On a school field trip, band trip, youth group retreat or road trip in college, there was always the need to stop for food. I know that when I was driving my car full of fellow travelers I would look for the sunny yellow golden arches or the Burger King sign. Inevitably we would find them together. Sometimes across the street from each other – usually sharing a parking lot.
I could never figure out why they would do this – split their business in this way. Then a friend suggested to me that their sales actually increased. It was those buses: large buses of school kids with teachers not having to decide only on McDonalds or only on Burger King. If one of the fast-food chains stood independent from another it would often get passed by for those in a cluster that could cater to the individual tastes found in a large group or even among family members sharing a car.
Now it is clear that this phenomenon has had additional effects (to the benefit of the fast-food franchises). The question during the meal now has sufficiently been changed in fast-food nations from “Where should we stop for dinner?” to “Do you want a BigMac or a Whopper?” It is a triumph of the marketing industry that an eight-year old is allowed to run to the KFC while his parents sit down for a Subway and such an arrangement is not questioned.
I contend that actually agreeing on where to have dinner requires much more capacity to relate to others than parking in a lot shared by Subway, Burger King, KFC and McDonalds and sending everyone their own way. Both actions get people fed but what is lost in the process?
It must be admitted that these same trends can be seen in the church (not to mention every other facet of our lives). Trinity Broadcasting Network, the notion of “church shopping,” the standard way we consume in-formation in the church pew while struggling to take seriously a trans-formation of whole communities are a few examples. A professor friend of mine tells the story of a church that bought an old movie mega-plex and then, using only one of the theaters for their service, rented out the rest of the theaters to other churches.
Erika’s family has a small lake cabin that has been handed down from generation to generation. The lake population has grown over the years and while some growth is due to new people coming to the lake a significant portion has been the building of cabins to accommodate the growing families. Now, instead of the grandparents owning a cabin and welcoming in the whole family, each sibling has their own. This solves space issues, usage issues, and ownership issues by simply giving everyone the convenience of having their own autonomous space. But a significant underlying issue is the removal of the need to relate.
What I have admired about Erika’s extended family is that they get together to work through the calendar for the summer. Who’s coming when? How can we make sure all the cousins and siblings get together? What will our food needs be? Who can help where? In doing this they both practice and, as their children age and join the meeting, pass down the ability to relate.
If it is true that being Christ-like is at the least about the way we relate to each other, and society as a whole is quickly removing all encounters that require anything more than depth-less and commercial contact, is it any wonder that the gospel of Jesus Christ is seen as irrelevant?
Michael Budde in The (Magic) Kingdom of God offers us this thought to wrestle with:
“What is at risk is not any particular interpretation of the gospel or the tradition of the church but the capacity to think, imagine, feel, and experience in ways formed by the Christian story.”