Sunday, September 21

Relevant? What does that mean?

It's been a while since I last posted, though I often wonder if it makes any difference. There are millions of bloggers and it seems only a few are read regularly if at all. So there is an odd sensibility about writing to cyberspace and wondering if and where and how one's words might be heard.

I've changed the name of my blog from "Freestyle Pen" to "Peripatetic Pen." I like the word "peripatetic," but then, I like words in general. What prompted this particular stream of consciousness thinking is an entry I saw in someone's Facebook profile. Something about getalife church. There is so much going on in that phrase "get a life" and the way it has been used and is often used. Too often, I think, it's intended as a sort of slur: "Aw man, you need to get a life." So of course I had to go to the link to investigate the church that urges people to get a life.

That's kind of profound when you think about it. Christianity, without its frills and excesses, thinking in context of 1st century Christianity without overlays of interpretation and any other intellectual, political, or philosophical baggage, is about people getting a new life. There are scores of Bible verses I could reference here, such as Romans 6:4. Because I've not been to church in a few years though I've been thinking about finding a new church (a different blog post required), I wanted to learn more about this new church. The goals are straightforward, no frills, Biblical: fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and obey the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40). Simple, yet very complex.

So then I checked out the church values and this is where I got stuck. I like the notes in italics and wish they had used only those instead of the cutesy one-liners. The one that really got to me is this one: "If it's not relevant, it's not God." What does that mean? You value "relevance." That's another one of those abstract and amorphous words like "tolerance."

But then I thought I should double-check the meaning of the word "relevant": "1 a: having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand b: affording evidence tending to prove or disprove the matter at issue or under discussion ." Revisiting the value of the Life Church, I had to wonder, again, what they mean, but then I started thinking about the way people use the word "relevant."

When I'm in a meeting and someone raises an issue that takes us down some rabbit trail, I know the issue is not relevant; it's not significant or pertinent to the matter at hand or under discussion. How does that apply to God and a value of the church, that one values relevance? In relation to what?

While I was looking up "relevant" to find what might be significant to that particular matter, I learned (or relearned) there is a magazine titled Relevant. I had to check that out, too. The first paragraph of the "What We Believe" section reads: "RELEVANT is a multimedia company looking to impact culture with the message that even though religion may be seen as irrelevant, a personal relationship with God is a relevant -- and vital -- aspect of a fulfilled life. We want to engage people in a conversation about faith. We want to challenge worldviews and cause people to see God outside the box they've put Him in."

Okay, so some people think religion is irrelevant; insignificant to the matter at hand. What is that matter at hand? Life? The magazine folks believe that a personal relationship with God is a relevant aspect of a fulfilled life. Which suggests to me that people are using "relevant" as a synonym for "significant" or "important."

I can't think about the people who want to be "relevant," who talk about education needing to be "relevant," who talk about students wanting what they learn to be "relevant." But no one talks about the matter at hand. I think when people talk about wanting to be relevant, they mean they want to be significant to someone; they don't want to be unimportant or insignificant. I think people are often afraid of being ignored or overlooked, maybe just unappreciated. When people talk about wanting their lives to be relevant, I think they mean they want to leave some sort of a mark on the world, no matter how small; they don't want to feel as though they have not touched another's soul.

When we talk about education needing to be relevant, I think what we really mean is that we want to make sure that kids learn stuff of value, though I think we also struggle over what valuable education really is and how to figure out if kids have learned enough of value. When students talk about wanting their education to be relevant, I think they really mean they don't want to be bored, they don't want to be lost, and they really do want to understand how they are going to be able to use their learning in the future. I think they really do want to understand how their learning connects to help them be and become significant in their worlds.

In that sense, they do want to be relevant and the matter at hand is much larger as it's life. They don't want to be irrelevant to their families, their friends, their communities, their worlds. In that sense, we all want to be relevant: we all want to matter to someone, to something. That's one of the reasons people love It's a Wonderful Life. George got to see what life would have been like without him; he got to see that he was important, significant, relevant to the lives of the people he loved, to his community. That was his "matter at hand."

We don't get the opportunity to see what life would have been like without us, but I believe we like to think that we have made and are making a difference. I still don't know what Life Church means or intends by that relevance value statement. I think they should revisit it (and most of their value statements, to be honest). One of their later value statements refers to the Nicene Creed: "In the essentials we have unity, in nonessentials liberty, and in all things charity." Combined with their relevance statement, I think what they really mean is "Don't sweat the small stuff. " And that's actually very biblical, too.

So what's my point? Good question. I started this because I was thinking about language and the way we use words, how those words get hijacked or morphed for different purposes and intentions, but how the root intention might still be the same. As I said earlier, I think the word "relevance" has become very popular and is being used when people really mean "significant" or "important." But I wonder if those words sound too self-centered so the word "relevant" seems safer and more egalitarian. At root, however, we are talking about a sensibility of not wanting to be lost in this great big world, that has gotten both larger and smaller through technology. But that's the stuff of a different post.

No comments: