For this guest post, we welcome Stephen Ingram, author of the new text Hollow Faith: How Andy Griffith, Facebook and the American Dream Neutered the Gospel. Stephen is the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL and is a lead consultant with Youth Ministry Architects.
“When we place precedent on certain times and places to interact, worship and be held accountable to God, we are compartmentalizing God yet again, and now we also compartmentalize God in our understandings of life and social issues, in both time and space.
It is incredible how the church, unknowingly, has raised so many people with the understanding that God has a cot and a pillow just above the choir loft.”
From Hollow Faith- Stephen Ingram
One of my favorite stories in the Hebrew Bible is the story of Moses and the burning bush. It is an incredible story of God’s impeccable style, power and limitless ability to step into our seemingly mundane existence. Moses, a wandering shepherd, is doing what he usually does: walking, herding, and probably being bored out of his mind. The narrative tells us that he was on the far side of the wilderness near Mount Horeb. Then the most mundane of practices, on the most mundane of days turned into something extraordinary. I love the phrasing of that moment in the story. It says that he saw that there was a fire and the bush was not being consumed, and then he looked and a voice began to speak to him.
Did you get that?
He SAW the fire… then he Looked… and heard the voice of God.
All around us, every day we see the world, but are we really looking? In her groundbreaking research, Ellen Langer, an author and Harvard Psychologist, writes about the phenomenon of not truly seeing and living in the world around us. She coins the answer to this living as “mindfulness” She writes:
“I think that people need to wake up and realize that basically we're - we've been sealed in unlived lives”
The idea is that we walk around in an existence where we do not really engage in the world but have turned on auto-pilot in order to get through our seemingly mundane existences. You have probably seen the videos where people are walking down a busy street on their morning commute and in their everydayness they fail to see the clown riding the unicycle juggling lit torches. We do the same thing everyday and we have taught our youth to unintentionally do this with God.
When we perpetuate the idea that the primary place where God is found is within the walls of the church, we teach students to turn off that “mindfulness” and turn on their spiritual auto-pilot. It is in the intentional process of mindful looking that we are more able to first see and then, as Moses, really look into the ordinary fire and find our extra-ordinary God.
My challenge is this: Stop having students believe that our God is relegated to chancels, pews and choir lofts and help them understand that we serve a God who brings significance to the most mundane and unlikely of places. Help our students walk with a mindfulness that finds God in the caves, on their iPods and in the songs of sparrows. Help our students realize that their God is all around them and that God is calling them to not simply see but to look.