So, yesterday was Pentecost Sunday in the Christian Year. Frankly, it's largely meaningless to most Americans today. A recent study by the Pew Research Center tells us statistically what's anecdotally obvious for most of us: the tide of those who no longer affiliate with organized and institutional Christianity is surging.
Yesterday, one of the Scripture readings was from Ezekiel 37. It's the vision of a valley full of dry human bones (morbid, I know), and the story of the way a prophet's voice and breath did something remarkable: brought them life again.
I didn't have the Pew study in mind yesterday when I hosted the text (I didn't read it until this morning). But I did have it in my mind to explore the aching in our bones for the kind of connection that seems to elude us, despite the myriad of ways we can network socially. We're more networked now than human beings have ever been, but there's still an acute aching in our bones for real relationship.
At one point in my meditation on the way we're living our lives, I explored this ache and offered a visual meditation. "I think the video's pushing a little too far," I said, "some of you may be put off by its rhetoric. It may be a little too either/or. But I think it names something a lot of us are feeling. Hang in there with it and see if you agree with me that it seems to tap into the ache that I think is almost universal." At the end, there was applause. Some folks told me later they wanted to stand up and cheer. It struck a chord.
So here it is . . .
We sat as a congregation for a few moments afterward, feeling the impact, the invitation. Then I told the story about a student I'd seen Saturday evening sitting on a bench on the UC Davis campus. He looked like he was likely from another country, and his face was glued to his iPhone, eyes moist. His body looked to me like it hurt. He was bent over, hunched, like he was trying to climb inside the phone . . . without any luck.
I don't know for sure what he was doing. He could have been gaming, or scanning the updates on his Facebook page. His body was speaking; I could almost hear the aching in his bones. And here's what I made up in my mind about him . . .
There are so many students, especially graduate students at UC Davis who travel great distances to do research and complete their educations. And because of the high costs, many of them have to leave families behind. So, I think he was Skyping with his family--trying to kiss his wife, hold his children. And connecting with them virtually through his phone was the best he could do, a great, though unsatisfying gift. Virtual connection still couldn't soothe the ache in his bones . . . not fully.
We need presence. All of us. To be human, fully human, we need real connection. To have the kind of connection we most need, we need to drop everything that can get in the way and be present to each other, without our devices (good as they may be), and actually feel each other breathe. I think we've got to get that close.
That's what happens when a whole stadium sings together the lyrics to U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." Or when we sit enrapt together listening to an oratorio from Handel. Or when we sit in a circle and sing a camp song. Or (for less and less Americans today) we sit in church as sing a song or hymn.
We breathe . . . together. One great body, being human together.
And when we do, Pentecost comes.
The Spirit fills us.
We feel life in our bones.
And honestly, I think that's what church, as maligned as it often is, can still offer the world. We can be a place where people can get close enough, to be safe enough, and human enough that we can hear each other breathe.
And maybe if we gave up our lusting to regain our relevance in America . . . maybe if we stopped trying so hard to be hip . . . maybe if we simply regained our humanity, recognizing the aching in our bones for real community, America might take notice . . . because the church is, after all, not really an organization, it's an organism . . . that breathes.
And in our world of digital devices, virtual assistants, and the coming army of domestic robots, being human may actually be what truly saves us.