I found the following video fascinating. It's not that the content is all that incredible - it's essentially a simple retelling of the story of Jesus' encounter with Mary and Martha followed by a brief interpretation of why this story is important to the narrator. Rather, it's the very fact that a popular "secular" (not my favorite term, but...) author uses the story at all, let alone to good effect.
Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project and it's follow-up Happier at Home , both of which are geared toward helping people discover and lay hold of practices that will make them - you guessed it - happier. On her website she offers various tips and sayings and tie-ins to her books. For a while she also would do a brief video on a "happiness tip" - my term, not hers - but then switched to telling stories that illumined a dimension of happiness because, as she's said, stories are so much more effective to impart wisdom than didactic or expository speech.
This past week she used the aforementioned story that ends with Jesus' words that "Mary has chosen the better part" and invited us to join her in being more intentional about choosing what is most important to us.
All of which is well and good. But here's why I'm intrigued. I am absolutely convinced that a primary reason that church as we know it is failing is because our people do not know the biblical story well enough to find it useful.
"Useful" may be an odd word for many when it comes to the Bible. Either because we don't think of the Bible as useful or because we think we're not supposed to think that way! But let me explain why I think it's an important term.
I believe that we've moved from what I would call "the age of duty" - when you did things (PTA, Rotary Club, church) because you knew you were supposed to - into what I would describe as "the age of discretion" - when you have so many possible opportunities and obligations that you pick only those that make a tangible difference to you. In this newer world of relative abundance (at least in terms of opportunities) the one thing that is scarce is time. And so we end up spending time on the things that make a difference, the things that help us navigate and make sense of our lives in this complicated world.
Which is where "useful" as an adjective for the Bible becomes important. Because if people don't find that these stories help them think about their lives, make better choices, and understand their place in the world better - that is, if they don't find the biblical stories useful - then in the Age of Discretion they won't keep coming to church because they should, or because their parents did. Instead, they'll devote time to other pursuits that are more useful, meaningful, and helpful.
Which brings me back to Gretchen: if she can offer up a biblical story and think with her readers about how and why this might be helpful and useful - and there are a variety of interesting comments about it - then why in the world aren't we? Why aren't we, that is, sharing with others where and how we've found various biblical stories interesting and helpful and inviting them into conversation around them.
I have some hunches, but I'd be more interested in hearing from you about whether there are stories you've found helpful, whether you'd be willing to share them and what would help you do so, and how and why we might do more of this. I have a feeling that until we answer some of these questions, we shouldn't look for the trend lines of church attendance to change.
Gretchen's video is just under two minutes, so watch it now, if you can, and let me know what you think. Thanks!