I vividly remember my first Sunday as a Pastor.
I was on the platform being introduced to a sea of faces who were completely unfamiliar, and feeling more than a little overwhelmed.
The closest analogy I could find to explain the experience was a brand new colouring book, where you can see the outlines but none of the shades or shadows that bring those outlines to life.
Four and a half years later, the outlines had been filled in by experiences, conversations and stories. The faces had become people and the people had entered my heart.
Throughout the first three weeks of our new adventure with Citywide Baptist Church, I have remembered the early days at St. Albert, knowing that there is no shortcut to relationship building, and that gradually the outlines will be filled in here too. Already there have been a number of people I have come to see quite differently after spending a little time hearing their stories.
I wonder though, whether one of the real challenges facing the Christian church is that many of us live in world where the outlines remain just outlines and we live in a two dimensional world of our own making because we never take the time to get to know people beyond a superficial level.
There is little doubt that we live in a world that is increasingly polarised and where people have lots of online, but few real, friends. These are symptoms of living in a world of outlines rather than colours.
Getting to know people has never been simple, however I wonder whether modern technology has made it more difficult, or at least rarer.
Apparently, since the advent of smartphones, we have been less and less likely to pursue conversations beyond the first seven minutes of “safety” into the unknown that lies beyond that mark.
Author Sherry Turkle says:
It takes at least seven minutes to see how a conversation is going to unfold. You can’t go to your phone before those seven minutes are up. If the conversation goes quiet, you have to let it be. For conversation, like life, has silences — what some young people I interviewed called “the boring bits.” It is often in the moments when we stumble, hesitate and fall silent that we most reveal ourselves to one another.
In talking about her her book, Reclaiming Conversation, Turkle says:
Eighty-nine percent of Americans say that during their last social interaction, they took out a phone, and 82 percent said that it deteriorated the conversation they were in. Basically, we’re doing something that we know is hurting our interactions.
I’ll point to a study. If you put a cell phone into a social interaction, it does two things: First, it decreases the quality of what you talk about, because you talk about things where you wouldn’t mind being interrupted, which makes sense, and, secondly, it decreases the empathic connection that people feel toward each other.
Followers of Jesus are invited to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15). Implicit in this statement is the assumption that we know the people who are rejoicing and the people who are mourning. Increasingly we don’t, and that has to change.
If Dr. Turkle is right, and that the seven minute mark is a critical point in any conversation, I wonder whether you can join me in an effort to have at least one ten minute conversation a day that doesn’t involve an electronic device?
Apparently if we can do that, we might find ourselves living in a much more colourful world.