Youtube. Sermonspice. TED videos. Kindle books. E-books. Libraries.
I am a theologian. Although I rarely see myself as one, my degree and what I spend the majority of my time on seems to leave one wthout doubt. And, as a student of a theology, and a member of a the Adventist church, I find myself surrounded non-stop by stacks of books, unlimited supplies of theological sources online, and newer, faster, easier ways of putting the truth of the Gospel. How can we help but gobble it all up?
There are so many young preachers who are rising up in the ranks. They are using more creative, more innovative methods in expressing beliefs many grew up hearing on endless loops. That which was drier than toast is becoming a spoon-full of sugar to swallow. Deeper study, artistic ways of bringing to life worn-out messages. More information, more understanding, more passion, more talent paints the walls of the theological world today. And, naturally, we drink in the sweetest nectar that can be found in our own field.
It is recently I noticed the hint of a new trend arising amoung theologians in my vicinty. I began to notice that most every ice-breaker between theolgians and conversation between friends began along the lines of: “I need to send you this link,” or “You have gotta to check out this preacher,” or “So I found this new song.” Naturally, myself being an ardent reader and a musicholic, I gladly drink in the reccommendations of others who share similar tastes and interests as myself. My playlist with Christian songs grow daily; added to them are songs with brilliant lyrical twists, unusual use of instruments and unwavering singing of a powerful message which can do nothing but inspire. My list of sermons which I have listened to is substantial, far out-doing the amount of Sabbaths there are in a year. My book-shelves are insulated with bright ideas and lined with the silk of writers; the best minds, the greatest stories, the most life-changing ideas, the most breath-taking twists.
I have heard the Prodigal Son sermon being preached from eleven different angels. I have heard seven different twists to the David and Bathsheba story. I have heard the Creation described by Lucado’s poetic simplicity and Luther’s passionate awe. I have heard songs that surprise me, challenge me, push me, pull me, lift me to new heights and penetrate new depths. I have been brought to tears by deeply spiritual songs and found myself laughing with joy at the genius of Christian apologetic authors. I have been awed and re-awed and shocked and wondered and wooed.
I don’t think I have met anyone, as a group, who are further away from God than those who talk most about Him. Sure, we all say. It’s not news. We know this. Clergy, ministers and pastors have always been a group peppered with hypocrisy and empty religion. Find another headline.
But over this past summer I have come to realise a new level to this problem, and perhaps, where a lot of empty religious activity may originate from. As mentioned, the overwhelming waves of knowledge and inspirational resources are very present. Especially at a Christian college where resources and shared and re-shared. I know of those who would listen to sermons for five hours in one day. I know some who swallow theoligical works on Christianity by the hundreds of pages. I know some who listen to gospel when they wake up in the morning, and when they drive in their car and when they write their essays for class and when they relax in their bedroom in the evening. Constant flow of spiritual and theoligically-tuned information.
It is the overflow of gospel; our cup runneth over.
And yet there is an emptyness which cannot be ignored. And the two don’t add up.
A great number of theoligical students and ministerial workers have a deep, dark secret which I am now going to share because it was my own for a long time. We feel so empty. In the hidden caverns of our hearts there is a hunger we do not understand and a thirst we cannot explain. We know we’re empty, but we keep running on an empty tank. We feel disconnected and we keep preaching. We feel lost and we keep leading. We feel small and we keep defending. We feel tired and we keep working. We feel hungry and we keep eating information. We keep watching the movies, and the videos, and the sermons, and the listening to the songs, and the lectures. We keep reading the books. When you think about it, it’s very strange. The more enstranged we feel from truth, the more we are greedy after its consumption. The more empty we feel spirutually, the more we speak on the topic. The media and information we take in is constantly coloured by the very thing we don’t have.
How can this be? How can there be an overflow of intake of spiritual things, and yet such a internal poverty of it. How can we be eating more than ever and be starving more than ever?
And yet we consume more. We hear more sermons and listen to more lectures. We seek more truth and more stories and more twists and more lyrics. We watch more preachers and discuss more theology. All the while, hoping that dull and naked feeling inside will die away, or be burried under the mountain of our efforts to consume Jesus.
Perhaps the thing which began to bother me the most about this extravagant intake, was the loneliness of it. Think about it. The conversations which used to be two-way turned into monologues. Think of it as one, endless Twitter experience. We share no connection. There is only monologuing. The endless rant, the long line of one-liners and two-liners informing people. Watch this, see that, consume this, notice this. No connection; no openness for a bridge to be built between people. Just statements. Statements about MY interests, about MY ideas, about MY thoughts, about MY tastes.
Instead of entering into a two-way dialogue about current life, theogy students immediatley dived into the world of information, of entertainment, of digital matter, where the only two faces that meet are that of my own and the computer screen. True connection began to be replaced by hours of video-watching. Quality time with friends became replaced with the sharing of links and songs and podcasts and websites. It’s not that there is anything wrong with these mediums in themselves, but the fault lies in what they have hijacked. True human connection and relationship.
Another thing which also came to surprise me is the process mentioned, where theologians and ministers in particular, remedy their spiritual emptiness with consumption of further information and constant focus on work. Work, work, work. It’s as if: if we could only teach them enough about Jesus, then maybe we fill learn about him too. I do not look away from the fact that teaching is often a learning process as well for the teacher. But that is simply not enough. The greed for information and constant stimulation of inspiration has become an excuse for the real thing.
Information can never take the place of relationship. Words will never replace the need for meaning. The studying of a topic will never trump the need to live the truth of it. And perhaps this is where our emptyness is stemming from. And we’re missing it. Blatantly.
Perhaps we have been heaping coals on our own heads. Because, if you think about it, the more information you have, the more you are responsible for it. You cannot simply stand idly by and be a passive consumer of truth, wihtout you having to relate to it. Can we wash our hands clean of the amount of truth we have dumped into our own laps? All that we know about love, grace, salvation, truth, goodness, mercy, justice, the list goes on and on….. how can we come to feel empty inside? By daily raising these things up as pillars of information in our lives, only to realise that as long as they remain only information, they will never be able to support the roof of our faith.
In reality, perhaps we have no idea what these things really mean. We feel touched by the genius, awed by the medium, graced by the talent of the Preacher and moved by the beauty of the singer. But information cannot fill empty hearts and stomachs. God’s information was never meant to remain dead or passive. That’s why his word is called the Living Word. The word is alive, and he is a person. And the question arises in my mind: How many more sermons can I hear about loving my neighbour wihtout getting off my back-side, going out the door and ringing their door-bell? How many more times can I listen to a song about David without loving the house of the Lord as much as he did? How many more times can I rant on about great new ways of evangelising if I’m not even willing to build true and strong relationships with the people I already have in my life.
No wonder we feel empty. We have heaped coals on our own heads. By knowing so much, and yet not knowing anything, we remain living dead. How can we keep consuming the truth if we fear the spirit of the truth? How can we keep eating the letter of the word without trying to dance to its song? I would rather leave the youtube sermons and the podcasts and the books and the Christian albums to rest for a little awhile. And maybe, while I’m waiting, I might sit down on a bench, look one of his children in the eye and actually have a two-way convo with them.