The Gospel According to Saint Google


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The world’s most popular search engine is a marvel of mathematics and algorithms.  Type just about anything into the search box on Google and the system will start providing type ahead options for what it thinks you are about to ask.  These options are based on the millions of searches that have been performed previously on the system and are there to help you refine what you are looking for and save you a few key strokes along the way.

When it comes to researching social stereotypes and societal perceptions nothing is more accurate that the Google search engine.  That’s why this article in Christianity Today was so interesting to me as a Christ-Follower.

“Church Stereotypes According To Google”

The number of times negative impressions of various Christian denominations came up is both sad and not surprising to me.  The terms “wrong”, “judgmental” and “cult” keep coming up time and time again.  I venture to say that it’s not just the atheists and agnostics that are driving these searches.  In fact I doubt it quite strongly.  I am willing to bet that the driving force behind most of these negative stereotypes is actually coming from competing Christian churches.  It’s a far cry from what John wrote would be the mark of Christians that’s for sure.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. [John 13:35]

In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed for the unity of the church that would follow.  When Christians search out other denominations with questions like “Why are Anglicans so wrong” it grieves out savior and gives a black mark to us all.

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. [John 17:20-23]

Dr. Greg Boyd of Woodland Hills Church in Saint Paul Minnesota and the author of several best-selling books including “Myth of a Christian Nation” and “The Benefit of the Doubt” said it best in a sermon not too long ago.  “The only opinion we are allowed to have about our fellow human beings is that God considers them valuable enough to die for.”

When so called Christians portray a contrary attitude is it any wonder that the church is struggling for relevance today?  David Kinnamen president of the research firm Barna Group put it this way in this book “unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters”

When outsiders claim that we are unChrisitian, it is a reflection of this jumbled (and predominantly negative) set of perceptions.  When they see Christians not acting like Jesus, they quickly conclude that the group deserves an unchristian label.  Like a corrupted computer file or a bad photocopy, Christianity, they say, is no longer in pure form, and so they reject it.

Just for fun I tested the Google algorithm by typing “they will know we are Christians by our love”.  I got 12 characters in before Google completed the phrase for me.  At least people are searching the right things, or maybe it’s because that’s the title of a popular hymn.  Who knows?

+1


So a few weeks ago Google opened up their new social media platform Google+ to the general public.  Up until then, in order to be a member you had to be invited in, now all you need to join is an existing Google account like a gmail address or you can just create a new account right there on the Google home page.  The result has been a huge spike in users of this new social media platform.

This has also spawned a new short form for our social media culture.  Over the past several months I’ve seen a number of people responding to posts on other social media platforms like twitter and facebook with simply “+1.”

In our instant messaging, 140 character world it’s a quick way to say “I agree”  or “me too” or “right on!”, or just give a kind of digital high five.  Many blogs, this one included contain the +1 icon at the bottom of every post so that people can publicly declare their agreement or interest in what I have written through their Google+ accounts.

This got me thinking.

Writer Anne Lamont, author of “Grace (Eventually)” and “Imperfect Birds” once said that the most powerful sermon in the world consists of two words, “me too,” or in our social media context “+1.”   It’s a statement that says I get it, I’ve been where you are, I know what you are feeling.  But it is also a statement that only means anything if it’s true and comes from a trusted member of your community.

Several years ago my wife went through a severe bout of depression.  All the well meaning advise she received from people who had no direct experience with depression, myself included, didn’t amout to a hill of beans until she met a woman named Wendy who could honestly say “me too.”  Up until that point it, as she put it, it was as if she were stuck in a swamp and everyone was yelling instructions at her from a helicopter but Wendy came along in hip waiters and said, “Follow me I’ve been in this swamp before, I’m right here beside you let’s find the way out together.”

The writer of Ecclesiastes put it this way;

Two people are better than one, because they get more done by working together.

If one falls down, the other can help him up.

But it is bad for the person who is alone and falls, because there is no one there to help.

If two lie down together they will be warm, but a person alone will not be warm.

An enemy might defeat one person, but two people together can defend themselves; a rope that is woven in three strings is hard to break. [Eccles. 4:9-12]

That’s what true community is all about and what Christ-followers are called to.    Getting down into the swamp of daily life and honestly saying to those around us “+1, here I am right next to you, let’s do this together.”