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…
I’ve decided that life is like my refrigerator…
I hate cleaning my refrigerator. I usually clean it at the point that shame (at my messy refrigerator) outweighs my dislike for the chore. I don’t even understand how refrigerators get so dirty… except that my mom always said I was a really sloppy cook. I cleaned my refrigerator yesterday because a friend is dog sitting this weekend and I didn’t want her to see my dirty refrigerator… OK, it’s that shame thing again.
The primary reason I hate cleaning my refrigerator (aside from the fact that I always spill water on my shirt and my kitchen floor during the process) is that I can never get the shelves and drawers back correctly in exactly the same configuration as I began with. It’s so frustrating. I don’t know how someone with a higher education can be completely thrawted and utterly defeated by a refrigerator… but my defeat is pretty consistent. Until last night! Last evening I managed to clean the entire refrigerator, remove every drawer and shelf and get them all back in with ease. While one would think this accomplishment would fill me with joy, my response is one of utter disgust. “Why?” you ask. Because in about six weeks, my refrigerator and I will part ways when I move out of my house. It will remain behind to gloat to its new owners of its roughly 10 and 1 record. (OK, I’ve anthropomorphized my refrigerator, but indulge me.)
It dawns on me that life is a little like my refrigerator. It seems that, just when I begin to feel like I am really catching on to something – really understanding how all of the pieces fit together – it is time to move on. When I arrived at Castleton three years ago, one of my primary tasks (actually the only one that has remained consistent since day one!) was to focus on developing small groups. I’d had some success beginning a small group ministry at my church in Gary. But now, three years later, I realize how little I knew and how much of those first several months involved floundering and fumbling. Over the past two years, mountains of books, conversations, research, etc. have taught me so much about effective small group discipleship. And here it is: time to move on.
I once had a supervisor who assessed that I “like things a little edgey.” By that I think she meant I enjoy a good challenge… although sometimes I’ve wound up biting off more than I can chew. And yet, I suspect she’s right. Life is continually changing and, without those new challenges, think of how bored we’d all be.
In this Easter season, I wonder sometimes why it is that – of all the benefits we’ve received through Jesus – we talk so little about the blessing of becoming part of God’s family. Now, I don’t want to downplay benefits like forgiveness of our sins and eternal life. But I can’t help but wonder: Do people who don’t consider themselves religious really think much in terms of sin and holiness? I’m sure they think about right and wrong, but “sin” seems like an awfully “churchy” kind of word. And, as for eternal life, I once had a friend tell me that the thought of living forever in some “form” that couldn’t be clearly described or defined, just seemed freaky and a little scary!
But I think all of us can relate to the idea of family… even if our primary reference is one of a dysfunctional family. And, when family is dysfunctional, I think somehow, somewhere down deep, we know it isn’t right and we long for a healthier experience of family.
In John’s gospel, right in the introduction, we’re told that, by trusting in Jesus, we become “children of God” (John 1.12). And, on Easter morning, when Jesus talks to Mary in the garden, he tells her to “go to my brothers” [the disciples] to tell them, “I’m ascending [up to heaven] to my Father and your Father…” (John 20.17). Over and over again, scripture reminds us that trusting in Jesus makes us part of God’s family; which means it makes us part of one another.
When I pastored in Gary, I had eye surgery. It turned out to be a way bigger deal than the surgeon told me it would be. For the first week, my eyes were stitched almost all the way shut! My sister in Pennsylvania couldn’t drop everything, drive nine hours, and come take care of me. But, my church family did. They took turns. They’d sit with me when my husband had to go to work. They brought me groceries and cooked for me. They even brought over dog food (for the dogs, not me!). Since I could hardly see, one even read to me from bible commentaries… although I do think she got a kick out of inventing crazy pronunciations of technical bible study terms.
Family – when it’s functional, when it works like it should – are the people who take care of us, help us, and make sacrifices for us. If and when Church is that kind of family, why don’t we talk about it more?
I’m gonna try and talk about it more this Sunday…