About a week ago my friend Bill Berry – we’d collaborated on Meanderings back in the early days of the web – and a long post on his Facebook page describing his and his wife’s search for a church. He wanted where the style of worship was like what he’d grown up with in Newark in the middle of the previous century. They weren’t having much success, and that saddened him. I posted a response to his Facebook page. It opens with a quote from his post:
That’s the thing. Style of worship is very particular and important. I was looking for what I had, what I walked away from, and couldn’t find it, probably because it didn’t exist any longer. Maybe it exists only in my head?
I think I can understand that. I don't know what you grew up with, but I'm pretty sure it isn't what I grew up with in suburban Western Pennsylvania. It was a Lutheran church and the people and the style where white. I can remember one Christmas service when I took it on myself to get a little enthusiastic and threw some variations into one of the hymns. People looked at me like I was doing something wrong, committing some kind of sin, you know, “Thou shalt not be enthusiastic in your worship of the Lord because then you might enjoy it and the Lord does not want you to enjoy anything, ever, certainly not singing his praises.”
Whatever it is you had growing up, I think we all need and want it, the style, the community. But how do you separate those things from the dismaying doctrine that so often accompanies them? A good friend of mine has been involved with his local Unitarian Church for years, in fact he's now executive director of the church, he told me – at about the time I'd been to that church service I told you about – that some Unitarian ministers were interested in Black vernacular preaching. Now as you know, Unitarians tend toward the cerebral and austere in doctrine and style, so for Unitarians to be hungering from some down home preaching, that's saying something.
But I think somehow that we as a society have to find a way to get there because otherwise we are not going to be able to get through the trying times ahead. I mean, let’s get real, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are not going to save us with their rockets. Bezos has figured out how to deliver cheap goods to us while exploiting his workers and business partners. Musk has given us the electric car, which is a good thing, but he's loony tunes on this Vulcan mind-meld neuro-technology. And hyperloop? That's mostly loopy hype.
Rockets are not the road to salvation. And salvation is what we need. You know what, we'll settle for some good songs that promise salvation. That will somehow get us through the darkness.
Who is trying to envision a future that isn’t centered on super-wonderful technology? We know how to do that, envision more and better technology. That will come. But there’s more to a better life than better technology. Does anyone know how to envision richer fuller lives for more people, richer and fuller because they are more meaningful, more soulful, more spiritual?