Helpful Tidbits for Organic Church Life                                                  June 1, 2009
The Globalization of Nothing
My Reflections
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Saturn_SUVIn 1996 I bought a brand new Saturn. I distinctly remember opening the trunk to check out the car's rear speaker system. To my surprise, none of the wires were soldered. Instead, the wires were connected by little connecty things (a technical term) that allowed for easy assembly. I then looked under the hood. Same thing. It was if the whole car could have been put together by robots.
What I observed in my new Saturn was indicative of a then-emerging global phenomenon. It's called the rationalization of systems and it has affected everything from how we shop, to how we understand each other, to how we understand church.

QUESTION/TOPIC IN FOCUS: The globalization of nothing and its effect on the church.

The Globalization of Nothing
Excerpted from The Globalization of Nothing by George Ritzer
RitzerNote: "Nothing" refers to a social form that is generally centrally conceived, controlled, and comparatively devoid of distinctive substantive content.
A powerful illustration of the various types of nothing is to be found in the movie, One Hour Photo (2002). Robin Williams plays Si Parrish, the operator of a one-hour photo lab within the confines of a fictitious "big-box" store named Sav-Mart (a thinly disguised send-up of Wal-Mart). The Sav-Mart store is clearly depicted in the movie as nothing.
Employees who operate the one-hour photo stand (and Sav-Mart more generally) are expected to be non-persons. The make-up, the nondescript clothes, the shoes that squeak when Si walks the store aisles, and his unassertive and affect-less demeanor all combine to make it seem as if Si Parrish is the ideal non-person required of his position. Si has worked at the photo stand for a long time; he is virtually a fixture there. He is expected to interact with his customers rapidly and impersonally. This is made abundantly clear in the uncomfortable reactions of customers when Si deviates from being the ideal non-person by attempting to interact with them in a more personal matter (2004:10).
My Reflections 
Note: Since the below deals mostly with theory, I promise to write a "So what?" and/or a "What can we do about it?" response next time.
In often genuine efforts to keep the church relevant (i.e., "not boring") to the average consumer, much of mainline Protestantism has succumbed to rationalizing systems. In some instances, rationalized systems make perfect sense. Non-places like Starbucks and McDonald's, for example, do an exceptional job at keeping costs relatively low and quality at a consumable level. Unfortunately, however, like the story of Si in the excerpt above, propagators of nothingness turn people and spaces into no-things. In short, rationalized systems dehumanize (some even say, "does violence").
Two noteworthy theorists, Jurgen Habermas and Paulo Freire, have addressed such issues. Habermas, a German philosopher and sociologist, contends that much of what ails societies is a de-coupling of one's inner life (lifeworld) from the particular system(s) in which one operates. When this happens, the system becomes "de-legitimized." To translate for our purposes, the thing we call "church" (however one defines it) loses its power to the degree the people who make up the church lose their ability to communicate with each other in a way that promotes truthfulness, honesty, and justice.
Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educationalist, looked at the same issue from a pedagogical (educational) perspective. At the core, Freire contended that we should educate in such a way as to bring about a "critical consciousness" in people. Again translating, Freire brought to light the huge gap between dispensing information (our current mode of education, largely lecture-centric) and creating environments facilitating rich dialogue.
The point here is that Jesus masterfully created discipling environments promoting somethingness among his disciples. Thomas Groome refers to this as "shared praxis": that is, a dialogical environment where the people of God imagine together what a community faithful to the biblical narrative might look like.
Hope this was of some benefit to you.

Traver Dougherty
The Banqueting Table