How many people have you had over to eat in the last two weeks? Or, if you're an introvert, the last four weeks?
Yeah. If you haven't, you're not alone.
Have you given any thought to why?
The human brain is wired to need social connection, but getting people together is a tough job. We're wired with lots of needs and connection is one of them. We need social connection just like we need food and sleep. Food and sleep both require their own share of work, but they are very loud needs and motivate us directly. Shopping and cooking are mildly painful experiences for most of us, so we pay good money to have other people do it. Many of us wish we loved cooking, but most of us simply tolerate it because being hungry is worse.
Eating is easier! We didn't become the most overweight nation ever by hating the eating part of the equation. No, eating is the pleasure while cooking is the pain, and hunger is the bridge between the two. The pleasure of eating might convince some of us to cook, and the desire for energy and health might persuade others, but hunger is the first alarm system and almost all of us find hunger persuasive.
Imagine your life without hunger. Imagine you still needed food, but you would never feel hungry again. I'd probably still cook the occasional special meal or maybe enjoy my favorite food once in a while, but there's no chance I'd eat enough of the boring foods that keep me going. I'd find myself losing weight. And soon I'd be losing too much weight. And eventually I'd lose so much weight my body would begin to fail. It would not take long before I'd wish I could be hungry again!
Ditto for sleep. We only stop the fun and lay our bodies down because tiredness is so intolerable. If we found ever a cure for feeling tired, we'd quit sleeping entirely. Soon we'd be suffering from inexplicable pains, poor judgment, and long term memory failure, but we wouldn't feel tired so at midnight we'd still be rearing to go. Midnight works great for curling up with those systematic theologies! Within a year or two we'd all be educated theologians. Or just maybe dead. We need sleep, and tiredness is the first alarm that tells us we're not getting enough sleep.
The feeling of hunger is different from our need to eat, and the feeling of tiredness is different from our need to sleep. If we were to cure the feeling without curing the need, we'd be in an awful fix.
I have the thought that the church is in such an awful fix because we've cured the feeling that once drove us to connect with each other.
It's hard to nail down exactly what that painful feeling might be, but we're not feeling it any more. I think of it as a mysterious mix of purposelessness, isolation, disconnection, and/or loneliness that once drove us to seek out relationship. Maybe we've lost the ability to clearly distinguish between all those feelings, but come 9:00 PM we sit down and "see what's on."
But we don't stay bored long.
At the first twinge of boredom, we surf our TV, Facebook, and the blogosphere. We've got DVD's, iPods, and XBoxes. We're IM chatting about youtube videos and Tweeting and Retweeting everything. Maybe the boomers shy away from Twitter and the teens hardly know what Network Television used to be, but together we unwind in front of channels, sites, videos and email before the pain of boredom has a chance to settle in.
We'd never try popping a No-doze every time we were tired or a Red Bull every time we were hungry, but we'll kick on the tube without a second thought. Give us 5 seconds without an entertaining idea, and the lure of easy entertainment ropes us in. We don't even have to be seduced any more. We'll set up auto-payment to our cable provider to make sure we have our fix. The scary thing is that advertisers pay entertainers very well to help us quit feeling our pain, so our entertainment is pretty cheap in the end.
But boredom is a blessing! We need more boredeom! Boredom is as important to our lives as hunger and tiredness, but entertainment painlessly melts boredom away. Oh sure, TV's not perfect. "There're 400 channels and nothing on," but maybe that's a sign of our problem. Perhaps we are so deprived of [something] that normal antidotes for boredom don't work any more. After a week or two without sleep, No-doze is worthless. What if normal entertainment loses its effectiveness when we're freakishly over-bored? Maybe we're so deeply bored we have to be twittering while watching a movie and planning the review we'll give it on Facebook to just feel normal?
To what might God have designed our boredom to drive us?
Hunger and tiredness drive us to nutrition and sleep. Red Bull can cure hunger and No-doze can cure tiredness, but neither can provide the things nutrition and sleep give us. We ought not to cure hunger or tiredness flippantly ... nor boredom. The objective of hunger is to drive us to prepare food and the objective of tiredness is to drive us to stop the fun and call it a night. What's the objective of boredom?
Our God created us to engage with life, to grab hold of its highs and lows, and to grapple with its possibilities. We were created to create. We are loved that we might love. We're steady so others might rely upon us through thick and thin. But the boredom that once drove us to engage life is systematically being anaesthetized. Entertainment is a huge industrial complex, and the most brilliant American minds are thinking and experimenting and sweating to make sure we're entertained as often and as deeply as possible. The promise of American advertising is that we need no longer suffer the painful labor of engaging with life, with each other, and with our own demons. We can check out a fun youtube video any time we need a break.
My problem is not with social media. I blog (obviously enough) and some day I'm going to Facebook (I see it coming, like a thunderstorm on the horizon.) A mature, spiritual, and complete person can engage with life and others using Twitter. My problem is I'm not mature, spiritual and complete. I'm human and easily drawn aside. Given a way to eat without the drag of cooking, which of us doesn't eat out too often? Given a chance to relax in front of the computer instead of shutting it down and going to bed, which of us doesn't blog a little bit longer? Given a chance to watch a movie a friend recommended instead of visiting them and listening to what's been happening in their life, which of us doesn't stretch out on the sofa?
The body of Christ is out there. You can reach out and touch your brothers and sisters - they need it. You can see their eyes light up or darken. You can hear the rhythms and intonations of their speech. You can smell their griefs in a hug. You can share a meal.
We are creations of this Earth, wired to engage with all 5 senses, not images alone. We were made to make and keep covenant with each other, to promise to be there for each other through thick and thin, and to seal that promise over roast beef and mashed potatoes.
Our brothers and sisters need meat and potatoes love from us. They need to see our eyes and feel the warmth of our skin when we say we'll be there for them. Promises on a screen vanish with a keystroke, and deep down those brothers and sisters know it. We know it, too. We need the same gift back from them, but getting and giving solid, earthy love is going to require the work of engagement from us. We're going to need to let ourselves be bored, and then let that boredom drive us to the work of connecting to the body of Christ.
If we're not careful, the church in America won't end with a bang, but with a punch line. We're long on jokes, but short on the ties that bind. Those ties require work, and eating together is a great place to start.