A sermon on Acts 2:1-21 delivered May 23, 1999 by Harold W. Anderson, Ph.D.
Have you heard of the newest gadget? It’s really cool. It’s called Robo-Pup, and it was created in Japan by Sony’s research and development labs. This thing is amazing! Here’s what PC Magazine had to say about it:
Aibo can perform tricks such as lying down, getting up, and shaking hands. With the help of infrared distance sensors in [its] eyes and a snout-based CCD camera, Aibo can chase a colorful ball. A microphone lets it hear when it is called; Aibo responds by cocking its head in that peculiar puppy way in the caller’s direction. The included software lets you program Aibo’s movements from your PC and store them on a removable Sony Memory Stick.
. . . The 3.5-pound pup can run for about 1.5 hours on its lithium-ion battery before it needs a 3-hour nap in its recharger unit. Its developer dreams of developing a more evolved Aibo that can learn to speak English and recognize faces.
Wow! Isn’t that amazing? I can tell you, if the price were right and they were available, Aibo would find a place in my home.
As many of you may know, I have done work on computer culture and the changes that computer technology has brought to our world. How it has changed the way we think and behave is truly profound. And it is not done yet. In 1965, Gordon Moore predicted that every two years, computers would double in speed and would be half the price. Known as “Moore’s Law,” his prediction was fairly accurate. The rapid change of computers has given us a wide array of not only new gadgets such as robo-pup, but it also has given us powerful ways to predict the weather and the stock market as well as improving the performance of our cars and machinery. Computers have revolutionized our production capabilities and media platforms operating on the “cloud” are beginning to change the way we relate and communicate to each other. Because the physical capabilities of silicon have nearly reached its limits, new platforms such as DNA and nanotechnology promise to continue the rapid advance of computing. With these new advances, computers will be built into our walls, TVs, appliances, and may even become a way of recognizing each other when sophisticated recognition algorithms are built into our clothing and glasses so that we can know the people we meet even before they introduce themselves.
Early in the so-called “computer revolution,” Marshall McLuhan understood the way computers affect our ability to relate and live with each other. The shrinking world that results he called a “global village.” In the global village, we have transcended the limitation of geography and now people, regardless of where they may reside, can live together as if they were neighbors. People throughout the world know when we hurt, and they hurt with us; they know when we are jubilant and can share in our joy. When tragedy strikes—such as the Columbine School Shooting—people from all over the world can communicate messages of support and prayers for the victims of such a horrible time. In the context of our global village, we can attend to and care for the differing needs of our world-wide neighbors.
While apostles of computer technology highlight the promise of computing, there is a darker side to this phenomenon. Just as with any village, there are those who wish to use this technology to take advantage of others and manipulate them out of their money and their well-being. In fact, computer technology makes it easier for criminals to take advantage of their prey, but it also makes it possible for propogandists, whether they be politicians, religious leaders, or terrorists to disseminate their falsehoods and persuade others that a lie is really the truth. As an example, neo-Nazis and the so-called “pink culture” have used the Internet as a way of recruiting other, usually disgruntled and alienated persons to their cause of bigotry and hatred. This stuff is really difficult to censor and most of the mavens of digital communication are libertarian and oppose any sort of censorship anyway. Unfortunately, the World Wide Web has become a way for villages of hate to become more mainline. It provides these villages with a way to lure others to join their cause by giving them a platform to spew their vitriol of prejudice and hatred, and an easy way to disseminate their lies as if they were true.
So, we can imagine that there is more than one village that lives on the Internet. There are the dark forces of evil who find a home there, and there are villages that promote the common good and uphold the standards of decency for the betterment of humanity. When the latter, the village promises renewed hope for appreciating the amazing diversity that the world brings. It looks to improve channels of communication so that what is good and meaningful in humanity can come together to search for ways of transforming our world into a better place. Such a village helps those who are without by providing them needed care. It is indeed a global village. However, when the village is possessed by dark forces, the village becomes an exclusionary place where bigotry and hatred define the values named as “good,” while seeking a new form of slavery that blesses those who are loyal to village’s cause while subjugating those who are different, those who would oppose their message of hate. Instead of calling this a global village, based upon Acts 2, I rather imagine it is small and puny in imagination.
