is a time of great difficulty, but I hope, also a time of great opportunity to be a greater force for good in our communities.

Next post: Moving Together?

broken

Over the past while (days/months/years) of our church, we’ve struggled to find a way to move forward for the benefit of everyone, including (and hopefully especially) the entire city of London. Our church is like many others across North America. Upstairs in the sanctuary with the choir, organ, hard wooden pews and hymnals the congregation is shrinking. Meanwhile, the basement space we use for our contemporary service (I’ve been a member for about 5 years now) with comfortable moveable/stackable seats, coffee and treats served, a worship band and a terrific sound and projection system is almost at capacity every Sunday now. In fact, in an area of Canada that is among the most difficult places in North America to foster a church, we have the rare reality of a church seeing good overall growth.

This is both our strength and our dilemma.

We want to see more growth, see more people join our community, more people come to faith, see more work done in and through the church in our downtown community and throughout the city. But how do we continue to expand our services?

We’ve attempted several solutions over the years. At one time we had two different service times, but the children’s ministries found it difficult to find enough people to care for the children all morning, so we now have both services at 10:30. However, because of this, we can’t have both services in the massive upstairs space. Another difficulty with proposing sharing the space is that many of the traditional service congregants didn’t want the sanctuary “tampered” with, in that sound, projection or instruments/equipment should be added.

An 8 week trial period for a blended service was attempted last fall culminating in Christmas, which attempted to blend both contemporary and traditional service styles. This has worked very well in other churches (Sarah’s church in Stoney Creek had a great service in this style since the mid-90’s), but though some seemed to think it struck a good balance, many from both groups seemed to prefer remaining in their own services, despite the constrictions facing the contemporary service.

At the end of the trial period early in the New Year, a congregational meeting was held to discuss the blended service, and to vote on whether to adopt that style of worship going forward. With a 2/3 vote needed to pass to move to the new style, the vote was 64% yes.

Many left feeling disappointed, not only for the decision, which would take us back to the drawing board and to our own services until something new was put forward, but also for what it signalled. Clearly, we are a congregation divided.

There has also been bitterness seeping into the relationship. From the contemporary perspective, the traditional congregants don’t see them as equal partners, or respect the hard work and dedication they put into the church and community. From the traditional side, they tend to believe they are the main financial support to the church, and that the younger generations are steamrolling them despite the decades of service they’ve given the church.

Lots of valid thoughts and beliefs on both sides, but how to find a common solution, especially when perspectives are so different and varied? Suggestions have been made to attempt another joint service or use by both services of the sanctuary, but there is fear that both continued connection would only bring more friction. There is also concern that having the two groups further separated wouldn’t really be solving the underlying problems.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time as we work through this process, and hope to share fairly everything that’s been happening to everyone involved, and convey the spirit of what’s in everyone’s hearts and minds as best I can. With so many conflicting perspectives and emotions running high, it’s hard to capture the essence of the issues we’re having. I also wonder if seen from an outside perspective, if these issues seem as terribly minimal and petty as I fear they are.

After the vote failing, the two services have returned to the way they had before, with the contemporary service continuing to push the space constraints of the space downstairs, and the traditional service in the sanctuary slowly declining. A week ago, a congregational meeting was held to discuss what action (if any) we should do to find a solution.

One of the possibilities put forward was a church plant from the contemporary service with a very specific focus on mission and community work.

Through all of this, I keep wondering, where is God in this? How do we move to start addressing what really matters?

There is so much work to do, and a lot of healing that needs to happen. I don’t want to diminish that at all. But in the end, we need to find the directions that lead to working in unity towards strengthening our city, especially as it struggles. We need to fix ourselves before we can consider helping others, but that should always be the goal we keep focused on.

I worry that as we bicker and argue and get bogged in excruciatingly small details, we only give those outside the church more reason to scorn us. With pervading perspective on the global church as a navel-gazing, insular, isolated, irrelevant, hypocritical and overall unattractive part of society, are we not only hurting our own congregation but the greater global community by helping confirm those suspicions? As we work through this, there are many times I think of how much easier it would be to be completely dismissive, and walk away from it all.

But I believe there is always great strength and potential in the church, despite my own personal misgivings. We are a diverse and complicated family, but that curse is also our strength. Only by sticking through these issues, by teaching and learning together do we grow individually and as a group. Despite it all, I want to find a way to work with my community in and out of the church, find ways to aid our city, and hopefully for ways that we can improve ourselves too.

Next post: Working Together