Some technology companies provide an integrated solution of connected gadgets. If you have the money, your smartphone can talk with your laptop, and both can talk to the camera at your front door, as well as your thermostat, your television, and the speakers in your kitchen. With the right combination of features, activities throughout your entire day can be managed by a single digital assistant. Devices no longer need to be accessed with keyboards; instead, they allow us to talk to them, or even proactively detect our presence and react accordingly. We might not be the Jetsons yet, but the world looks a lot different than it did 25 years ago.
However, companies that sell technology (or sell your information, by baiting you with technology) don’t exist altruistically. They have an obligation – to their investors, their shareholders, their management, and their employees – to make money. That might sound harsh, but there’s usually some form of capitalism involved. In order to promote additional purchases (and data-collection), some companies’ approach is to ensure that their technology only works with more of their technology…and not anyone else’s (at least, not without extracting some benefits from their subcontractors).
One term for this is a walled garden. We can picture a nice, cultivated garden, with bright flowers, lots of birds and butterflies, neatly-manicured walking paths, and little benches upon which we can sit to read. However, as pleasant as this place might be, we can’t leave! Many adopters of technology have found that their initial investments in a particular company’s products (even if these were the best in the market at the time) later leave them trapped, as they become financially invested in more and more related products. They realize that changing to another platform (even if that platform is now superior to the one they started with) would cost a huge amount, and would require replacing many devices – at considerable expense.
Mankind started out in a garden, but while it was a great place to live, I don’t imagine it being closed in with walls. I believe that the first human beings were given the freedom to enjoy God’s creation (and His company) to the fullest, although they may not have had any need or desire to leave the garden.
The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis 2:8-9 NASB
Eventually, though, the first couple made selfish choices, and were expelled from the garden. After this, while there may not have been walls keeping them in before, there was now a flaming sword keeping them out (Genesis 3:24).
Millennia later, followers of Jesus (not unlike members of many other groups, whether joined by beliefs, bloodlines, beverages, or baseball teams) can tend to huddle together and create their own “walled garden”. Church buildings, group meetings, get-togethers, and social circles can be really nice places to spend time. And, to be clear, it’s great to enjoy time with others who not only strengthen your faith, but also provide us with opportunities to serve them. There is plenty of Biblical precedent for those of like faith to encourage one another, eat together, and exist together.
However, while enjoying the beauty of the garden, we must not put up walls. We can’t afford to remain in an insular environment, where we can’t – or choose not to – reach out and share our experiences with others. Similarly, we can’t afford to prevent others from coming in, blocking them from discovering the rewards of following Jesus.
As an example, Mary Magdalene, upon meeting Jesus after His resurrection, was apparently in a literal garden (since she initially mistook Him for the gardener). Jesus doesn’t tell her to sit and keep the good news to herself, but instead instructs her to go out and share a message from Him with others.
Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'”
John 20:16-17 NASB
Similarly, in the passage that is sometimes called the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus directed His disciples to go to the nations (even though they were called to remain in Jerusalem for a period of time, first).
Looking in the other direction, the following passage from Luke suggests that Jesus expects that we will invite others to dine with us (not “if”, but “when”). While this may not have been specifically about welcoming others into the Body of Christ, I think that the principles of inviting others into Christian hospitality are probably transferable.
And He also went on to say to the one who had invited Him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Luke 14:12-14 NASB
So, if you are enjoying the abundant life that Jesus provides (not always rainbows and unicorns, but a life of joy on earth, with the future of Heaven to look forward to), make sure that you’re taking time to step out of the garden and invite others in.
And, if your current provider in life isn’t satisfying you, consider stepping into the “garden” and following Jesus. There are no walls, and no change fees!