Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Information Cascade

I just read the phrase, “Information Cascade” and I find myself intrigued. An “information cascade” happens when one person answers a question wrongly but with a lot of confidence, the second person to answer it isn’t sure enough to disagree so goes along with the first person, and then the third person, who may indeed have the correct answer, decides to agree with the first two because he/she assumes that both can’t be wrong. Things just expand from there, with this wrong answer taking on more and more credibility until some courageous person finally says, “The emperor has no clothes.”

The particular context in which I saw the phrase “information cascade” came from some research findings that apparently refute the long-held idea that dietary fats were the direct cause of heart disease. For almost 20 years now, nutritionists and physicians were absolutely sure that low-fat diets would slow down the progression of heart disease. Now it looks like they were all wrong. Whew! Pass the butter and the well-marbled steak, please. It’s time to indulge again.

What particularly fascinates me is the willingness of the crowd to follow the first one to speak with authority, even when they sense that something may not be right. It’s age-old peer pressure operating again, but with such subtlety that it goes unnoticed much of the time.

I look at the world around me and wonder how many absolutely wrong ideas we are following because it is easier to just listen to the one speaking with authority rather than find out for ourselves and also to trust our own thoughts.

There’s definitely a challenge here—uninformed thoughts lead to uninformed opinions. Just because we think something doesn’t make it right. But just because someone else thinks something doesn’t make that right either.

Those who attend the Krum UMC know something of my own spiritual journey. I’ve longed to know God and to serve God since my early 20’s. At that point, I knew there was something far greater that I and that “something” certainly represented creative power and redeeming love. In my early years as a Christian, I spent much time trying to find absolute certainty. I wanted to know exactly what to believe, how to believe it, and how to convince others to believe the same things since I was so sure I was right.

I’m still pretty sure I’m right. God is love; God is full of creative energies; God is interested in the redemption of all of creation through Jesus, the Sent One, so we might live most fully and die most courageously and be prepared to spend eternity in glory.

I’ve also discovered that in many ways, I’d just as soon follow the crowd, whether they are right or not. This is the lazy way for me to discover who God is and what God wants from me.

Right now, the “information cascade” in church growth movements has been saying, “the bigger, the better.” The more bells and whistles, the more “contemporary” we can make our worship, the more successful we will be. It’s so easy to buy into this. Go big, go fancy, make worship entertaining, let the people be spectators and walk out feeling good and maybe they will leave a lot of money in the offering plate so the church can buy more bells and whistles.

But then I start looking more closely at Jesus, this Sent One, the One who came to show us most fully the creative and loving God. Certainly, he attracted big crowds, but the majority of his time was with those who were not just there to be entertained, but were there to learn and to enter into the discipleship relationship.

Disciple is an old-fashioned word. There doesn’t seem to be a contemporary equivalent. I’ve tried using “mentor” but it just doesn’t work. There’s too much distance there. Discipleship is more demanding, more intimate, more transforming, more connected. It’s a higher calling. And it is what Jesus asked his own disciples to do—to make disciples of others. Disciples may be followers, but they do not follow the crowd, going along with others because someone spoke with confidence and it just easiest to agree. Disciples use their brains and thinking powers with integrity and independence.

Right now, we’re doing a series on Sunday mornings about the marks of a Christian. So far, we’ve talked about obedience. This Sunday, October 14, will be about thankfulness. On the 21st, we’re going to talk about justice. These are all hard words, and evidence of a big and powerful calling. There is also laughter and joy and good memories and so much else that folds into the life of a disciple. It’s a life lived to deep fullness and rich beyond imagination. The “information cascade” on church life right now may say, “come and be entertained.” But the real truth is: come and be transformed. It’s a lot more lasting and a lot more fun in the long run.

1 comment:

angie Hammond said...

Yeah Christy!!
Thank you for holding true to the original calling of Jesus to the disciples. It is wonderful to hear you say what God has called you to say rather than what you think we want to hear from you. While we all like to feel good, we really do need to hear what God has in mind for us. And this does not mean entertainment in church, but worship instead. I would be willing to go out on a limb and say that good worship is entertainment in the sense that we are engaged with our whole being and that is what happens when we are entertained.
However entertainment is not necessarily worship.

I must also say that I admire any church or pastor that stays away from the bells and whitsles because they feel that is not what their church needs to be doing. I'd rather see them following what they believe is God's call for their church.

It takes courage to step up to the plate and be an individual that doesn't always follow the crowd. And Christy is right when she says that Krum UMC is different. You are different, but in a great way.
I've been a visitor now twice and I was welcomed each time with open arms. And much to my surprise the second time I visited which was almost a year later, I was greeted by those who remembered me and my name. Now that is what I call something special. You remembered me and my name even after I'd not been back for a year.
That is different! It is no wonder that Christy sings the praises of Krum UMC. You are a wonderful group of people who don't just follow the crowd.

You are the crowd to follow when it comes to doing the right things in the right ways. I feel like I must make an observation here since I'm a long distance worshipper and listen via the internet to your services. I am always amazed at the intimacy that is conveyed in the sermons that Christy posts to the website. There is so much interaction with the congregation that you can actually feel the connection and the love for each other among the members. I'm not being entertained, but instead I'm being blessed as I listen each week.

Now for those of you who are reading these comments I have a favor to ask of you. Will you please let Christy know that you are reading these comments? In fact if you have read this one, then tell her that you've read it so that she can email me that it was read. Or better yet, ask her for my email address so that you can tell me yourself.
Of course you could just post a comment on the blog like am doing.

Ok maybe you're not the type to mail a letter to the editor of the paper or post a comment about something on a blog. However, you are courageous enough to be the shining light of God's love in Krum as a member of Krum UMC. So why not carry that one step further and share your voice outside of Krum as well by sharing your ideas and thoughts with those of us who can only visit via the internet sermons and this blog by your loving pastor Christy Thomas?

Through the faithfulness of your Pastor Christy, my life was transformed from one of great darkness into one with light and life. She was courageous enough to be a true disciple of Jesus
and answer his call to her to be a female pastor in a world that didn't always see women in that way.
And because she had been transformed by God's love, she was able to share that transforming love with me as well. Again if you are reading this, then ask her about me and what happened to me as we prayed together one day in her office. I'm sure that she won't mind telling you the story of my transformation and healing that day.

So, Christy's right Krum UMC doesn't follow the crowd when it comes to trying to grow the church.
Yet, you don't live in the dark ages either since your pastor has a blog and the church has a good website. And most of all I see that you are about ready to build that new building. Not because you want to attract people, but because you have need of more room and you've planned for the future wisely. Now that is the best reason there could ever be for building a new building. And that shows that you are not following the crowd, but instead you are setting a new standard that says we at Krum UMC are in the business of transformation not entertainment.

Thanks for sharing your warmth and love for each other with me via the internet and the online sermons.