29 November 2011

SERMON TEXT: Very Good News Going Forward: How Additive Manufacturing will Change Our Experience of Church

We stand face to face with the First Sunday of Advent. This new liturgical year heralds a new beginning in our church. Things are going to get very creative over the next ten years as we make the transition to a new system of production. A Renaissance is in the works during our lifetime. The link below presents a brief overview of 3D Printing and will be my source document along with the text of Isaiah 64:1-9. Churches such as ours that intentionally incorporate the principles of additive manufacturing will prosper.

Isaiah 64:1-9

64O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
   so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
2 *as when fire kindles brushwood
   and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
   so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
   you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
4 From ages past no one has heard,
   no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
   who works for those who wait for him.
5 You meet those who gladly do right,
   those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
   because you hid yourself we transgressed.*
6 We have all become like one who is unclean,
   and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
   and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
7 There is no one who calls on your name,
   or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
   and have delivered* us into the hand of our iniquity.
8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
   we are the clay, and you are our potter;
   we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
   and do not remember iniquity for ever.
   Now consider, we are all your people.

There are two primary ways a sacramental object such as a communion cup may be manufactured. One way is to take things away from it. This is the pottery method of construction. Remove every part of the clay except that which is the form you want to create. The subtractive manufacturing technique is the metaphor Isaiah uses for the relationship between God and God's people when he says, "We are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand." (Isaiah 64:8) Yet there is another form of manufacturing called additive manufacturing and that is what Isaiah has in mind when he talks about a powerfully disruptive experience of God, "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence." (Isaiah 64:1) Another other way to manufacture is the tinker toy method. You add this piece to that piece to that piece until you have created the object you desire. This is the additive or 3D method of construction.

The Hanging of the Greens is an additive process. You don't just snap your fingers and the sanctuary is magically decorated. It is a process. First you gather the supplies. Then you put up the greenery. Next you add the decorations to the greenery. Then you put the chrismons on the tree. Hanging the greens is similar to working with Lego blocks. This part adds with that part and another part to make something that was not there before. The green wreaths added with the red bows added with the Chrismon tree creates a beauty that before was not present.

We saw a similar manifestation of this principle in the Community Thanksgiving Service here in this sanctuary last Sunday afternoon. The St. John's Handbell Choir plus the adult choir plus our ladies who produced the reception plus the Cantor from Temple Beth Israel plus the preacher from Westbury United Methodist plus the Director of BIM plus the youth choir that sang plus all the other worship leaders and participants created a sense of unity of purpose in this community that was more than the sum of its parts. It felt so good look around at faces you know and some you've never seen and know that we are united in providing food for the hungry in our community. Additive spirituality creates opportunities and provides results.

Beyond the church in greater society, the way things are made is undergoing a fundamental transition that will lead to a Renaissance in human productive capacity. Yes, that is a big claim but it is true. When you think of transformative technologies you think of the steam engine, light bulb, atomic energy, or the microchip, to name just a few. These technologies transformed our world. Such breakthroughs take decades to develop from the time when they are invented to the time when they become ubiquitous. 20 years ago, I doubt the Defense Department had any idea how the World Wide Web would transform the communications system of humanity. Repeated small, incremental improvements have a big benefit over time. We feel the sense of such a change in our text today as the prophet recalls a time when God "did awesome deeds that we did not expect."

Now another new technology is coming along that will change the world. Additive Manufacturing (AM) is a revolutionary new technology that could change the the way we design and manufacture products from cars to combs. It has massive implications in the world. For instance, production of goods will move away from nations such as China back to the United States.

Additive manufacturing will change the world by adding rather than subtracting. It is amazing what a difference that can make. Say goodbye to assembly lines full of parts shipped from dozens of factories from around the world. Products will be printed on demand at a location near your home. Instead of your car being built in a factory in Detroit or Tennessee, it will be built in a lab in Downtown Houston or even closer to your house.

Today you can email a document from your house to your child in Africa. He can then print a paper copy of your email and hold it his hand. Ten years from now you will be able to email a design to your son in Africa. He will be able to take a copy of that design to his local maker space and they will print a 3D copy of your design. That design may be anything from a new cell phone to a set of legos. Any physical object could be delivered and produced that way. What has happened in terms of words (type anywhere and email anywhere and read anywhere you have internet access) will happen with object (design anywhere, email anywhere, print anywhere).

Let me describe the technique of additive manufacturing then we'll consider the implications of this method for the church. Additive manufacturing adds layer upon layer of material until a final object is printed. Additive manufacturing adds and adds and adds, layer by layer, until a product is complete. For example, in 3D printing you take a raw material such as tiny plastic pellets, load them into the printer, insert a software design of an object you want to produce such as a wrench or hammer, push a button to start the process, and the printer uses the plastic to print the hammer layer after layer until you have a finished project. When the print is finished, remove the hammer from the printer and it is ready to nail a nail. In time you will be able to print not just a hammer but a car or cellphone or computer chip or replacement part for any object in your house or business.

