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.

 

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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. 

Happy 29th Ordination Anniversary

29 years ago I was ordained a pastor in the LCA, now part of the ELCA. Today, my former synod is meeting in assembly in my last congregation, 3 miles from where I sit.

I’m not there because a few months ago my denomination took me off the roles as a pastor because I no longer serve in a ministry position. It was a process, and it took years, but I’m out.

Do I miss it? Yes. And No.

I think it’s a terrible mistake to take experienced and quality clergy off the roles of the church simply because their call took them out of the parish and into different ministry. I do think of my work as a therapist as holy work. Even better than my work as a pastor. But in our denomination, ordination is to Word and Sacrament, and once I left the parish, I was more a word, healing and service person. I wasn’t preaching weekly, or celebrating baptism or Holy Communion regularly. My work is in the world, not the church. So I am out. So I miss that role, some of that work, that chance to lead in my own way in the ELCA.

And No. The life of a pastor, the way church employment works, the daily politics of the job, and the distressing and disrespectful last years of my life as a pastor were soul-killing. The only way to save my life was to leave. Had I been allowed to take my first and only sabbatical in 20 years, I probably would have had room and grace to re-organize myself as a pastor in a changing church. But my proposal was rejected by the power that was immediately over me, adding to his pressure on me to leave the position. So I did. Making that power quite happy, and me relieved to have a new chance at being the vocational leader I wanted to be.

So Yes and No. And happy ordination anniversary to me. It’s an important day for me, and means little to anyone else now except my family. I saved my life, and left the clergy system. Good luck to everyone who stays in. 

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.