Thinking about this, I was reminded that Ray Kurzweil once predicted that around 2040 computers will become so powerful that they will possess the powers and characteristics we normally attribute to God. He therefore calls computers and computer technology, spiritual machines. This, obviously, is not what the author of Acts imagines, and I do not agree with his assessment. That sort of thinking leads only to the small and exclusionary village. I do think, however, that the passage we read from Acts 2 instructs us on how to understand the global village and start it on a trajectory toward a more spiritual reality, the reality of living together in peace and good will, a reality that embraces our differences, not deny them.
God’s Spirit, the author of Acts imagines, is not a God of division, but a God of unification through the miracle of communication. Tongues of fire rested upon the heads of all who waited in the upper room allowing them to hear the words of others in their own language. No longer was language a barrier to their spiritual quest. No longer was lack of understanding a reason for division. No longer did they need to wrestle with their differences before combining their spirits to discover the goodness instilled in them as a divine creation. Now, because of the Divine Spirit, they could speak to each other, trust one another and move forward to create a new global village celebrating their differences.
The transformation brought by communication and the resulting understanding of difference is truly amazing. The naysayers will say it cannot be done. They will insist on the sanctity of their small village defined only by loyalty to its values and the resulting embrace of what is always the same. They will charge that any who seek a different way of being in the world are drunk, or acting in ways that are crazy, but nothing is further from the truth. Indeed, in the small village, love is defined by hating those who are different, and the neighbor is defined by those who speak the same language. They believe the same, they think the same and they act the same. There is no room in the small village for difference and such a small village is not one upon which God’s spirit rests.
The perfection of the village is defined by the process, not the immediacy of its attainment. It is defined by a commitment to accepting others as our neighbor and is marked by its intolerance of the exclusionary tactics of the small village. While it gladly receives those who hate and are bigoted, inclusion in the global village of God’s Spirit is a transformative process where hatred turns to love, and bigotry is erased by acceptance.
What cannot be attained by the exclusionary tactics of a small village is indeed a possibility for the Divine Spirit and it is the resulting “global village” that is prophesied by those upon whom God’s Spirit rests. In today’s language, the prophecy includes Jews, Christians, Islam, Buddhists and all the religions of the globe. It includes people who are people of color as well as those who are white. It is a place where social differences do not determine the content of one’s character, but all are treated equally for they are equal in the eyes of God. This is the new vision prophesied by the young and dreamed about by the elderly. It describes what takes place when the world, the global village is possessed by the living Spirit of God.
While like the global village of computer culture grows fast and its transformation is profound, so too does the spiritual global village grow. Also like the computer village, the growth in the spiritual village is a work in progress. This means that the perfection of the village is defined by the process, not the immediacy of its attainment. It is defined by a commitment to accepting others as our neighbor and is marked by its intolerance of the exclusionary tactics of the small village. While it gladly receives those who hate and are bigoted, inclusion in the global village of God’s Spirit is a transformative process where hatred turns to love, and bigotry is erased by acceptance. The profundity of this transformation exceeds anything computer culture could possibly imagine. But when the tongues of fire, the sign of God’s Spirit, rests upon those who dwell in the global village, they too will be saved.
The global village imagined by McLuhan and the Internet computer enthusiasts have engineered is indeed an amazing accomplishment. It has the potential of transforming the world and the people in it for the good. But in itself, such attainments become meaningless as they devolve into small villages of exclusion, bigoty and hatred. This need not be the case, however. The world and the global village that now houses it can be redeemed. When God’s Spirit rests upon the delightful rainbow of difference that is God’s creation, the village can be saved. May our prayer and our commitment be to the global village upon which God’s Spirit rests that all may be saved finding life and realizing the goodness that God has created in us all. Amen.