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Gebhard column: Embracing a new age

The new day dawned about four years ago when I was serving a church in Sarasota. Since I’d been a subscriber to the Sunday New York Times living in Pittsburgh, I called the paper with my change of address when we moved. Told that my subscription would increase substantially because of where we lived, I decided I couldn’t afford to keep it.
Now what? Receiving my news from the paper of record was only part of the joy of reading the Times. Holding the paper, smelling the ink, and glancing from one column to the next while catching a glimpse of a Macy’s ad were equally important.
“Why not read the paper online?” my budget-conscious wife inquired.
What?!? Get behind me Satan! It’s called a news-paper for a reason.
I’m now into my fourth year of reading “newspapers” online. Each morning electronic versions of The Winston-Salem Journal, The Salisbury Post, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other news sources pixilate before me. I read more news now than ever before.
By the way, I rarely read a “real” Bible. A New Revised Standard Version is loaded on my Apple laptop, and I regularly use an online source for reading and studying the Bible. I’ve even delivered a sermon or two from my MacBook Pro.
The demise of paper-based news is emblematic of the evolution and transformation of all media.
At one time, I collected vinyl records and those LP’s took up three walls of my family room, and my CD library covered an entire wall when I went digital. Today, my 60,000-plus songs are stored on an external hard drive that takes up about 8 square inches on my desk and is portable. Traditional record companies are dying because they refused to embrace a new technology, and I think that’s why the newspaper business is dying. New means of delivering information were not accepted soon enough.
This is paralleled in the church. The American Protestant church has been undergoing a radical transformation for at least 20 years. Recent polls confirm that Americans are rejecting institutional religion. Spirituality ranks high among those polled, but the way in which Christianity is communicated and portrayed (intolerant, bigoted, etc.) is causing Americans to turn away from the Christian faith. The medium (church) is the message and people want no part of the message.
So why don’t we change? For the same reason newspapers are having difficulty changing, the same reason record companies are dying, and for the same reason traditional TV networks are losing viewers.
The church and other institutions have assumed that their model and worldview would prevail and that they didn’t have to change. They were too big to fail.
Jesus said something about new wine and old wineskins pointing out that new things will inevitably replace old things. Who would want the old after tasting the new and fresh? Who? Look around and let those with eyes … see.
The Rev. Doug Gebhard is interim pastor of John Calvin Presbyterian Church.

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