Dear Friends in Christ,
Over the past two weeks in corporate worship at Beverly Heights I have led our congregation in the ordination and installation of ruling elders and deacons. That service of ordination includes the requirement that all officers, whether or not they have served for years or are just beginning to serve, must respond to questions, the answers to which serve as personal vows before God and the congregation to fulfill the office for which they are being ordained and to which they are being installed.
Though I usually don’t mention it, and I should, the asking of questions and giving of answers provides a regular opportunity for all officers of the church to recommit themselves to the vows they have already made sometime in the past. As I am asking the questions and listening to the replies I am replying, myself, in a service of recommitment to my call as a teaching elder in the E.P.C. and senior pastor of the Beverly Heights Presbyterian Church – a recommitment to, in the words of the Apostle Peter “tend the flock of God which is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being (an) example(s) to the flock” (I Peter 5. 2,3).
In all honesty, however, I must confess to wondering about how best to tend the flock these days. As I suggested in my last eCare it would be naïve to think that all of the tension, strife and division that characterized the election season would quickly dissolve. I was certainly no Nostradamus with that prediction! As a person whose job it is to use words to instruct, counsel, challenge, chide and to comfort, however, I find myself somewhat locked up, not knowing how best to do so in these days. I chuckle to (and at) myself for preaching a sermon series on “words” while finding difficulty in heeding the simple yet profound admonition often given to our littlest ones: “Use your words!”
What is prompting/ informing this reflection and reluctance? Here’s some of what I’m thinking about – and please know, family, friends, parishoners and acquaintances, I have no past interactions with any of you in mind as I write these words:
- As I read and hear about the public protests that are occurring with greater frequency across our country and listen to friends, family and acquaintances “protest” in personal conversations and communications I wonder if the medium has become the message with a greater emphasis and focus upon the action of protest and not the content of protest. I’m not sure that I am in a position to agree or disagree with the position taken by those who are protesting because, oftentimes, I don’t know what their position is. I sense that their “position” (which is often, in my judgement, their state of mind/heart and very real, let it be said) is frustration, fear and anger that seem to defy expression in words. It would be insulting and patronizing to say, but I confess I want to say it, “Use your words!”
- I wonder if in this era of social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like – we are becoming a people who feel the need (or is it a growing addiction) to respond (emote?) with an immediacy which precludes sober reflection. We are becoming habitual in seeing it, reading it, typing it and sending it with little or no time given to pondering it. I wonder, too, if our addiction is extending to what is now being called “the optics” – how things look on TV, the tablet or the phone. ‘Seems like there is a lot of ‘putting it out there’ and then wondering what people are going to think or, more accurately, how people will respond, and how quickly they’ll do it.
- I wonder if what we are witnessing in our country and our relationships is a cultural manifestation of what is generally referred to as “emergence.” Emergence refers to an attempt to bring order out of chaos. Disruption, dissonance and disturbance are at the heart of emergence as is novelty and change. One characteristic that comes to mind in my interaction with “emergents” in my field is the pursuit of conversation that, in my judgement, never gets anywhere. What seems to be most important is that the conversation keeps going, that “we stay in conversation.” But in my experience it never arrives anywhere – at a truth, a resolution, a conclusion, a commitment, an agreement. The truth seems to be, again, in the medium (of conversation) not the message. That this makes me feel unsettled is, most surely, my problem but it doesn’t, in my view, help us to make progress, at least it doesn’t seem to. Consequently, we have a good deal of talking – shouting in most cases – that never leads anywhere but to more intransigent disagreement.
- Finally, because this is already much too long, though I am thinking about some of the above, I am truly concerned about this: the increase in volume to what I fear is reaching a dangerous level. Here is the progressive taxonomy of the observable discourse that concerns me: Disagreement-faceless disapprobation on social media-angry interpersonal “conversation”-employment of the language of fear-public demonstration-shocking language-violence against persons-destruction of property-advocacy of anarchy-fomenting of revolution as declared by at least one sign at Cal-Berkeley last evening: Overthrow the Government, NOW! Are we not approaching a severe breakdown if not the total collapse) of civility in discourse, relationships, and the function of government?
Well, this has been quite cheery, hasn’t it?! Some will read the above and think “He’s gone around the bend!” and their long-held opinion will now be confirmed. Others will think that I’m getting ready to quit. Still others will suggest that I am no political/cultural/sociological critic and my ponderings, analysis and concerns are ill-founded and my musings, above, will just cause division and angst in the congregation.
Let me reassure you as to point 2, partially agree with you on point 3 and welcome conversation with you on point 1. And, allow me to confirm that I am as certain and committed as ever regarding my vow to tend the flock of God. Alas, you’ll have to wait a couple of days for the “emergence” of my additional thinking. But for today, let me end this after the example of our EPC Stated Clerk, Jeff Jeremiah, who always closes his communications with “…and remember, He is risen!”
Faithfully in Him,
Posted on Fri, February 3, 2017
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