Have it Your Way

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.”


  1. My family has a lake house as well … though ours is in Vermont. There’s a long tradition in our community of passing the house down through the generations, but in our community, there is no room for adding houses. So as the families grow so must the capacity for relating to one another. It’s very interesting to see how those trails have developed in the different families.

  2. Yeah, at our lake it is sometimes that family members just acquire other people’s cabins, though there is still some room to build. I like that Doug used the cabin image because for those of us who have been fortunate to have such a place in our lives, we can totally relate to the challenges that come with growth, new generations, etc. and I think there are great parallels with how we handle change and growth in the church. It is easier to just split off and do your own thing (which is why we have so many mono-generational churches out there where preference/choice collects a bunch of the same people together).

    Doug said something that a prof said in class recently: you are not a community unless you have at least three generations present. There is much that comes with that ability to relate across those differences, and this is lost, as Doug suggests, in a world where we are encouraged to build our own little kingdoms of choice and preference.

  3. Nice post.
    Coffee shops have prospered simply by waiting until Starbucks comes in and then locating as close as possible to that Starbucks.

    Yes, the WAY we do things: interact with family, worship God, care for others, etc., does in fact matter.

    The individualization of America means that it’s not unusual for families to eat at 4 different places during a road trip pit stop…the eateries are all clustered on the exits to help that.

    “not a community unless you have 3 generations present”…that’s the best definition of community I’ve ever seen, anywhere.

  4. Thank you everyone for your additions to this conversation. I would love to hear stories of how your churches/faith communities are passing along the practice of daily faith (not just the structure of church life years past).

    If you haven’t had a chance, click over to John Page’s blog and read his most recent post. He pushes on some buttons for sure and gives some good food for thought.

    Brad, I have read the book. Very weighty and full of transformational perspective. This post started at almost 4 pages (most of it from his book and the Center for Parish Development articles). It took me forever to whittle it down (Thanks Erika for your help!).

  5. Thanks Douglas, I have added it to my wish list. At $35 I think I will try to run it down at one of the local seminaries before purchasing.

  6. Right, Brad. Tell me about it. I felt the $$ when I had to buy it. It’s kind of ironic, too, once you get into the book and see what he has to say about economics. Still, it is a must read. Here are some highlights that I left out of the post above regarding the sheer force of the “information transfer” kind of lifestyle we have accommodated. Again, while you can look at this in terms of the kind of information that is being transmitted across these lines it can get very depressing.

    What I am getting at, however, is that because of the sheer volume of time spent engaging in this kind of learning formation it is a powerful force and we must address the way it is changing not only what we learn but how we receive information and how we expect to receive information (the whole short attention span thing is just the starting point – even with that think of how long our teenagers can sit and play guitar hero…)

    • Persons in the United States are exposed to 16,000 commercial messages, symbols and reminders everyday (Leslie Savan The Sponsored Life 1994, pg 1).
    • North Americans spend between 20 – 33 percent of their waking lives watching television, the second most single waking-hour allotment of time behind the average worker week worker.
    (Jeremy Murray-Brown Video ergo sum. In Video Icons and Values 1991, pg 19)
    • Young people watch 20 – 25 hours of television per week, in addition to 20 hours per week of radio listening. (Reynolds Ekstrom, Consumerism and youth. In Media and Culture 1992, pg 135)
    • 2 – 5 year olds watch TV 4 hours/day on average; 6-11 year olds watch TV 3.5 hours/day on average (Michael Jacobson and Laurie Ann Mazur Marketing Madness: A Survival Guide for a Consumer Society 1993, p 22)
    • 1/3 of kids under 17 watch 5 hours or more of TV daily and the average child will log 19,000 to 24,000 hours of TV time before their 19th birthday (compared to approximately 12,000 hours of school for those who graduate high school)
    Adults average 3-4 hours of TV per day (Ekstrom, 1992, p 135)
    • Assuming a 75-year life span, today’s teenagers will spend 13 years watching TV, 3 of which will be just commercials. Children see 2 to 3 hours of TV ads per week, or about 40,000 television ads per year. (Jacobson and Mazur 1993, pg 41)
    • 41 pounds of junk mail per adult per year; telemarketing that reaches 18 million people per day and there are millions of on the street ads such as billboards, signposts, etc (federal highways alone have 425,000 – Jacobson and Mazur 1995, pg 123, 127, 133) – All of these are found in Michael Budde The (Magic) Kingdom of God pp. 73-74, 81.

  7. Thanks for the hype to my blog, Douglas, it’s at http://www.godthoughts.net

    16,000 messages of some type or another every day? Gee whiz That’s insane! And we expect 20 minutes of a message/sermon once a week is going to break through all that clutter? Whew!

  8. Masaki, thanks for jumping in. I look forward to chewing on this with you in the coming future!

    John and Brad, thanks for coming back. John, people know they can get to your blog by clicking your name. Way to add to the 16,000 marketing messages for somebody today ;-).

    My concern, and this is where Budde’s book is so helpful, is what does it even mean to be counter-cultural in our present setting. We do not ask for the 16,000 messages/symbols, etc per day. They are on our clothes, our cars, our buses, billboards, etc. It is that 5 second commercial jingle that is stuck in your head. It can’t be that the only response is to close our eyes and cover our ears. Nor can the response be TBN and a full-on buying into the methodology discussed above. TBN, bless their souls, might “fill the airways” with better content (arguably) than say Fox Prime Time but the problem of a lack of communal activity remains.

    How shall the church, the whole body of Christ, regain identity making in a way that can stand against this present force?

  9. Whoa … time slipped by and I’m just now getting a chance to come back to this conversation.

    I love the idea that it takes 3 generations to make a community. Every summer we make the effort to spend a weekend that includes both of my brothers and their wives and children and my parents at the lake. It’s crowded and cramped and people get snippy with each other. We make dinner plans and breakfast plans. It irritates my husband to no end that people just grab food and eat at breakfast. His family has many more rules for dining. There are pancake competitions some years (unspoken) and lots of laughter.

    I think it’s important for our children to participate in those sorts of family gatherings. The kind that take place over days staying together. Where burrs get under your saddle, but you still love each other. Where you don’t get to have everything your way and compromise is the name of the game. So they begin to understand that making compromises isn’t the end of the world, and having a disagreement with someone doesn’t mean you no longer love them.

    There’s something wonderful for kids too, when they hear, “I’ve known you your whole life and ….” That speaks love into their lives in ways that I think we’ve forgotten.

  10. I just caught this article (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google) in the Atlantic, titled: Is Google Making Us Stupid?, and this quote brought to mind this conversation, especially the statistics Doug offers above:

    “For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded…But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

  11. Sonja,

    Thanks for coming back. I love your last line “I’ve know you for years.” When I think of that regarding my faith journey I have been left to have a very individualistic view of God knowing me for years but the Body of Christ I have experienced has changed so many times I can’t count them. What would it look like to make the decision to build life, work, play, etc around our family and family of faith? It would be a good exercise for us to imagine the differences of life if not only our family but our church family could say “you are known!”. I see that kind of language coming up regularly in the way God interacts with his people. What would it look like if our sense of God knowing us didn’t embolden our individual relationship with God but was mediated through a community who has known us and been know by us for years?

    Erika, thanks for the addition. The quote is a great exclamation point to the conversation. Particularly the line about “chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation” and the “swiftly moving stream of particles” part. Dang. Thanks for finding and sharing this!

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