My Month off Social Media

My daughter took a course in college last year that considered the impact of social media on the well-being of young women. In short, it’s not good. While it can connect people who are geographically apart, share ideas and inspire reflection, the way we have come to use most social media doesn’t inspire much. Except social comparison. So she left her social media accounts for the month of January. I was impressed. She announced she was doing it again this year, so I spontaneously decided to join her.

I had been growing increasingly sick of my News Feed on Facebook. I noticed myself spending many minutes a day, at various times in my day, just searching for something new or different to catch my attention. Surely I had enough contacts there that someone was doing something inspired, sharing an article I needed to read, or offering some news that was important to know. Well, it seems that those enlightened folks were increasingly off Facebook and living their lives. Who knew? Instead, I fed myself a steady diet of unimportant videos, repetitive misattributed inspirational quotes, and photo after photo that were the central cause of my quiet poor attitude: everyone else was having such a wonderful time, and I was just doing my work, the laundry, going to the gym for the millionth time, and thinking about what to make for dinner.

Twitter, my other account which promises more than it delivers, was much more idea, news and event driven, and to give that up for a month seemed a bit neglectful. But I didn’t miss much. Instead, I spent my Twitter time looking at the Star Tribune, MPR, NPR and NYT websites. I got the news from journalists themselves, and got less snark, smirks and repeats than I might on the Twitter.

The only social media account I let myself check this month, without much guilt I must add, was the beautiful professional and personal photography on Instagram. I always smile, feel calmer and more optimistic after looking at what shows up on my feed. I see yoga poses, black and white photography from NYC and Egypt, fountain pens galore (because, that’s my thing) and smiling faces of acquaintances and friends all living daily life and pausing to share it without much commentary. That is something that I will keep.

So, as January comes to an end, I will say that it was like stepping back in time, before I had a smart phone and two laptops and a tablet. I read more news, listened to more music, and read novels as much as I used to. All that needs to keep happening. I need to reignite the personal free time activities I enjoyed before social media stole my attention. I felt I suddenly had more space in my thoughts and emotions, and was more aware of my own present moments and less consumed by the gloat and glitter of my contact’s vacation photos.

I will be coming back to Twitter and FB but I have committed to myself to be a minimalist user. Twitter gets a check once a day on both my personal and professional profiles. FB? I’m first going to reconfigure what I see when it opens, stop following those who have nothing original to say, and only look at it once a day. And I think I need to get off several group pages, particularly those of the ELCA clergy. Those pastors need to stop arguing online and read some books and go for a walk, for heaven’s sake. Pathetic.

Instagram gets a pass on any changes. I’m there to stay. And Reddit? SnapChat? et al? Forget it. I’m a new Spotify user. Enough said.

 

Advertisements

Sunday Morning Church Rant

I didn’t go to church today because I couldn’t face another stripped-down summer liturgy. Bleh.  Recycled sermons, vacationing preachers, substitute organists, empty pews, last moment lectors, absent acolytes, no choir, no coffee hour. The church on vacation isn’t pretty. 

But that’s not our only problem. We have a problem of relevance. We are trying WAY too hard to find it. When church leaders chase the latest opinion polls, and change their main Sunday liturgies to meet the “market,” those who have been shaped by the liturgical traditions of the past are left to embrace the change or leave. What seems to have been left out of the rush to seek the seeker is that the Church was never more embracing or growth-filled as when it was the keeper of mystery, ritual, prayer and sacrament and served the community. (1st – 3rd Century CE)

It will be a sad, sad day when a generation hence American mainline churches are empty (like Europe) and leadership wishes we had hewed to liturgical practice, embraced social justice, and welcomed the stranger and the familiar at the same time.

Am I really all alone in my grief at the demise of the weekly Lutheran and Episcopalian Sunday liturgy — the ritual of action, listening, singing, silence, Word and Meal that has sustained me spiritually all my adult life?

Are there no clergy around me who think that the rush to reinvent the church by changing worship is getting at the problem from the wrong end? Is technology in the sanctuary really All That?