Churches who are able to apply the principles of additive manufacturing will prosper. Here is how this will look in the church. For centuries the church has operated under the idea of subtractive manufacturing. If we are doing one thing in a church - such as hanging banners in the sanctuary - then we cannot do another thing - such as project images on a screen. Subtractive manufacturing led us to believe there are a limited number of things we can do. If you have one wall you can either put a banner on it or project an image on it. It's either - or. This is based on the idea of limitation. Beyond the church this expresses itself in society as the idea of limited resources. Additive manufacturing teaches another way to look at things. In additive manufacturing you add and add and add and add until you get what you want.

Here is another example of the principles of additive manufacturing in the church. In the old way of making a church budget, ten years ago and older, you had a unified church budget. Everyone was asked to give to that budget. Everyone agreed what the budget was going to be for each item and some items were not included (they were subtracted from the budget) because they were not affordable based on the pledges received. The additive model of making a church budget is to say here is what we agree we want and here is how much money we have to spend on that and then here is what we want to do but we don't yet have the money for it. But rather than subtract that from the church we will add it to a "Wish List" and ask people to give for that specific thing. We did that recently with several items from new cribs in the nursery to a new church sign and people gave - in ADDITION - to their regular pledge. This is additive budgeting. Another way we do additive budgeting is through our various memorial funds. We have certain memorial funds such as a college scholarship fund. People may choose to give money to that fund in addition to their regular pledge and offering and those monies will be used That is our version of additive budgeting. Although we primarily rely on pledges, we have income that we receive in addition to our pledges.

Finally, additive technology will vastly multiply our mission efforts. We now take a few months to gather needed materials to build a water system and then have to pack all the parts in an airplane. We then take a week long trip to Cuba or Haiti to install a clean water system. Ten years from we will take a week long trip to install a 3D printer in a village and teach them how to use it. They will then be able to use the 3D printer to build the parts for a clean water system right there on site. In addition to that, they will be able to use the 3D printer to manufacture any number of useful items that will increase their standard of living. Imagine being able to create solar panels right on the mission site. Imagine being able to create dental implants right on site. Or perhaps a surgeon is present and needs a leg implant. She can create is on site on the 3D printer. And someone is there to teach the villagers how to use the 3D printer because it stays behind after we leave. This will multiply our mission efforts a thousand fold for the same amount of money which will be the cost of a 3D printer and plane tickets for the missionaries.

Additive manufacturing teaches us to say, "Yes, and this ..." rather than "Either this or that." There is a profound difference between those two. It is as profound as the difference between subtractive manufacturing and subtractive manufacturing. This slight shift is transformative in the life of a church.

Subtractive thinking says that each person - each member - must participate in each activity. So if we don't have a sizable crowd at a particular activity then that activity is considered a failure. On the other hand, additive thinking says that each person is not expected to participate in each activity. So if we have an activity in which only a few people participate we may still consider that activity a success.

One of our members who returned from a mission trip to Cuba was struck by all the activities they have going on at a very small church. There are guitar lessons during the daytime, English lessons at night, choir practice, lectures, mission projects, the church building is always buzzing with activity. That is an example of additive thinking. Not every participates in every activity in that small church and that is okay with them. By having a large number of small and smaller groups they add up to a total number of people blessed than if they had fewer activities that were attended by a large group of people.

We are moving toward the additive model here. Look at what happened last Sunday morning. We had several church school classes at 9 am last Sunday. There was a Session meeting to receive the confirmands at 10 am. The choir and handbell choir were practicing at 10 am. During worship we recognized the confirmands, remembered Lee Shoemake and then had a reception for the confirmands. The choir had a prayer of dedication for Lee's brick in the columbarium after worship too. Then at 4 pm we hosted the Community Thanksgiving Service here. The church was literally packed with people. After the service we hosted a reception for the community. The day before several people had spent time preparing for the reception and the Harvest Sunday and everything else. Sound exhausting? If you participated in every event it could have been. But the way it works with additive thinking is you add and add and add activities and then let people pick and choose which ones they want to participate in. Then you don't judge success by numbers. If an activity has 3 people involved but it transformative for those three people then it is a success.

What we don't want is to wear people out with too much activity but that will happen only if people feel like they have to participate in every event offered.

This is the most energetic, creative church I've ever been around. We have SO many great ideas. Each of them is free to live and prosper if someone makes it happen. Our challenge is how to be free and creative and additive in nature and still do things "decently in order" as is our Presbyterian inclination. The foundation for that is TRUST. The more we build trust within this congregation the more additive we can be and the more successful we will be at making disciples and meeting human needs.

The additive process is a trend in the Presbyterian Church (USA). You can see it in the new Book of Oder that was passed. The book is shorter and meant to provide for greater flexibility in how we operate. We are already moving toward the model of additive manufacturing in church and society. Once this technology takes hold in the world we will all benefit beyond our dreams. Truly, additive manufacturing is a game changer for the good in both society and the church. Let us embrace it and prosper. For you see, God is not out to get us. God is out to change each of us, the church and all human society for the better through additive manufacturing.

The Rev. Dr. Jonathan L. Burnham preached this sermon on November 27, 2011 at St. John's Presbyterian Church, 5020 West Bellfort Ave, Houston, TX 77035
Phone 713-723-6262 | sjpresby.blogspot.com
 | November 27 - 1st Sunday of Advent / YEAR B