So often, I hear claims from people advocating for responsible use of fossil fuels and those who are pursuing advances in clean energy that somehow we will develop better technology and that will take care of many issues we have created in our environment. While I support the pursuit of cleaner energy sources, I’m not convinced. I wonder if it is a cover-up which is only another way of us trying to convince ourselves that we can go on with life as usual as long as we tweak one or two things. It’s also a way of saying that technology will “save” us.
In his book From Good to Great, James Collins writes about the mechanisms which take “good” organizations which tend to thrive under charismatic leadership into “great” organizations. Sometimes, we may think technology is the way a big change happens in an organization. While technology can bring in some changes in an organization, the fundamental shift, Collins asserts, is a shift in the underlying culture first. Building a culture of leadership at all levels of an organization is foundational for becoming “great.” The role of technology comes later as an accelerant to what is already there.
Many congregations and ministry programs have had to embrace more technological tools alongside of many other organizations during this time. This website is one of those new tech tools, for one thing. ZOOM, Facebook Live, Youtube Live, how to hold a camera, how to edit a video, how to record something well have all become a part of ministry vocabulary as we strive to hold spaces for Sabbath. During this time when technology is permeating deep spaces of our lives, I am wondering:
What is being accelerated?
Ideally, we would see great kindness, acts of mercy and compassion, an unbound love for God and neighbor hitting warp speed through technology. We would perceive God’s call perhaps more clearly or more often. We might have witnessed immense levels of participation in studying the word, serving the neighbor, or offering prayerful support.
Sadly, this is not the whole story of what I witness being accelerated through technology during this time. I am witnessing an accelerated amount of media coverage which speaks to what I already believe about the world. I am aware that several questions about Jesus, God, prayer, and scripture have been asked on Google, but only at a safe distance which allows for a higher degree of subjectivity and personal opinion over discernment. I am seeing more people fall into a religious consumerism, myself included, as we have more sophisticated spiritual virtual products “out there” nowadays. In all of this, it seems technology has become the means to accelerate that which is comfortable and entrapping.
Last Sunday, our congregation heard a reading from John 8:31-36 about how the truth will make us free. Not technology-truth. This is a big concept in the gospel of John where Jesus makes the claim to be “the way, truth and life” and where Pontius Pilate later asks Jesus “What is truth?” Truth, in Ancient Greek, is a compound word meaning “non-concealed, non-oblivioned, or non-forgotten.” Truth was a philosophical pursuit. Today, we may imagine such a statement to mean it was up to the academics to solve the world’s problems from their armchairs in a removed setting. In the ancient world, it meant that people, some learned and some not so much, were debating in every facet of life. If we import these meanings of truth into the gospel of John, then we find we are not in a removed search of post-Enlightenment series of factual information. Truth is in pursuit of what is concealed or forgotten for the expansion of our collective wisdom for our everyday engagement. For Jesus to lay claim to truth isn’t to say that Jesus is the endpoint of our faith journey, but an opening up into what God’s hopes might be for our world today.
Technology, then, in the way that it is used to accelerate whatever is comfortable, will not “save” us. It will not be the miracle mechanism by which we become righteous people. It is revealing and will continue revealing, however, what our priorities are. Are we accelerating what is truthful, building up, or reconciling? Are we accelerating systems of greed, delusion, and harm? What are we accelerating when we hit the “like” button? What is accelerated by that Youtube video? We should pay attention to technology, but ultimately technology itself is not where our trust – a heartfelt allegiance to that which is truthful – belongs.