You’d think with all the gutting of worship tradition that all following Jesus ever meant was showing up for church, and that Church meant getting people in the doors on Sunday morning. I always thought living the faith was what I did with my life the rest of the time, out in the world. Worship was what pulled me back into the tradition of the mothers and fathers, helped me remember, fed me at the Table, grounded me in the mystery.

I’m sad the scramble for growth, money, resources, and relevance has meant the suburban churches in my area are always riding the wave of the Next Big Thing. I’ve been around long enough to know that there is always a next big thing.

The rush to relevance has left me cold. It’s exhausting (no wonder the church heaves a huge sigh during the summer). Think I’ll go read Morning Prayer (BCP, p. 75) and have my own church today.

Signed,

Wish You Were Here. 

Should I or Shouldn’t I ?

In a couple of weeks I will be voted off the active clergy roster of the ELCA.

This means that the Church that ordained me no longer will consider me a pastor. All this comes about not because of any Church mean-spirited-ness or personal failure on my part. I left the parish in 2004 to become a family therapist, and because I’m not involved in ministry as a pastor any more, I’m no longer “official” in the way Lutherans understand the ordained ministry. For these 8 years, I’ve gotten a pass as someone “On Leave from Call.” That grace has run out. So be it.

I’ve worked hard since 2004 to let this adult identity of mine go.
I planned to be a pastor since I was 16 ( I KNOW, right?!) and was one, full time, through unemployment and interviews, singleness and marriage, pregnancies and parenting, healthy churches and not, solo jobs and staff positions, parsonages and mortgages for 20+ years. That’s one deeply held self understanding. And I’m proud of the pastor and person I was, despite my own obvious flaws and mistakes. In the end, the job was so full of politics, dissembling and distress, I threw in the towel.

I’m very happy as a therapist. I find the study of human mental health provides me with answers to questions I had been asking all my life about why people behave, believe and relate the way they do. I’m so much happier working for myself, and every mistake and every success belongs to me alone. I love helping people heal in ways I had only imagined as a pastor. I really enjoy my therapist colleagues. All in all, it was exactly the right thing for me to do.

Part of being on the roster meant that I had to be a member of an ELCA congregation. Now that I am going to be released, that no longer applies. I have been attending the Episcopal church for these 8 years, and my husband and both children were received into adult membership over the years. So that leaves me the next quandary in my spiritual journey: is it time to join the Episcopal Church?

It’s a bit like leaving a family. Am I ready to join another family of faith now that I’m contractually released from my first? Is church membership even important anymore? The death knell for the organized Church in its American forms has been sounding for the last 10 years. Is being received as an official member important to the Episcopal church as it struggles to be in mission despite its own internal strife?

I’m clearly on the fence, and it’s not all that comfortable up here. It’s certainly not anything I had anticipated 20 years ago. But then again, not much is. 

Jesus Was Not a Marxist

<!– /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:Cambria; panose-1:2 4 5 3 5 4 6 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:auto; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:3 0 0 0 1 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:Cambria; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} 

