Like newspapers, Jesus is best known when He is tangible

Lessons from an office on North Broad St.

We have a conduit wire that hands from our ceiling in our main worship room on Frankford Ave. I swear I’d gone through that door a hundred times in just a few weeks, but I never saw it, never noticed it. My friend pointed it out to me one day and said, “You just don’t notice those details, do you?” I don’t.

A similar situation happened when I moved into my much bigger office. My previous office was small, disorganized, cluttered, and used by many people. I had a big pile of books with no shelf. Actually, we had a shelf, but it was in a box leaning on the pile. Lots of problems that many people observed, but you know, I didn’t. The fluorescent lights in my office bothered people at first, so I got lamps. They noticed that the lights blinked and buzzed. The office also had a kind of dank smell to it. It was a little cavernous, deep inside an old, windowless PECO building. And honestly, I was none-the-wiser. I didn’t miss the sunlight, the clutter didn’t bother me too much, and I barely noticed how cramped the room was.

I’m just not oriented to notice things like that. I’m not sure why. I don’t have much of an attention span for the visual. I have a hard time organizing a space or noticing what is missing and what should go where. I need a team to help me do that.

Butter is better for pie crust than cute crimping

I might be enough in my head that I don’t notice what’s around me, really. I might be so intuitive, making decisions with my gut, that I don’t take in sensory data. Maybe I have had bad style. And I can appreciate good design when I see it, I’m just not equipped to make it or to really care for it. I love cooking, for example, but I don’t care about plating. I like a practical kitchen that’s intuitive to use, but it doesn’t have to look nice. I want food that tastes good, not food that looks nice (sometimes those coincide, of course). I want an all-butter pie crust because it’s delicious, even if it’s more temperamental to shape than a pie crust that has shortening added to it. All of this to say, I am grateful that I have long bookshelves, but mainly because I can organize my books better, not because they look great (and they do).

I think I’m unique in that way. I think a lot of notice spaces, like tactile engagement, and want to connect with things physically. I’m working on developing those characteristics so that I don’t express my need for the physical in perverse ways (like a promiscuous sex life or eating two pints of ice cream or something).

I am convicted to do this not just because it makes me a more balanced or healthy person, but rather because I think I experience the world and God in new ways when I pay attention to the physical, created reality around me and don’t just focus on the abstract, which I am prone to do.

We should go back to reading the newspaper in our hands

This “condition” of focusing on the non-physical is made even more manifest in our digital age. I remember I used to buy records on vinyl in college. I loved my record player. I love analog music; the idea that the music was literally etched onto the record was appealing to me. Eventually, though, I started downloading music. I experienced a loss in the change of medium there. Interestingly enough, I moved from music that was on my hard drive to music that was coming from a streaming service. Now I needed an Internet connection to listen to music. That seemed even more distant and without grounding. That little experience though actually has philosophical and cosmic value.

I’ll give you another example. And this one is what inspired the post. I love newspapers. I studied them in high school and college, and wrote for a few school papers too. I actually browse front pages across the country as a hobby. I love seeing the design. I love seeing the decision-making. I love seeing what the editors decide is worthy for being above-the-fold. I love looking at the big papers that lead the entire national discourse in a sense. What they put on their front pages leads the country. It’s fascinating, and I’m probably romanticizing it too much. But reading the news online versus in your newspaper-stained hand is much different. That tactile presence means something to me.

On Twitter the other day, I argued that it actually might bring some authority and trust back to the media if we went back to holding broadsheet newspapers. That might be idealistic. But there is so much content online, it’s no wonder that people don’t trust it and call it fake news. Our newsfeeds are hacked and catered to us and to what we want to see. The newspaper, especially in a for-profit media economy, is not without its flaws, but it is less corruptible at least. Some of my friends on Twitter agreed, but others thought they’d never have time to read or learn to fold a paper. I respect that, too. My love of newspapers is probably a little extra (pun intended).

Faith is best flesh-to-flesh, like many things

But I do think I’m on to something regarding physicality and tangibility. We trust more face-to-face. We connect more in person. We love better when we see each other. We connect more intimately together. Sex through a screen can’t beat the real thing. Disembodied experiences are emptying. We have an embodied and an enacted faith. We sometimes call it incarnational. We model it after our Incarnate Lord, who came to us in the form of a person, to relate and connect.

We express that relation and connection in our community. We mimic our Incarnate Lord by being incarnate ourselves. Our faith needs to be enacted to be realized. It needs be tangible to be believable. Our belief needs to be more than abstract. Our convictions need to be more than thoughts. If we aren’t being Christians and doing the Word and following Jesus, I think we’re missing the point. You might think you have to be the smartest person, the best orator, the most convincing leader to help someone follow Jesus. But I think it’s much simpler than that, but that isn’t necessarily easy to say. We have to be the Body of Christ, something that we can consciously experience and touch in order to help people follow Jesus. Coming to a Sunday meeting is simple enough to experience that. (That’s not rhetorical, by the way.)

Oddly enough, I arrived at this point once more when I thought about how I love newspapers. I want to keep deepening my incarnational desire by paying attention to my surroundings and paying attention to my environment. I want to keep opening my eyes, to see God in the physical, and not just in the cerebral, where I normally am comfortable.

I wonder what your passions and interests can hold for you? What mystery will the desire that God gives you, as you delighted in God’s heart, unlock? How will you move closer? Maybe it’ll start with pie crust for you, too.

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