Creating formative spaces
We can't tech our way out of the problems of tech.
Hey readers, hope this finds you well.
Lately, I’ve been reading a book by Andy Crouch called The Life We're Looking For. In this text, Crouch is exploring the way that we as a western society are at an objective level living in a time when an individual human can flourish more than at most other points in human history, and yet how we are more anxious and disconnected than ever. The book itself is powerful, and I highly recommend it.
As I read, I like to find podcasts and other content from the author that can help me frame what I’m reading, and I came across an episode of the podcast Mere Fidelity where they interview Crouch.
As the episode draws to a close, one of the hosts asks a broad question about how we can better contain our technologies in their proper place to allow for a more humanized world. Discussion ensues, and at about the 48:25 mark, one of the hosts begins to ask a question about what local churches should be doing to model appropriate engagement with technology.
Croch’s response, while obviously offering a pattern that a church leader could follow, I think is helpful and insightful for us all:
I would probably build it around meals… I would build it around above all feasts, that is heightened meals…1
Crouch elaborates on how in his home, he gathers people around a wood burning stove, which serves as a focal point of his gatherings. This focal point has an effect of channeling the spirit of the conversation in a way that’s impossible in Crouch’s reckoning with the user of technology:
Things happen in front of the stove, that don’t happen anywhere else, in front of the fire. And, in our home, one of the big changes we made was to turn off the lights at dinner time, and light candles. And so, if you make, make a meal, make it together… then sit down as a community, light the candles, sit there for longer than you normally would, get past… the seven-minute mark in conversations, where, up to seven minutes, we can make small talk, after seven minutes, somebody has to take a risk and ask a question they don’t know the answer to or volunteer something vulnerable and see where that goes. Because.. at the formative core of our lives, and that’s what home and church, as well as school, need to be about, I just don’t know that I believe there’s a way to “tech” our way through this. I think it’s inviting people into something deeper and better, more focal.2
It’s perhaps a bit ironic given my background in media and communication, but I am very sympathetic to the “we can’t tech our way out of this” argument. The necessity of a focal point, whether that be a place, culture, faith, or other thing we choose to gather around is essential in my view for anything of meaning to develop. Technology can be used as a tool to aid in that gathering, but it can’t be a replacement for it.
So my question for you today: How can you create intentional opportunities to gather around a point of focus, and then channel that energy into the hard work of creating community?