This month, I joined the world of folks carrying iPods.
Now, if you’re my age or older, you may need a little explanation. iPods are these little plastic boxes about the size of a transistor radio on which can be stored an entire music collection, along with a few books and pictures.
When you insert the telltale white earphones, music floods your head with the clarity of a music hall and the power of a boom box. These iPods and similar devices allow users to withdraw into his or her own little “iWorld.”
Meaning, I can ride mass transit without hearing a sniffle from another rider, or I can walk the inner city and never hear the cries of the homeless.
I’m wondering how easily many of us can relate to the iPod when it comes to having faith. Faith is a tempting thing to keep in isolation. We say things like, “I don’t wear my religion on my sleeve.” Or, “Faith is a private matter” or “I never discuss religion.” And one of my favorites, “I have my own set of beliefs.”
The first problem with that thinking is it creates a kind of “iFaith,” which insulates us from reality — like a one-way glass in a police interrogation room. From behind that glass it becomes too easy to interrogate the world by our own personal standards.
Many read the popular verse of John 3:16 as an iFaith manifesto. They read John 3:16 as it if said “For God so loved ME that he gave his son . . .” They forget it says, “God so loved the WORLD.” Scripture gives some very inclusive metaphors for faith as it compares it to a treasure we all share and a huge banquet to which we are all invited.
Faith has to be about saving the world, yet we often talk about it as if it has become own our personal escape pod — trippin’ down the road to heaven listening to digital angel tunes while the work that God did through Jesus is undone.
The other problem with having an iFaith is how easily it mutates into spiritual laryngitis, causing us to either isolate from culture or become so chameleonlike that there is no longer a difference between faith and culture.
And having a relevant faith is primary. The way I often distinguish relevant faith from iFaith is to ask myself questions about the faith community with which I associate.
I ask what would happen if my church burned down tomorrow. Would anyone but the fire department notice? Would there be one less hungry person fed? One fewer family housed? One fewer child adopted? One fewer battered woman?
A “no” answer tells me I’ve lost the many associations Scriptures teach between being not just hearers, but doers. “Faith without works is dead.”
As the Christian holiday season approaches, many of us will likely seek a relevant connection between faith and works through housing and feeding those less fortunate.
But if we are to keep faith out of isolation and into relevance, we must find ways to sustain these kinds of works. If not, we simply relegate our faith to our pile of insignificant commitments and we might as well make our post- holiday trek to the gym and exercise our iFaith wearing those little white earphones.