I’ve mentioned before that a large part of my career has been spent as a speechwriter, mostly in corporate communications with occasional (very occasional) stints in politics. One of my favorite books, one that had an enormous influence on the speeches I wrote, especially during the second half of my speechwriting years, was (and is) Eloquence in an Electronic Age by Kathleen Hall Jamieson, published in 1988
Jamieson argued that communications technology, and specifically television, was eliminating traditional political discourse. Television was shrinking our attention spans to 15 seconds or less, with the hallmark of the sound bite, and that this meant that political discourse, and by extension governmental discourse, was becoming increasingly problematic.
While her focus was politics and government, the world of corporate communications was not immune. The television news show 60 Minutes almost singlehandedly changed how corporate executives communicated and gave interviews. Everything became reduced to “three positive message points” and “bridging every question to the positive message point you want to make.”
Keep in mind all of this happened before the advent of the internet, blogs, and social media. The problem of civil and political discourse – being able to discuss problems and issues and come to some kind of resolution or consensus – is becoming something rare and seriously endangered. We appear to have a national government that no longer governs but remains in permanent campaign mode. Sound bites, like slogans, are the stuff of campaigns. They are not the stuff of governance.
A convergence of technology and changes in culture are at the root of our inability to govern ourselves. Life has become a no-holds-barred political campaign.
The church has not been immune.
In Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, Christopher Smith, John Pattison, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove say this: “Western culture has been shaped under the ever-tightening grip of technology and individualism, and the trend of modernity has been toward greater isolation from people and places. At the same time, we have been trained well to compartmentalize our lives and narrow our vision. …We reduce life to broad generalities. We approach people not as unique persons created by God but as generic categories: African American, Latino, female, gay, wealthy, homeless, liberal, right wing and so on. We use the labels most often with people who are different than us.”
Culture and technology is tearing us away from each other. The story of God, and the story of the church, is the counter-argument. As the church, we are the reconcilers. And it’s not only about helping people understand the promise of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but about the wholeness of life grounded in faith. As the authors of Slow Church point out, “As the people of God, we locate ourselves in the ecological story of God reconciling an interconnected creation.”
They’re not taking the narrow definition of ecology as the natural environment, but the ecology of life as a whole. And this is hard. We’re taught to compartmentalize our lives. What happens at church may or may not have any application to where we work. Our political opinions and preferences may or may not have anything to do with our faith. How we choose to entertain ourselves may or may not have anything to do with what we believe. What happens in society at large or with world events may or may not have anything to do with what we’re taught in church or what we teach ourselves from the Bible.
God calls for reconciliation. Jesus was sacrificed for reconciliation. The church needs to be about the wholeness of that reconciliation.
I’ve been devoting Mondays on this blog to a discussion of Slow Church, which I believe is one of the most important books I’ve read about the church. This chapter is entitled “Wholeness.”
Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.