How Quickly the Moment Passes

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When I should have been in a session during Annual Conference this weekend, I decided to go to the movies instead!  Our conference was able to preview a movie that Group Publishing will release sometime this fall.  Called “When God Left the Building,” it’s a documentary about the decline of the American Church.  (OK, I didn’t say it was a happy movie!)

It looks at the state of a variety of churches in America – some thriving, some failing, some mainstream and some cutting edge.  But, the bulk of the film is focused on a dying church in upstate New York.  What makes the film especially interesting is that its producer (a life-long photographer) parallels the church’s story with that of the Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, NY.  The film maker interviews one of Kodak’s product engineers who, incidentally, created the first prototype of the modern digital camera!  But, the Kodak big shots weren’t impressed by the idea and so it was never pursued.

Many of us can remember the Kodak ad campaign that ran from 1950-1990:  The Kodak Moment.  Four decades is an awfully long time to run one ad campaign!  It became part of our vernacular.  We described sentimental occasions as “Kodak moments.”  At one point in the interview, the Kodak engineer expresses what we all could have figured out: that Kodak didn’t know what it was or what it should be.  He says something to the effect of, “Were we a film company, a chemical company, an image company?” 

I’m sure that everyone else in the room viewing the film with me was relieved that I didn’t blurt out what came immediately to my mind:  “You’re a Moment-Making Company!”  It’s your image!  It’s your slogan!  Why not live it? 

If Kodak’s goal had been to provide America with the means to capture the moments of their lives, I think they could have much more easily made the leap to digital photography.  When I was 11, my big sister graduated.  I wanted to capture that moment.  I took a picture with my camera, dropped off the film at the drug store and several days later, I had a moment captured forever.  Two weeks ago, when my husband graduated with his Ph.D., I took a picture with my phone.  I captured a moment so I could text, Tweet and FB it.  It was all about the moment.   

At another point in the film, the pastor of the dying congregation is asked to recite his church’s vision statement.  Neither he, nor any of his parishioners can do so!  There’s nothing uncommon about that. 

I think that, sometimes, churches struggle because they develop an image or persona (i.e. an ad campaign) that doesn’t match their vision or their reality.  And so we have conflicting messages; there’s inconsistency and confusion.  Lots of churches in America come up with slogans, vision statements, purpose statements, etc. that describe something awesome and worthy of pursuit.  But, like Kodak, we don’t always follow through.  We want catchy words and phrases that will capture people’s attention.  But if the words or phrase can’t be seen – or, if people don’t realize the power behind the words – it’s an empty and vain pursuit.

I wonder if Kodak ever realized that those “moments” were what the company was really all about.  Their capacity to empower all of us to capture joy, awe, goodness and beauty.  And isn’t that joy, that awe, that goodness, that beauty in life what we’re all trying to capture?  Now that Kodak has gone by the wayside, perhaps there’s an opening for another organization to reveal joy and awe and goodness and beauty…

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