          This fall’s public demonstrations begun as “Occupy Wall Street” follow in the time-honored political traditions of modern cultures. Concord, Massachusetts; Selma, Alabama; Tiananmen Square, China; Cairo, Egypt: people have risen up in massive numbers across the world to seek change. Whether you have joined them, or even disagree with their perspectives, as a democracy we all value the power of citizens to peacefully organize to seek justice and change.
            The energy of Occupy Wall Street-like gatherings is born in the increasing gap in our country between the rich and the poor, and a shared impatience with the lingering effects of our last recession. Wall Street in New York City, the geographic center of the United State’s Stock Exchange, is also home to many of the world’s largest financial institutions, many of which were involved in complex tinkering with mortgage lending that sparked our long economic slide. Too big to fail, our own tax dollars have been spent to bail out the biggest banks and other financial giants, as many of us watch our savings, pensions and home values shrink. We have all suffered, the poor disproportionately, and finding the villain in this melodrama seems like a natural thing to do.
            When at its best, the Christian community has traditionally been an advocate for the sick, imprisoned, and the poor. Taking it’s mission from the example and command of Jesus, to tend to the sick and suffering, “the least of these,” it makes sense that activists and clergy from all parts of the faith have joined the demonstrations taking part around the country this fall. I celebrate the long legacy of Christian ministries that have sought to bring love, light and relief to those in need. I praise the clergy who gather in the streets with the protesters as witness and support for those who live, chant, and demonstrate for change.   
            But I won’t sit silently and let one particular claim I have seen recently in social media go unanswered: “Jesus was a Marxist.” No, he was not.
            Marxism is a modern political movement that has its roots in the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. They argued that human beings could establish a perfect economy if everyone shared their resources communally. A new communism would develop following a class struggle, the result of failed capitalism. Marx believed that religions are “the opiate of the people,” dulling their will to revolt. While these ideas do serve as a stark contrast to the rigid classes and oppressive, generational monarchies of old European and Asian cultures, the application of these ideas in real human cultures has failed.  The Soviet Union, China, East Germany, Somalia, North Korea, and Cuba have been cultures of oppression. The powerful hoard power. The weak are kept weak and anyone opposing the powerful is kept behind bars, barbed wires and walls, or killed. Exactly what part of this broken political model would Jesus advocate?
While Jesus constantly advocated for the sick, suffering and oppressed, he rejected the pressure to start a revolution or class war. In fact, he repeatedly said his “kingdom was not of this world.” Instead of setting up a new government, as some of his disciples believed he would, he lived on the margins of power and when confronted, told the Pharisees to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Jesus’ vision of God’s kingdom is about bringing all people to God’s table: rich, poor, powerful, weak, visible, and invisible. It pointed to a way of seeing the world far different than how human beings do. Jesus pointed to a kingdom of peace and justice that included women and children, the old and infirm, the powerless and the powerful. This is God’s kingdom, not ours. When we live with this vision, we share in the vision of God.           
Jesus was a healer, a teacher, a sage, a prophet, and a revolutionary, the Messiah who refused to lead a revolt. After a short life, he was executed because the earthly powers feared his kingdom of peace, healing, inclusion and non-violence. Call him a revolutionary for God. But for Jesus’ sake, don’t call him a Marxist. It’s just plain wrong.  

(First published in the Savage PACER, Saturday, 10.22.2011)                                                                                                                                                           

The Church in Recession : What Now?

My occasional column for the Savage Pacer was just published yesterday. I wrote about the financial free fall the mainline denominations are in with the current recession. If you want to read the full column, go here.

Here’s my concluding paragraph:

The storm that my denomination finds itself in will one day blow through, and a different way of being the church in the world will have to be found and lived. In every generation, it has never been the largest, the wealthiest or the most powerful church that makes a difference in the world. It has always been the individual person of faith, who joins with others with that same hope and vision, to feed the hungry, protect the innocent, lift up the fallen, and proclaim God’s vision of peace. It’s the lives of the faithful that proclaim the truth of the Gospel, not their buildings, or budgets, or institutions. And that reality is what holds me, and I hope, holds you, in the midst of our current religious storms. 
I believe what I wrote; that size and prestige don’t make a church. But money does matter, in all things that a church wants to do. While I am curious about how this is all going to shake out, I have to tell you, I am very worried for every pastor and career church worker I know. The stress on them in these many months of recession is enormous, and everyone on their leadership board is looking to them for answers. There aren’t any right now, except to hold on, keep doing what is done best, and press toward a different future.
I can’t stress enough the need for every pastor and staff member to mind their own mental health right now. What once was standard procedure is up for grabs. What once was a ‘steady as she goes’ ship is one that is seriously imperiled by its own failures and the hurricane of economic shrinkage, and is taking on water. I pray that those leaders care for themselves, for they are those to whom we look for leadership and courage in difficult times.
I was finishing seminary and waiting for my first call during our last major recession. I am glad to not be doing the same again now. Pray for those leaders and students preparing to serve, their loved ones and families. It’s going to be a very bumpy ride.