Belonging to a Nation Small Enough
On Monday of this week Allen and I Skyped with Brandon, our good friend and Farm Church partner who is currently living in Singapore. As we move toward Farm Church’s first worship service and first seeds going in the ground, we’ve been committed to meeting together, even if one of us on the other side of the planet.
At one point during our conversation, we started working through a Google doc together. And as we were talking, we were making changes to the document – adding a line here, a word there. That’s when it hit us – that it was all happening in real time! No delay, buffering, no static. Just three guys talking and working on a project, and one of us happens to be about as far away from North Carolina as you can get.
Of course, people do this all the time. We weren’t experiencing anything new or particularly novel. It was sort of like flying in a plane, looking out the window, and then suddenly marveling at the crazy miracle of flight: “What?! Is this thing really flying?” Our technology can lull us into take-it-for-granted trance and we forget how wildly sophisticated it all is. So there we were, face to face with Brandon, updating a document, and forgetting, for a moment, the thousands of miles between us.
This all good, right? Yes! Of course it’s good. It’s amazing to be so connected – to experience the power of another’s presence even if they’re not immediately present. And yet I wonder sometimes if it’s just too easy. And by “easy” I mean that we have such unprecedented access to each other – instant access that can be granted to so many at such a constant rate (think Facebook, twitter, etc…) that we would do well to wonder, with whom on this planet am I truly present? With my best self, joys, and gifts, and all the shit—the bad habits, warts, farts, miseries, the pride and the shame… Where in the world do I get to show up and be real?
In his poem, “The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union,” Wendell Berry writes about a “nation small enough for a story or song to travel across in an hour.” That line has always spoken to me and caused me to wonder about a place where a story could find its way to every ear in an hour – where people long to tell each stories to begin with – where the joy of sharing a narrative with a neighbor is an appreciated art form – where stories spread quickly and purposefully, not because the stories themselves are particularly good, but because the people are so particularly attentive to each other.
A story may be viral, and it might flash across six continents in less than an hour, but that is a function of our technology, not our attentiveness. Don’t we long to belong to a place where our stories are told and retold, not because they matter, but because we matter?
Here in Durham (and in Singapore) on Monday, Brandon, Allen, and I were talking about just such a place. As we’ve envisioned Farm Church and as we look forward to its arriving and evolving, we long for a community of such intention and caring. We begin worship in just a few weeks – May 1st! And we wonder, what stories and songs will we share first? Who will show up with stories and songs of their own? And as we begin to cultivate it all, how will our narrative unfold? It fires the imagination to wonder, and to simply be grateful for it all.