Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Quandary #11235

I recently ran across this somewhat 'viral' status update making its way through Facebook:

"Can anyone tell me why it is so hard to pray, but easy to swear? Why clubs are growing and churches are shrinking? Why it is so hard to re-post a Christian status, but easy to post gossip? Why we can worship a celebrity, but not Jesus? Gonna ignore this? The Lord said, if you deny me in front of your friends, I will deny you in front of my Father. Re-post this if you're not ashamed and love Jesus."

I have no idea where this originated. The person who wrote and first posted this is likely a devout Christian, perhaps works or volunteers for a non-denominational ministry; may even be a full-time minister or pastor. I have no way to know.

Further, there's a long-standing quote from Jesus in the Gospels, to the order of 'that which is not against us is for us,' so posting such a status update and asking - no, let's call it challenging - others to copy it is not wrong.

But here's my quandary. As this is a such a great thought-provoking statement, why don't I see the same post as the status of my well-known devout Christian colleagues? Why haven't I seen a post like this from a church or other religious body with a presence on Facebook? I have 'liked' or befriended several. Surely those organizations or high-profile people with an Internet presence would want to promote the mission and vision of Jesus Christ in just this way.

But no. Viral posts like these, no matter how well intended, are generally copied and pasted from one's status to another without much thought. It reminds me of Jesus' quoting the prophet Isaiah when he says, This people pays me lip service, but their hearts are far from me. The proof: several of the people who copied and pasted the status into their own haven't likely seen the inside of a church in a very long time. I mean, not even Christmas and Easter seems to motivate some folks into a house of worship. A wedding or a funeral, perhaps - but begrudgingly perhaps, even then. (Forgive the obviously poor grammar, if not the accusation.)

That it is easier to swear and harder to pray is a mark of our human condition, a sign that we need at a minimum the example of someone like Jesus. Some will think that it wouldn't be that way if preachers didn't keep beating into their heads that they're not worthy of God's attention through prayer. The truth is, that we turn the tables; we don't give God the attention that we should. That secular socialism thrives while churches and congregations struggle is that in our human weakness we would rather be entertained than to focus on making a paradigm change in our lives. There are too many distract---no, too many excuses that have caused the following very real statistics to be shared among pastors and the governing bodies of many churches, congregations, and denominations:

While a church may have a large number of registered members, only about 30% attend consistently week-to-week. Of that 30%, about one in ten serve actively through volunteering to do the 'work of the Church', meaning serve in a program or service or ministry that reaches out beyond attending services. Musicians (such as myself), Sunday School teachers (aka catechists or Religious Education instructors), ministry to the homebound, the sick, the hungry, the homeless, the needy. In the end, only 3% of the community plans and executes, and 30% supports this work financially in the midst of their own financial struggles.The statistics came from the observation of leaders I worked with during ministry formation. They got those numbers the hard way: taking head counts at services over a couple of weekends in the fall (when people are less likely to be away on vacation trips) and comparing the totals to the total number of registered members.

I've drawn a couple of conclusions from this. First, God takes those percentages and goes a long way with them, much as Jesus took five loaves of bread and two fish and fed 5,000 men - plus an uncounted number of women and children - and still had twelve baskets of fragments remaining when all had eaten their fill. God is never outdone in generosity. This is something I have heard many times, and can personally attest to as a genuine truth. Might we be jealous of God's generosity when the recipient clashes with our perception of worthiness?

Secondly, to be able to understand this truth you have to be among those whom God works through to make things happen. Your relationship with God has to run deep and personal. God is not only Lord and Master, Father and Creator, Savior and Redeemer, Spirit and Life, but Friend and Companion. While you may experience any or all of the above independently, it is greatly enriched in the company of others. If great things happen with 3% and 30%, how much more would be done to advance the kingdom of God on Earth if those percentages were significantly higher?

While I do not subscribe to jumping on the viral status bandwagon, I struggle inwardly and outwardly to live my life to its best potential. I make mistakes; but I own up to them. I have great experiences and I share them; I have burdens for which I do my best to shoulder and appreciate encouragement as well as assistance when it's needed. All this is possible by the grace of God, and the love God shares with us through Jesus. I don't ignore it; I live it. I may not be the best living example, but I work at it every day. It's not something you can tweet in 140 characters or less, or summarize in a status update. You have to live it. The printed word alone has a habit of limiting and constraining the reader to the conformity and vision of the reader's mind. Let's try using more of our senses to become aware of who we are, where we are going, and in whom and what we truly believe.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Starting Over

The 19th Week in Ordinary Time

Sunday's Word:
1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a (The Lord comes to Elijah not in wind or fire or earthquake, but in a whisper)
Psalm 85 (v.9: I will hear what God proclaims)
Romans 9:1-5 (Paul explains Jewish heritage and the Covenant with God)
Matthew 14:22-33 (Jesus - and Peter - walk on water; a leap of faith)

Starting over.

With all that is going on around me at present, that's the first thing I thought about after hearing these passages yesterday. Starting over - and the leap of faith that is necessary to make everything come together.

As I write this morning, there are forty days remaining until we leave our dwelling place of the last 9-1/2 years. My wife and my son and I are all anticipating this move. Much has already been done to reduce the amount of 'stuff' we have accumulated; I've made four trips to the Goodwill donation center and the car was full each time. Much remains to do; the arduous and slower process of packing what we can ahead has begun, and other tasks which must wait until closer to the moving date continue to stare me in the face.

There are several objectives about this move that we hope to accomplish. Some of them will be easy, such as additional space, access to amenities and public transportation. Others are a bit more elusive and will require time and reflection. My wife and I had decided on the area to which we're moving because it is in the same Catholic diocese as the parish in which I serve as a music minister. But it is the diaconate, and the faithful horse waiting for its rider, that is among the factors that is taking us where we're going as opposed to elsewhere.

Milestone events - the big events in life - put us in the position of taking a leap of faith. Every change in location from the time I left my parents' home, every new job start, my marriage, my ordination - all have been accompanied by nervousness and anticipation. Have I made good choices? Have I planned well, accounting for potential problems or hangups? And from a spiritual perspective, am I leading the charge or being led?

Considering all the thought and prayer that has been raised going into this move - something that started while going through the last move - and for all the reasons my wife and I considered in making this move, I genuinely believe I am being led this time. Looking back, I can't say that about every big decision. The choices to which I've been led have been the most fruitful - being married 30 years to the same wonderful and thoughtful woman is the #1 example. To make that commitment took a leap of faith. To maintain it takes more leaps; most of them small, but several of them have been large, and I make them all gladly.

There is less of an agenda in this new move. It is more about 'we' and less about 'me.' It's why I believe I'm being led to do this now. Further, my family is taking a larger leap of faith in the sense that they must trust me in taking care of the pre-moving arrangements apart from packing. In the end, I am reasonably certain all will go well; still, I pray that there be no unknown situation that will short-circuit the process. In short, I pray that God continues to lead me.

With that, we jump into these next 40 days. It was my wife who said first, "we're moving into Lent again." In a manner of speaking, we are indeed. We are climbing the mountain, as it were; and the to-do list looks like a rocky climb, indeed. I am no mountain climber. I rely on my faith that I will be shown the correct and safest path.