The Problem of Plugging In

An article I wrote in January for my denomination’s magazine, The Covenant Companion, has been posted (as a PDF) online.  In “The Problem of Plugging In” I drew from a couple of Wendell Berry’s essays to discuss the power of metaphors and the way our language hinders or aids spiritual growth.

Your church has problems. So does mine. It takes little observation to know this is true; a quick glance around any congregation reveals challenges, mistakes, and disagreements. Those of us who have participated for any length of time in church life are not surprised by these problems. We may actually interpret our issues as evidence of God’s grace. After all, even our most complex problems are simply expressions of our own inadequacies and evidence of God’s loving and mysterious choice to include us in his redemptive mission.

But despite this silver lining, problems need solutions. Apathy about evangelism is a problem that needs a solution. Stunted spiritual growth is a problem that needs a solution. Anemic worship, stingy stewardship, racial divisions, shallow community, disinterest in justice, and disregard for prayer are all problems churches face that need solutions.

Again, there is nothing especially interesting about churches with problems; it’s the solutions—ministries, strategies, programs, and campaigns— that are noteworthy. Where do our solutions come from? What are the assumptions behind them? Are our members well served by the ways we address our problems?

In 1978 writer and farmer Wendell Berry began his essay “Agricultural Solutions for Agricultural Problems” with a discussion about the powerful ways our metaphors shape the solutions we seek. “It may turn out that the most powerful and the most destructive change of modern time has been a change in language: the rise of the image, or metaphor, of the machine.” This industrial metaphor, according to Berry, replaced language that was “biological, pastoral, agricultural, or familial.” He goes on to show how the industrial solutions favored by modern “agribusiness” can easily be traced back to a mechanical understanding of how the world works. This is a world of input, feedback, and efficiency.

Download the article to finish reading.

Author: David Swanson

Pastor of New Community Covenant Church in Bronzeville. Collecting signs of life.

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