Missional Living in an Age of Hyper-Reality
We asked some attendees of the 2019 Intersection Conference to share their thoughts on the session that most impacted them. Here, the Rev. Erin Moniz, Assistant Chaplain for Berry College, reflects on Tish Harrison Warren’s session, “Ordinary Church: How Liturgy and Sacraments Teach Us the Mundane Glory of Mission.” Tish Harrison Warren is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and the author of Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life.
by Erin Moniz
I couldn’t help myself. As Tish Harrison-Warren spoke at the Intersection Conference, I was poised, Twitter feed in hand, to capture as many short-character morsels as my clumsy thumbs could type out.
The irony of this was that Tish was delivering an address on how our identity and mission as the church is being distorted by the hyper-reality created by technology and social media. I felt a twinge of existential dissonance but kept tweeting because the message was just too good. Also, because Tish was right; I did hope that my Twitter-infatuated college students would read these Tweets and be shaped by them.
Rebelling Against Hyper-Reality
For me, engaging social media is not much of a choice since my work is with college students. Tish was not demonizing technology when she laid out three ways that hyper-reality malforms us. In fact, her examples of brilliance, richness, and pliability borrowed from Albert Borgmann were carefully unpacked to demonstrate how a fake reality can sneak in and distort our very understanding of ourselves and the world around us.
This is particularly serious for the Church since the embodiment of the gospel and the mission for the life of the world that emits from it must be grounded in a solid reality. Tish reminded us that this solid reality, as opposed to a fake hyper-reality, makes room for a spectrum of emotions and engagement. In a hyper-reality, suffering, grief, celebration, worship, pain, and intimacy are relegated or distorted. Technology has a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) way of altering the lens of our worldview. Our expectations of the good life, of the ordinary, of each other and ourselves compels us to rhythms of life that aim at achievement, impressive optics, and entertainment. These rhythms blind us to a reality where the amazing and the ordinary collide.
Tish recalls her own re-entry into the ordinary, non-hyper-reality: “The world for me became enchanted, the cosmos became crowded … It seemed ripe with possibility and mystery and absolutely drenched with meaning.”
Now you see why I was relentlessly Tweeting this out.
Tish called us to be people who see. When we rebel against the siren song of hyper-reality, we can become people who see the beauty, mystery, and pain existing in us, around us, and at the table where we come to be formed each week. The ordinary liturgies of our worship and lives are both the destination and journey. These liturgies become the antidote against a barrage of hyper-reality. They also become the daily bread and enchanted reality that enables us to embrace life as it comes to us, come what may.
We become human again. We get to be real people experiencing real joy and heartbreak, and hope. Tish presented this church with its ordinary liturgies and its real humans as an oasis for a world frustrated by hyper-reality. If our churches simply become institutions that mimic the allure of hyper-reality, Tish warned, then we become dis-embodied in our worship and mission. We become plastic and shiny.
This kind of fake church is unsustainable on so many levels. As for me, my work with Millennials and Gen Z has taught me that while some of the hyper-reality is attractive at first, deep down people want something real that will make room for their pain and questions. I have witnessed this time and time again where students begin to move away from the glitter and confetti in search of an embodied gospel. They search for a church where the gimmicks and new models are traded in for ancient liturgies, tangible human engagement, and mission that grows legs and arms in a community they can join.
Tish claimed, “Part of the prophetic call of the Church now is simply to teach people how to be human again.”
The Hospitality of Mission
I wish to return to something Tish mentioned at the start of her talk. She began with a vision of the church and mission that struck my imagination. “The church is a home, a family, and from that place we extend the hospitality of mission.”
While most of Tish’s message reflected the dangers of hyper-reality, I could not stop thinking about this image of family hospitality. For me, it all ties together. One of the most effective moments I can curate for my students is a meal in our home. Whether it is a Bible study, staff training, Lectio Divina, or just an opportunity to talk about life, the table and the living room have become the space where some of the most amazing work of the Holy Spirit has taken place.
I spoke briefly with leaders from our Diocese back in November about one way to reach emerging adults. With so much to say but not much time to speak, I chose two words: “radical hospitality.” If the church is the embodiment of the gospel, then our homes become extensions of our Sunday worship. Our table, our family, our ordinary Tuesday liturgies, become regular embodiments of the Table, the Family, and the Sunday liturgy.
This “hospitality of mission” points me to the space and design where we live the counter-narrative to hyper-reality. This is where we exist as real humans and show our students that the gospel brings freedom and truth both in the church building and in our homes. What can be more authentic than that?
Overall, Tish’s words were inspiring and helpful as they brought me back to a baseline of gospel living that pushes to be more human and not less. I won’t be getting off social media any time soon, but there is so much work to do in modeling for our students the way to engage technology and consumerism while resisting the saturation of hyper-reality.
Our worship and ordinary liturgies must draw us back and ground us so that we can be formed by the Holy Spirit. We can bring all of our messy selves to this process and not feel the need to curate ourselves for fear of bad optics. Perhaps referring to Tish Warren’s premise as #nofilter might be pushing it too far, but for my college students, her remarks are the beginning of an important conversation I am eager to have again and again.
Listen to Tish Harrison Warren’s full talk, “Ordinary Church: How Liturgy and Sacraments Teach Us the Mundane Glory of Mission.”
Erin Faith Moniz serves as the Assistant Chaplain for Berry College. She is a Berry alumna where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Sociology and Anthropology in 2003. She has her Master of Divinity in Professional Ministry from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. She has been in student ministry in Georgia and Tennessee for over fifteen years. She is ordained as a Vocational Deacon in the Anglican Church of North America. Erin is a trained Christian Conciliator with Peace Maker Ministries and loves getting to serve the campus community as a minister and conflict counselor. She is currently a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Ministry program at Trinity School for Ministry researching theology of intimacy. Follow Erin on Twitter at @efaithmo.