You can track almost anything these days—patterns of food intake, fatigue, mood, number of steps you’ve taken, heart rate, and even how much REM sleep you got last night. This phenomenon is part of a rapidly growing movement of fitness buffs, techno-geeks, and people with chronic conditions who obsessively monitor various personal metrics. It has been called the quantified-self movement. I was surprised to learn that there are quantified-self communities worldwide that produce international meetings, conferences and expositions, community forums, web content and services to help people get meaning out of their personal data.
I wonder what my numbers say about me? What meaning do others/companies ascribe to my numbers? On the one hand, knowing my numbers can help me optimize my physical health, financial health and maybe even my emotional health. On the other hand, the more I document and share about where I go, what I do, whom I spend time with, what I eat, what I buy, how hard I exert myself, and so on, I am creating more data that companies can and will use to create a story about me, often a story that evaluates my worthiness—or lack thereof—for their products, services and opportunities. What happens if I don’t measure up to the rest of the population? Am I just out of luck?
Thanks be to God my worthiness doesn’t reside solely in my numbers. I give thanks every day when I remember my baptism and that my worthiness before God—which is what ultimately counts—resides in Jesus. There isn’t anything I can do to make myself more worthy. Jesus doesn’t care if my numbers measure up. I didn’t have to log a specific score to earn Jesus’ love. All Jesus asks of me is to “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength … and your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:30-31).
When we make public profession of our faith, which can’t be quantified, we promise to continue in the covenant God made with us in Holy Baptism, showing our gratitude for God’s grace by following Jesus’ example of serving all people. (“To serve all people, following the example of Jesus.” ELW p. 237) In Detroit this summer, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be following the example of Jesus by building relationships with others. Our joy will be in seeing the people we meet through the lens of God’s grace in Jesus, and not through the lens of their numbers.
Being part of God’s story in Jesus leads us into the messiness of life where the numbers don’t always look good. As people of God, we look behind and beyond the numbers. Someone’s bad credit score may be the result of an unanticipated expense, a sudden layoff, or reckless decisions made during adolescence. Getting 10,000 steps a day may not be achievable because it isn’t safe to walk in one’s neighborhood. Addiction may impact a person’s ability to log good food intake points, and a single mom may not be able to achieve REM sleep because of the anxiety she carries for her children’s safety. The people we meet in Detroit—and we ourselves—have stories that are broader, deeper and more dynamic than numbers alone can tell. As ELCA youth co-locate their stories and the stories of Detroiters within God’s love story, lives will be transformed and Jesus will be made known. And that will happen without a GPS, smartphone, Fitbit, Google Glass or a Zeo monitor.