Operating Systems Are Everywhere

Seth Godin suggests there are operating systems all around us - not just on our laptops and smartphones. Cities, governments and organizations run on operating systems. Some are designed with more permeability, while others are meant to be a closed system, impervious to outsider influence. Thanks to the tip from Gravity Leadership, Godin's brief discussion about operating systems got me thinking about the operating systems in our church communities.

Now, of course the metaphor breaks down at some point because strings of code are not the same as human beings, relationships, communities, much less the life of the triune God who inhabits his ekklesia in the world. But, we also know that all technology either replaces, augments or amplifies some sort of human function (e.g. the telephone an extension of the mouth, the shovel for your hands, etc.). And we also know that our original techne of speech (and now, of course, the written and printed word being an extension of the mouth) is a place in which we adopt technological metaphors in order to communicate and make meaning of our world. For example, "he works like a machine", "that business runs like a top", "let's unpack what you are saying", "shoot me a text when you're on your way" - I could go on ad infinitum

Now, I can also hear the voice of Eugene Peterson or Wendell Berry warning us about the dangers of comparing humans and relationships to inorganic, or inanimate realities. Why is that? Well, a theological anthropology rooted in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures tells us that the first image bearers, the first real humans filled with the ruach of the triune God, were made out of the dust of the earth. Indeed, the etymology of the protohuman, Adam, is "dirt guy"! So, we are land people. So, in some ways, agrarian and earthy metaphor connects us to our origin story. Doesn't "her presence was like a fragrant flower in the room" sound better than a mechanistic, "technological" metaphor? (Okay, I think metaphors are the constructed relationship between two unlike things and simile is the use of like or as for comparison. So perhaps I need to reflect on my grammar usage here!). The point being, we use the world around us - whether given (from God) or fabricated (by humans) - to make meaning with our words. 

The human community started in an agrarian setting and quickly moved to a city - albeit, under the auspicious dark of Cain's ambitious project in the land east of Eden where sin stained the earth like blood on the floor. Already in Genesis 4, we discover the raw materials of human techne; Cain's children are fashioning musical instruments, organizing animals and fabricating tools and weapons from the earth's minerals. But, because our triune God is good, present and at work to redeem the broken and ransom the estranged, he takes the ambitious, misshapen human project of city-building (side note - it was always the plan of God that humans would fashion techne as part of our given commission to cultivate, steward, organize and love the given earth with culture making!) and does something beautiful! Curious what that is? You'll have to read the end of the Story in Revelation (spoiler: it's good news!). 

Where was I? Oh, yes, operating systems. Churches. So, if operating systems are a technology (and, yes, I mean technology rather than techne - see Andy Crouch for more on this) made by humans in order to shape our word and they are some sort of extension of a natural human function (that is, they mimic something in the human experience - well, the Brain, I guess!), then what can we learn about human community - and, here, I'm thinking "church" - from the way operating systems function.

Well, first, operating systems run on a piece of static hardware. Second, operating systems are typically closed or open source. Third, you build off the operating system and design software to run on that OS (or hack it!). (Can you tell I'm not a computer science expert?)

Let's continue this thinking in a subsequent post!


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