The copy machine is one of the most amazing machines invented. The ability to take something and then rapidly replicate it with little difficulty and very inexpensively would blow away the monk scribes who hand copied sacred texts. The Protestant movement was able to spread so quickly in part because of this new machine that made rapid copies.
And perhaps because of the role the copy machine made in the Church, it might be argued that no other machine in the world best describes the Church.
For as long as I have been associated with the Church, I have seen the Church function like a well oiled copy machine. We copy programs from year to year. We copy other churches who do things in worship or in mission. We copy the business world in our leadership approach. We copy the nation state when we set out to conquer others with and forcefully convert them to our side. We copy the music industry by making some really cheesy music.
And it is through these means of copying that the Church was able to do a great number of things. I love that the church is able to copy the best of things in order to further the spread of love. There is nothing wrong with copying, in fact it has been said that the best artists steal and copy.
With all the energy it takes to be a copy machine it exposes the fact that copy machines are not able to do anything new. It literally cannot do anything other than copy, and sometimes the copy is of less quality than the original. Copies of copies of copies of copies eventually look horrible. The Church, as a copy machine, understands that we cannot keep making a copy of a copy and we begin to hear voices call out that we have to do things differently. What the Church seems to be looking for is a new original in order to make clean fresh copies of that original.
What would it look like for the Church to embrace an awareness that making copies is not as essential as it once was thought. The internet is now the greatest copy machine ever made and there is no way the Church can copy better than the internet. What the church needs is not a new original to copy, what the church needs is a new machine.
Could we shift from a copy machine metaphor to a 3D printer metaphor?
A 3D printer is a machine that requires someone to create something new and print it. When you print from a 3D printer you see the raw material (plastic, carbon fiber, metal, even biocompatible material!) literally transformed into something new. For instance take plastic coil and turn it into a cast!
As powerful and seductive as the copy machine is, the Church was never called to copy, the Church has been called to transformation.
(I understand that a 3D printer is also making copies of digital files. All metaphors break down at some point, however I would still offer up the metaphor and philosophy behind a 3D printer as a more vibrant metaphor that of a copy machine.)