~by Pastor Mike Middaugh
Maybe you have watched a TED Talk. The world of TED, a nonprofit committed to spreading ideas, revolves around an annual conference where some of the best and brightest from various fields share the most fascinating insights they have to offer. These short talks (18 minutes or less) have also become quite a phenomenon online in recent years, and in November of 2012 TED announced the viewership of its 1 billionth video. Assuming the average talk length is 15 minutes this means we had collectively clicked through roughly 10 million days’ worth of these videos at that time.
So why is TED so powerful? What is it about these talks that causes hand-picked attendees to shell out over $8,500 a ticket for the main event?
Author Megan Hustad, in a recent opinion piece for the New York Times titled “The Church of TED,” offered one answer. She compares TED to a religion, suggesting that for many people TED has taken the place of much older orthodoxies. She writes: “the best talks are reminiscent of a tent revival sermon. There’s the gathering of the curious and the hungry. Then a persistent human problem is introduced, one that, as the speaker gently explains, has deeper roots and wider implications than most listeners are prepared to admit. Once everyone has been confronted with this evidence of entropy, contemplated life’s fragility and the elusiveness of inner peace, a decision is called for: Will you remain complacent, or change?”
While some TED talks are pure entertainment, offering comedic relief amidst a sea of heavy topics, most speakers are there to suggest a better way forward, presenting cures to the various ails of human existence. The tagline of TED itself is that these are “ideas worth spreading,” suggesting that humankind is made better by the mere presence of these conversations.
To an extent they are probably right – just watch this TED talk by Peter Diamandis’ titled “Abundance Is Our Future” to learn how far our own innovation and advancement has brought us. Yet, I would suggest there is still one thing missing. Amid all the optimism and motivation, the bright ideas and the grandiose visions, there is one question that goes unanswered.
Will we ever “arrive”?
Will we ever get to that place that all of this work and enthusiasm is hoping to take us? Will we reach that better existence, that more healthy whole, that more peaceful and equitable way of life? Can we do it, and if so how will we know?
This is why the gospel is better than TED. Because all of those questions I just presented have no answer. Left to our own devices we will claw and scrape, and climb and crawl trying to find our way out of the mess of the world and the mess of our own broken, self-interested hearts, and we will never get there. Not on our own.
The gospel is honest about that. The gospel says a savior has come because we need saving. We cannot do it. Our powerlessness is threefold as we suffer the weight of our sin, the decay of the world, and the death we all face. But the gospel also offers otherworldly hope as it tells us someone greater than us has conquered those problems on our behalf. In so doing he has also ushered in the better future. We will arrive, and we are on our way.
That better future, as presented in the Bible, looks like a new, perfect existence of God’s own creation. Until we get there he grants us glimpses of his goodness, and joy in the work we do, now.
When we live in light of this reality it changes the way we think and the way we work. We no longer strive for advancement out of a sense of desperation, but out of calling. We no longer carry the weight of the world on our own shoulders, we let it rest on his. We no longer have to prove ourselves to ourselves and to others, to achieve a sense of salvation, we know one who has already saved us and live in light of his grace.
I like TED. I am endlessly fascinated by the creations of those more talented than I. I love the dreams we are able to dream together, and the ways we are working to improve the lives of people around the world. But I see these things as yet one more reflection of someone else’s greater glory, as examples that we have been made in the image of a God far more creative, innovative, and merciful than we ourselves can ever be.
And of course, these are ideas worth sharing, but there is a bigger idea made famous centuries ago that has been shared, and will be shared, to the salvation of all who believe.