The next three days of ministry:
Conduct a one-to-one meeting with a congregant (for my doctoral project)
Record videos for a YouTube series.
Preside over a memorial service.
Officiate a wedding.
Lead a youth group.
Host a live recording of a podcast.
Half of these things would not have been on a list like this three years ago, because decisions and circumstances have led to some new things, and the community I’m in ministry with supports all of them.
What a gift.
If I write it in an email and then describe it in the calendar invitation, put it on the website and also announce it at the meeting, and people still don’t get it, I haven’t done my work.
We haven’t communicated when we have fed the input into the machine. We’ve communicated when we’ve been heard and understood. Ignored maybe, but heard.
It’s tempting to blame the receivers for not paying close enough attention or for being distracted. But we knew that about them before we sent the message.
What if the crisis of the moment is an invitation to patient, focused thought, for, like, an hour, rather than a prompt to act RIGHT NOW?
What are we more afraid of? Not doing enough or overreaching?
Both are real risks, and the past two years have freighted routine decisions with them, on top of requiring decisions about things we didn’t even know needed deciding before (how to ensure distancing? Require masks or merely welcome them?).
Two months ago I was more afraid of not doing enough than of overreaching. Today I’m more afraid of overreaching than of not doing enough.
I wonder about tomorrow.
Things seem to be getting worse, and you’re not making that up.
But yesterday I left my bike unlocked for ten hours downtown–just locked the lock to the bike rack and missed the bike completely–and came back in the early evening lucky enough to discover only my mistake and not anybody’s theft.
So maybe not everything is getting worse, or at least not every day.
Somebody tried to walk out of the church with a portrait of a former pastor, and when stopped at the door they offered, “You can keep the picture. I just want the frame.”
I need volunteers for something, and yesterday I was in an in-person staff meeting for the first time in two years, so I took the opportunity to make my pitch. Two people have reached out to express interest already, and one of them wasn’t even in the meeting but outside doing something else and overheard the announcement.
This is twice the response in a fraction of the time as I’ve received from all of the text announcements I’ve been making for weeks for the same thing, even from the video I recorded about it.
The learning: in-person invitations are better than remote ones.
Welcome requires preparation and decision making if it is to be “radical” and if we are to be truly inclusive. Opening the doors to everyone for everything is not hospitality but fear, perhaps even laziness.
Maybe a good rule is that welcome need not be earned but may be forfeited.
Acting abusively forfeits welcome, and that is for the sake of all the other participants as well as for the abusive actor, who is not helped by a community that enables, though enabling is the path of least resistance for the community and its leaders.
Also, declining an invitation today might forfeit a welcome in the future, though not permanently. All are welcome to join the Confirmation class, though only those who participated in the class are welcome to stand before the church on Confirmation Sunday to be celebrated. Welcoming one who did not participate into that moment would diminish the intentional work of those who did, and, again, would not serve the one welcomed, though there is less resistance there too. You’re welcome next year, though. And even the year after that. Also, youth group is in an hour; please come to that.
Radical hospitality and perpetual unconditional welcome are not the same thing.
In a world of alternatives, be a supplement.
An alternative needs to force a consumer-style choice of this over that: iPhone over Android, traditional over contemporary, vegan over vegetarian. “Alternative” rock fans of the 90’s didn’t just love Nirvana, they loathed Def Leppard; the former required the latter.
An alternative is built on a wholesale bottom-up rejection of current options, even as it borrows heavily from those options without attribution.
A supplement doesn’t need all that. A supplement only wants to provide what’s missing. Another option to incorporate into what’s already good and useful. A supplement is more generous and self-confident.
This and that.
Like emailing, we’re all reading way more than we realize. The volume of material we are expected to read in the form of emails and texts and notifications would knock our counterparts from three decades ago flat on their backs. Then it was memos and letters and newspapers. Now, you can’t even watch the news or sports on television without being required to read a constantly moving chyron and sidebars on top of sidebars.
Daily life has multiplied our reading load and we haven’t really noticed, but the leisure reading we’ve all added we certainly have noticed, though leisure is the last thing it gives us. All the email newsletters, tweets, and think-pieces posted on Facebook, all the blogs (!): very little of it feels restorative and edifying, so much of it feels like catching up, desperately trying to not miss the take that will become the definitive one.
And yet we say we need to read more.
No, we don’t.
My “Sent Items” folder in Outlook contains 29 emails labeled “Yesterday,” which means that I sent almost 30 pieces of communication through email in a single day. Some of it was from the computer in my office, and some of it was from my phone. A few were from my computer at home. Some were several sentences in length, while others a few words.
30 is not a lot of emails for one day, but if the year was 1983 and those emails were written letters or typed memos or even scribbled post-its, 30 would seem exhausting. You’d wonder what else you even did in a day.
But it’s so easy, so fluid. The mechanics of typographic communication are so thoroughly integrated into our every minute that we hardly think about them, and with that integration has become a massive relaxation of the standards and conventions guiding that communication. Who addresses emails to “Dear So-And-So?” A quick scan of the first lines of those emails I sent yesterday reveals most of them have no address at all.
Still, all day long we are stopping what we are doing to think intentionally about something we want to convey to someone, formulating it with some level of care, and then sending it. It’s work we don’t think of as work, at least not consciously. But I’m pretty sure our brains and bodies are treating it as such.