“Social Meania”

 

So when I drove by this sign stuck lazily in the ground by the side of the road, insisting I “invite someone to church this month,” all I could do was shake my head in wonder and dismay. That lawn sign for me, with its tone of religious obligation, was an all-too-accurate metaphor of American churchianity. Stuck in the ground so half-heartedly that the person couldn’t even bother to push it in all the way.” So begins an article by author, Stephen Schmidt, entitled, ‘Please, Stop Inviting Your Friends to Church’, and so begins my sojourn into why we demand us – we who make up the face of Saint Miriam – be different!

Pause just for a moment today and visit your Facebook page and you will see what I call “Social Meania”! Every mean thing that can said, shared, posted, and turned into a ‘meme’ can be found on 30 square inches of computer screen! Yes, ‘keyboard courage’ is alive and well, especially in God’s Christendom. Ironically, we then sit back and ask why more folks just don’t come to church! Really?

Three out of five people who use social media say at least a few times a month someone is rude to them. And the rudeness doesn’t stop online. In fact, technology was blamed by more than 80 per cent of people surveyed by Insights West as the root cause of our growing incivility, making it the No. 2 reason (behind parents not teaching their kids manners) that people think we are becoming less civil to each other. And, when it comes to online incivility, younger people seem to suffer most. It is no wonder they don’t want to sit through a sermon on how the world is evil, Mexicans should be left at border, gays must be damned, and don’t forget that divorced folks are not welcomed here either! Why go?  Hell, I don’t want to go to a place like that, do you? No!

The current mass exodus from being Catholic isn’t because people aren’t showing up for Mass on Sunday, and it’s not because some of us don’t invite our friends and family either. It is because there is no relevance to the way they see the world; a world already filled with enough division and hatred toward their friends, family, and coworkers. In other words, it’s because we are showing up, and not giving the visitor what they need: a real connection with this guy we have romanticized away into an almost coloring book version of Himself, and who is certainly no longer present on Facebook, His name is Jesus, and He is who we actually follow at Saint Miriam. But, sadly we are more and more alone.

Folks are scared. They see your social meannes and the insensitive crap that you share on your various social media pages, and then when you invite them to come to your ‘wonderful church’ they are afraid; afraid of you, afraid of what they might be hit with, and mostly afraid by what the newest church goers are: walking away just as empty as when they walked in, or worse, being re-hated or having their own self-doubt re-tweeted within themselves.

At the pastor of this deeply wonderful and engaged parish of Saint Miriam that I have the honor of pastoring, we walk the talk! Our radical welcome is gospel-based! We care for children, the homeless, those in need; we support parishioner and stranger alike who can’t make ends meet; we bring coffee to the man in our parking lot when his car broke down as he waited in the cold rain and snow, we offered shelter to a family of refugees, and I even married a couple who was literally hours away from being deported while the ICE agents waited in the parking lot! We cloth the ill and sorrowful with prayer shawls for comfort, hand-knit by our own hands, we pray for the sick, the injured, and the dying, we honor the dead, anoint the fading, and hold hands of the survivor. We make homemade soup for our shut-ins and offer social groups to bring folks together. We honor our Blessed Mother with the rosary every week, because we know our lives are in need of support and intercession. We marry folks where they want because they need to know that their priests are willing to actually come to them. And, we baptize a lot of babies and a few adults, too! (Man, do we baptize here!) Yes, we have a strong social component to our parish, and even a Cafe‘ to feed us and those who visit, but the main life blood for us is that we believe – with all that we are – in the One named Jesus.

And because we know Him, we must welcome everyone – the black and white, yellow and red, the gay, divorced, and questioning, too, the interracial couple, the widow and the orphaned, different-sexed and same-sexed families, the lost and the sinner, the immigrant and the foreigner, the ex-offender, and the marginalized or forgotten, the bullied and the whole, the straight, the wealthy and the needy, and yes, even those who cannot sing! Everyone is welcome through our doors, within our hearts, and at our altar. And, we must be willing to go to them  – wherever they might be – when needed, too! We must visit the shelter, the hospital, and the prison, the club, the home, shelter, or nursing home alike. We must because Jesus often met those in need ‘on the road’ to where they thought they were once going…

As I often remind you, the one great lesson that I learned a long time ago at the hands of my mentor, Father Henry Kryder, while I was still a young seminarian (Yes, I was…I know what you are thinking!), is this: “A home-going priest makes for a full church.”  This applies to you, too. Think of that next time you go to hit ‘send’ on that keyboard of yours, or post that next obnoxious meme that degrades someone.

Would you want to go to church with you?