“Yes, and” about technology in honor of one of the originals

1% discussing the fruit of their war technologyLast night I was in a rush to get home and enjoy my yearly viewing of Brother Sun, Sister Moon.  Still great. This year I was especially moved by how well it points out the sins of the one percent of the year 1200. Pietro di Bernadone (Francis’ father) looks suspiciously like Donald Trump, telling his son to pillage a particular relic when he attacks Perugia in order to save them a “fortune in indulgences” and picking up heirlooms “for almost nothing” in the postwar turmoil. Most years I miss that theme because I am so preoccupied with watching each of Francis’ circle of friends wake up to their longing for faith in a world gone wrong.

My technology delayed me

Ironically, I was in a rush to get home to watch a movie about my simplicity-adopting hero because my technology delayed me. First, my credit union mobile app would not process a particular check I wanted to deposit — the error message said it could not read the numbers, then it said I had already deposited the check and couldn’t do it again! I spent a while arguing with my phone. I called the bank and was sent to a number that did not answer. Then I went to an ATM only to realize I did not remember the right pin code (since I was retrained to use the mobile app). I finally got home and could not immediately figure out how to use the DVD player because I have been retrained for Roku.

When I sat down for my anticipated reverie, I was a bit exhausted — a bit tempted to give up and scroll through some screens while catching up on cable news, the next episode of the strange and prophetic Mr. Robot, or something numbing like that. Instead, I pressed on and enjoyed watching Francis throw his father’s belongings out the window. In the movie version of his life, Francis is propelled toward his conversion to radical Christianity by a visit to the sweatshop in the family basement he had thus far ignored. His father almost beats him to death after he takes the workers into the sun for an afternoon in which “no one did a lick of work.” I noticed the parallels.

Our dialogue set me up

I was set up for frustration with my commitment/subjugation to various forms of technology by our discussion last Monday of our theology of technology. We bravely waded in to the huge subject and ended up with a rather large summary doc that we have stored in Google awaiting some time when we have enough energy to wade in again. I think we are getting to some good thinking. For instance, we took a few of Circle of Hope’s proverbs and pointed them at technology. Here’s a sample:

  • Our deliberate attempts to make disciples are “incarnational,” friend to friend, so we accept that what we do will almost never be instant.  — Being an organism, being incarnational may not be efficient; reducing processes down to efficiency is not automatically best.
  • People should be skeptical if our message does not originate from a community that demonstrates the love of Christ. — Depersonalizing data collection and screen usage could be antithetical to what we are going for.
  • Life in Christ is one whole cloth. As we participate in and love “the world,” we bring redemption from the Kingdom of God to our society. Jesus is Lord of all, so we have repented of separating “sacred” and “secular.” — Technology is not intrinsically wrong; it is a means to God’s ends in our hands.
  • We are “world Christians,” members of the transnational body of Christ; concerned with every person we can touch with truth and love. — Communication technology is amazing, we need to learn how to speak the language and touch the hearts of those submerged in it.
  • The church is not a “thing” that does things; it is not a building. We are the church and we support one another as Jesus expresses himself through us. — In a digitized, mechanized, roboticized economy, it will be a struggle to be personal.
  • Those among us from “traditional” Christian backgrounds are dying to our precious memories of “church” in order to bring the gospel into the present with great flexibility. — Like it or not, the future is rapidly coming upon us. It is not OK to say nothing about what technology is making us.

Francis’ simple joy sets me straight

 Today, on Francis Day, I intend to keep it simple. But I do not see my example from the 1200’s as a simpleton. He imagined a worldwide mission of peace and community in Christ. He even went to Egypt and got an interview with the sultan who was warring against European crusaders in Palestine (again, a strangely familiar situation). I think we will end up with some good theology to offer a world beset by virtual bigots, techno terrorists and corporate home invaders because we have the perennial sensibilities of Francis and of anyone who simply wants to follow Jesus simply. As Richard Rohr describes him in one of last year’s best books Eager to Love in the chapter “An Alternative Orthodoxy:”

Francis’ starting place was human suffering instead of human sinfulness, and God’s identification with that suffering in Jesus…In general, Francis preferred ego poverty to private perfection, because Jesus “became poor for our sake, so that we might become rich out of his poverty” (2 Cor. 8:9)…

Francis’ was a radically Christi-centric worldview, but one that nonetheless recognized the Church as the primary arena in which this good news could be protected and disseminated. He was a non-dual thinker….[He saw] the living Body of Christ, first of all, everywhere, and then the organized Church was where the “hidden Mystery,” could most easily be recognized, talked about, developed, and praised. Most of us come at it from the other side, “My church is better than your church,” and never get to the real universal message. We substitute the container for the actual contents, and often substitute our church structure for the gospel or the kingdom of God. Francis was an extraordinary “yes, and” kind of man, which kept him from all negativity toward structures or other groups (p. 84).

I think I can nurture a “yes, and” kind of approach to technology (at least the part I don’t throw out of the window). Today, that means becoming poor in spirit and poor with others so we can be rich in Jesus, It means less stress about the containers and more attention to the contents. It means straining out the gnat of goodness and not swallowing every camel the sophisticating salespeople flash before my eyes. It means wading in and trusting Jesus to save me, again.

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