I contend that the church has submitted to information-delivery techniques that extract. How we learn and teach is stuck in a habit that perpetuates separation. In order to get at, isolate, codify and distribute spiritual information we’re damaging something in the process. The very way we execute the majority of our learning within the Church through the vehicles of sermons, Sunday schools, podcasts, 6 week courses and Bible Studies often does bolster extraction. Like Fracking, our mechanisms for delivering Spiritual Information leaves behind damage in the process; the character of Practice. Practice is left lifeless and inept. As with Fracking, we may efficiently lift information to the surface but do environmental harm on our social existence as the church. Our souls are impoverished because we consume calories of information but are isolated from local, faithful, practicing community. Our current unquestioned approaches to transferring spiritual information are brutal on the virtue of Practice.
Fracking is form of gas extraction. In the old days, a well was drilled straight down and gas was pumped up. Now to get at less accessible gas, wells are drilled thousands of feet down and then thousands more horizontally. Hydraulic fracturing pumps thousands of pounds of water, sand and chemicals down the well to fracture the rock that holds the gas. This extraction process boosts production, migrating natural gas and petroleum to the well. For all that is gained in Fracking there is a growing chorus of people exposing the environmental impact. No one contests how productive Fracking is for extracting gas, it is exceptionally productive. What is being pointed out is that the process leaves behind damage. Whatever your opinions on Fracking are, they are irrelevant for what I’m poking at. The greater question I want to ask is “What does Extracted Learning do?” Often our celebration in extraction revolves around what is gained, pulled to the surface. Extraction always profits us something yet leaves behind something in the aftermath.
The Damage on Practice
How We Learn
Practice is the inner quality of being formed and informed by the bumps, bruises and baptism of application. Practice is at the soul of being a Jesus-follower but more so it becomes the material for credibility as the People of God. James 1:22 — “But be people who live out the truth, not people who merely receive it and fool themselves. When you do this you are like a person who looks in the mirror, walk away, and then forget what they look like.” The future of the Church must re-calibrate how we learn, understanding that we are shaped by the techniques we employ. The methods we implement for maturing as Jesus-followers either lead to increasing integrity in our practice or lead to an increasing in-authenticity in our practice. When it comes to education, theology and personal betterment more and more of our learning processes perpetuate extraction, removal from habitation, in order to acquire the desired information.
Information and Immersion
Divorcing information from immersion is something I bump into regularly. It is all around us but we’re acculturated to it. A few years back my wife and I went through a 3 month adoption training course to get our adoption qualifications. I was taken aback when I asked our certified instructor his experience about a very specific family challenge that went beyond the written training material. His reply was “I’ve never had a child in my home, not sure I’m cut out for that”. Now I’m cool with his choice about not having children but it was hard for my wife and I not to wince. Why wasn’t this odd to anyone else? How can one be an expert in Family Therapy without ever being tested by the real life challenges? I was sitting under an expert who never touched and grappled with the information in the real world. It has become normal to separate the spiritual information we store up from actualization locally. This used to be called hypocrisy but now it’s simply the way in which we carry around and sometimes sling around the information we’ve collected in our mental folders.
We can be proclaimed experts without immersion. It seems like never before we are more inflamed or convinced about some theology, new idea or cause that is less sourced from what is happening on the ground in our local places and more from what provocative story we read on-line, what blog we recently devoured, what book we just inhaled or what podcast we just downloaded. We are fascinated with what we can discover that will boost our enlightenment or boil our blood. Only in an information-based society can Christian author’s write from a place of ideation rather than a place of practice. At times I’m lured into the lie that I can be an expert on something because I’ve had information-intake on a specific matter. Peter Senge in his book the Fifth Discipline unpacks our fixation on becoming experts — “Being an expert gives us power and prosperity over our peers.” We secure our strength in our societal cosmos when we have more accumulated intelligence in our head than anyone else. This knowledge offers an expert-delusion that we are not vulnerable to making the unenlightened errors others will. We fear ignorance, ignorance is our enemy. In no previous time has there been such a fire-hose, keg-like binging on information. We are rabid about acquiring information but at what cost? A great divorce has been filed between information and immersion. This separation propels the opinionated milieu we find ourselves in and presumes we are transformed because we’re informed.
What needs to change in our churches and spiritual living to close the gap between information and immersion?