Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Tag: pentecost

What is the meaning of life and what if there is an answer other than 42?

In Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the super computer, Deep Thought, takes 7.5 million years to find the answer to life, the universe and everything, and the answer is 42. Those who receive the answer aren’t pleased.

“Forty-two!” yelled Loonquawl. “Is that all you’ve got to show for seven and a half million years’ work?”
“I checked it very thoroughly,” said the computer, “and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”

So when we asked “What does this mean” with the disciples of Jesus in the book of Acts last week as we celebrated Pentecost we were wrestling with what the right question might be.  The story goes that the disciples of Jesus were waiting in Jerusalem for the gift of the Holy Spirit. A wind came through and there were tongues of fire descending on their heads and they were enabled to speak in languages they didn’t understand.  After this experience there were two responses:

Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” Acts 2:12-13

The scientists who created Deep Thought didn’t know what question to ask. 42 is the answer to a question that people like those who accused the disciples of drunkenness would ask.  They are looking for an explanation that computes within their understanding of the world.  They are closing themselves off from the possibility of a meaning beyond their experience or understanding.

The best question to ask–and I’m talking about life, the universe and everything– is “what does this mean?” The meaning of life, the universe and everything is being open to asking this question and its precursor being open to amazement and perplexity.

In Circle of Hope we create think tanks, so to speak, for amazement and perplexity–for asking the questions that bubble up and for seeking the answer.  They are cells. We live our lives together enough to have a sense of each other’s lives. Consequently, the question “what does this [experience, feeling, situation, absurdity, fear, doubt, joy, love] mean?” actually has a shared meaning.  Plus, we live in community not only with each other, but with the Holy Spirit, who stokes the amazement, perplexity, questions and then even answers.

But if you’re not open to the question– if meaning is calculation and the universe needs to equal out– the minutia of each human life is inconsequential.  The oppressive demands for a balanced equation weigh us down and squash our spiritual imaginations before they can even emerge. I don’t think it all has to work out.  Not even the stories in the Bible demand some reasoned exactitude provided by a consistent system of thought.  Many Christians have been demanding that of their faith and understanding for a long time and I think that way of being Christian is collapsing under it’s own weight.  That way of living with God gets you answers like “42” and “they’re drunk.”  The living God is unpredictable but reliable to answer when we ask “What does this mean?” when he amazes us again and again.

A Summer of Facebooklessness

Summer’s not really over yet, but the season changed at Circle of Hope’s Public Meeting last night and I’m ready to move into the fall.  Sorry to those of you who haven’t gone on vacation yet.  I feel a bit like the guy who asks “How was your weekend?” on Sunday afternoon.  Forgive me.

I spent the Pentecost season off of Facebook (and this blog, instagram, tumblr, twitter etc.).  It was a communal experiment among the pastors and a few other leaders at Circle of Hope.  We wanted to unplug to see if our disconnection hurt us at all.  Does facebook as a medium actually help our cause, or do we spend a lot of time shouting into the void when we could be making real-er connections?  We want to be the media which for me means I want to know people and I want people to know me.  I believe that in a relationship with me or someone like me people have the best chance of meeting Jesus.  This summer I wanted to see how the virtual relating of facbookland worked by letting it not work for a while.

The most notable changes occurred within me and my habits.  Without the distraction of facebook I was more productive.  I read more books.  I started a new cell and hung out with those new people in my life.  I got out into Philadelphia on the Circle of Hope Summer Tour and I didn’t worry about the storytelling of the experience before the experience was over.  I was in the moment, relating to the people around me as I was with them.  I did not triangulate a thousand people into our interactions.  I have to admit that I am an image conscious person.  I worry about what people will think.  Facebook plays into this character trait by encouraging me to manage a virtual image of myself; and because I am a leader of a community, I manage an image of Circle of Hope too.

Image management isn’t all bad.  I want to be received well by all sorts of people so that I might speak into their life after earning a place of trust.  I want to be a conspicuous force for good in the world so people will see my good deeds and glorify my father in heaven.  I know for certain I can do these things without facebook, but I’ve decided to do it with facebook again because it’s a way that people relate and it’s the only way I relate to some of the people I barely know or knew well before they or I moved away.

Facebook is a very dangerous tool.  It can suck me in and begin to make me who I am.  I can begin to be an image of myself rather than the me I really am now.  This is the easiest way for the enemy to undermine me.  If I can’t do it to a perfect standard; if I can’t be the person I wish I was, then I might as well wallow in my sin, or my ineffective strategy, or  whatever else is currently unhealthy in my life.  That’s enough reason for me not to go back.  Put that on top of the image that the marketers are making of me–the detailed niche market of Benjamin White that has extended from ads to the actual news feeds of my friends.  I now only see what they want me to see from private users too.  Everything filtered, manicured, marketed and algorhythm-ed for my viewing pleasure and for facebook’s maximized profit.  A dangerous tool indeed.  But I’ve read the instruction manual, I’ve got my safety goggles on, a bit clearer now after a season away and I’m ready to relate again there too.  I’ll probably see you there but let’s not keep it there. okay?