I read this tweet from Eugene Peterson, which got me thinking, yes that can be a tad bit dangerous. Here’s what he wrote; “They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns–how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street.” Somehow this resonated with me, probably because it is now summer and the Sunday numbers have dwindled considerably. Even though we’re told that numbers should not be our focus, the true bottom line is that numbers do matter. We, clergy, are judged by the numbers, of people, of money, of confirmands, you name it and there is some kind of measuring stick. Lately, I’ve been noticing lots of sermons being posted on Facebook or Twitter or both, they are either Soundcloud podcasts or YouTube videos. Yes, I’ve fallen prey to the vultures of social media and have at least one sermon recently posted. It seems, to me, that religious faith has turned into some kind of Game of Thrones episode, a who will win the numbers war this week, who will ultimately sit on the “Iron Throne”, as uncomfortable as that sounds.
I am under no illusion that my one or two sermons, posted on social media, will gain me any more people. Just as I am under no grand illusion that what I write will somehow go “viral” and blow up the Internet. There are other folks out there who are writing and being quoted, folks a whole lot smarter than I am and who have their groupies hanging on the every word.
Faith is not something we can force on another just by virtue of our magnetic personalities. Even Jesus had his detractors. The scary thing for us, as priests, pastors, ministers, is not being valued, that our words, thoughts and passions are easily dismissed. Not everyone will become an Episcopalian, just as not everyone will become a Lutheran, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc.. In fact more are becoming what is termed “nones,” those having no affiliation, who defy our best efforts to just come and see what we are about. Even as we dismantle the walls and barriers that have kept us sheltered from the outside, there are other new walls and barriers being created, not just by the institutions but also by the people themselves.
Eugene Peterson is right, we have become “shopkeepers” concerned more for the bottom line and in finding new ways to lure in a shrinking number of possible consumers. It’s hard not to think this way but with all of the blogs out there telling us all the ways in which we either fail or blunder, sometimes morale can sink. After being hit by that car door resulting in a fractured hip last summer giving me time to process my own ministry and calling, I have come to accept that nothing is black and white. Living in the mystery, accepting that I live in ambiguity, has in fact been freeing. I’ve begun to write, taking classes to help me sort out the feelings through the medium of essay, poetry and creative writing. Is my writing polished, are my poems insightful? I’d be the first to tell anyone that I have a long journey ahead. Yet, like my call to ministry, I believe that I am being called to write. In the silence of the night watches, as I lay down, that still, small voice enters into my being, calling me to come out of my own self imposed shell. Like any journey there will be pitfalls and places of danger, but there will also be those vistas that will open before my eyes, places of deep beauty where the heart knows it is home.