Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Empty Rituals

This last weekend we drove down to Oklahoma City for my wife's college graduation. I'm greatly proud of her accomplishments and her success.

But I was attending this graduation and started thinking about something. Here we had this enormous ritual that has been largely unchanged for countless years. While it is tremendously meaningful for the participants, and it is a great moment of pride for their families and friends, I couldn't help but think that things like these have become a little culturally irrelevant.

Here's what I mean: the whole time the graduation was going on, people were talking. And they weren't just politely whispering to each other...they were talking out loud. The same thing happened at another graduation I recently attended.

Now, it's not just ritualistic moments like these this happens at. I was incredibly frustrated with other parents at my kids' school Christmas program...parents with no manners at all. And I frequently leave movie theaters demanding refunds for being unable to pay attention for all the commotion. But that's an issue of evaporating cultural manners.

But the graduation was a whole other thing. Yes, the evaporation of manners was part of the issue. But so was, I think, a lack of cultural relevance.

When what your institution is doing becomes little more than background noise, it's time to question your relevance. When your culturally viewable rituals become so irrelevant that people talk all the way through them, it's time to pay attention. There was a time when people sat through these things respectfully. That was a time when things like this were meaningful, they were important. They were seen as moments that shaped the future for everyone, even those not directly involved. But when the ritual is little more than the pre-party warmup, or the thing we "have to sit through" before the fun starts, it's obvious that it's no long seen as something that shapes our collective future.

So what about the church?

Have we become so irrelevant that we're little more than background noise?
Are our rituals so empty there's nothing worth paying attention to?

How do we present our message in such a way that people stop, listen, and think about?
How do we do so in a way that people see the collective future of ALL humanity at stake?

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