Saturday, February 18, 2006

Vicarious Experience

Out of touch. The church is often accused of being out of touch with reality, with "people today," with the problems and challenges of contemporary living. True, on all 3 counts. The church often uses theology and especially soteriology to escape from what's really going on.

But, we aren't the only ones. (Yeah, cheap shot, but hold on.) Contemporary society is divorced from its essential elements as well. Instead of having an actual hearth fire in my home, we have a gas fire. Though my village is surrounded by farms, I have actually no idea how to even begin growing grain or anything else. My water comes out of a tap, into a filtering pitcher before I drink it: I don't bring it in from the stream or well. And we won't even talk about television or the internet.

In the words of one of my colleages, we've substituted elemental experience for vicarious experience. We don't actually do much of anything. I can't remember the reference, but there's a story in which one character asks another "What do you make?" And the second character starts talking about how he's an investment broker, generating capital...and the first cuts him off, pressing the point--but what do you make? What do you actually do? Even the musically inclined among us are more apt to listen to their iPod than pick up an actual musical instrument like a flute or violin.

Marxist critiques of capitalism suggest that the workers are dehumanized because they become disassociated from the things they actually produce. This phenomena is made manifest today at the opposited end: consumers are disassociated from the creation of the products they consume.

We're out of touch with our faith because we're out of touch with real life: growing, breathing, sweating, bleeding, really alive life. At root, that's why bread and wine, water and oil don't connect with us: because we don't bake our own bread (much less grow our own grain), draw our own water, press our own grapes for wine or oil. Or any one of those. Or any one of the other things that nurture our common life.

To steal Ted Smith's phrase, are we merely engaged in "manic pseudo-activity" or are we actually engaged in constructive, life-giving activity?

What do you do?