Today was an experiment that seemed to mostly work. I often teach “Intro to Social Media” workshops in Church settings. Today, with the Louisiana Interchurch Council Board, I experimented with teaching people how to tweet using a paper template. I figured that folks from a paper generation would be more comfortable drafting their #FirstTweet by hand and then could begin to imagine actually tweeting. It mostly worked. People got the hang of #hashtags and @handles. If you want to try it in your own setting, here’s a template of 140 character Practice Tweet. If you use it, let me know how it goes!
I was asked by my City Councilor Matt O’Malley (a politician proficient at using social media to connect with the people he serves- and a great example for religious leaders to follow!) as a constituent to offer a prayer of invocation before the Boston City Council began their work on Wednesday October 9,2013. I asked my Facebook feed what they would pray for in this setting; many of those responses were incorporated into the prayer I wrote. I share this as an example of one way for Christians to pray in public in multi-faith settings.
Between the federal government shutdown, a mayoral election, busses and budgets and a blessing over Fenway, I think we’ve got plenty to pray for today!
My name is Rev. Laura Everett, I have the great privilege of serving at the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, a statewide network of individuals, congregations and Christian denominations convinced that what binds us together at the Church is stronger than anything that divides us. In the days following the Boston Marathon bombing, we worked to coordinate the inter-religious response. Last Sunday, I guest preached in South Walpole Methodist Church, the Sunday before that at Grace Episcopal Church in Great Barrington, and the Sunday before that at first Congregational West Tisbury, but I am a proud resident of Ward 11, Precinct 8 in the city of Boston. I want you to know that in every church I visit, everywhere I go, the people pray for those in elected office and positions of power. Know that you are held in these prayers.
My father’s side of the family has deep history in Boston, though I grew up in New Jersey. And like many Bostonians, I came here for school and never left. On a very personal note, nothing did more to make me an engaged citizen in love with this city than beginning to move through it by bike. Before, I could keep to myself and my head in my newspaper or phone on the T. By bike, I see the new playground getting built day by day at Jackson Square. By bike, I cannot avert my eyes from the men who live in all weather tucked behind the transformers along the Southwest Corridor. By bike, I ride past the Boston Police Department and pray for the safety of our city. And the women blocking the bike lane, pushing their grocery carts full of scavenged recycled cans in the opposite direction of traffic, give me a chance to practice compassion. I ride with the transplants, and the students and the new immigrants who ride because they cannot afford a car. By bike, I actually see this city and the people in it, rather than rushing past. Thank you for the many ways you make this possible for more Bostonians.
Each Sunday, many Protestants and Roman Catholic Christians will read and preach on the same scripture texts. This Sunday, we’ll hear of Jesus healing the 10 lepers and the only one who comes back to thank him is the migrant, the marginalized Samaritan. Another reading is from the prophet Jeremiah, chapter 29. Jeremiah is speaking to a weary people in exile, far from the city of their origin, Jerusalem. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God tells the people “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
Seek the welfare of the city. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. From the very earliest times, our prophets know- our individual welfare is inextricably linked to the welfare of us all. As you are led, will you join with me in prayer?
We pause before the work of this day to confess, to give thanks, to share our burdens, and to pray for our city and these city councilors.
We confess the ways we have become weary and worn by a political process more often marked by venom than by grace. We confess our participation our national idolatry of guns and the stranglehold of violence in our mind, in our hearts, in our streets and in our homes. We confess the ways we too grow resigned to the way things are and systems that refuse to change.
Holy One, save us from weak resignation. Remind us of our power to seek the welfare of this city.
We acknowledge the many burdens we carry into this work. Attend to them, O God. We give thanks for the communities that support us, the spouses, friends, neighbors and loved ones who sacrifices so that we may be here this day. Bless them.
We pray for all elected officials entrusted with the holy calling of public service. Keep them pure in heart. We pray for those running for elected office. We pray for Barack our president, Deval our governor, and Tom our mayor. We pray especially for Congress, that you might intervene in hearts that have grown hardened.
We pray for the residents of this city and the constituents we serve.
For all those seeking full, meaningful employment, we pray for work.
For all those seeking education, we pray for powerful teachers
For all those seeking peace, train us to work for justice.
We grieve with all those who grieve in this city, remembering those who have been killed this year in Boston: Anthony Spaulding, Jonathan Reyes, Carly Jones, Rayshawn Lamont, Corey Thompson, Courtney W. Jackson, Thaddeus Clark, Edward Villalona, Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu, Joel D. Phillips, Clifton Townsend, Malcolm Campbell, Maiqui Hernandez, Misbam Wiggins, Tremayne Jackson, Steven Jones, Lloyd Powell, Brianna Bigby, Jordan Miller, Jajuan Griffin, Erick Pierre-Louis, Felix Garcia, Brian Tirado, Ana Cruz, Melissa Hardy and two men whose names are known to you alone.
Holy One, bless the work that is before this city council today. May ever decision we make, every phone call we pick up, every email we respond to this day be done with generosity of spirit. Turn us again, reorient our hearts. Remind us of the truth of Jeremiah that in the welfare of the city, we will find our own welfare. In all we do, in all we say, may we seek the welfare of this city.
We know you by many names, I pray in the powerful name of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Old South Church in Boston‘s Facebook page includes the usual updates on their shared life. But a creative, participatory project caught my eye. Borrowing from The Christian Century article “The Gospel in Seven Words,” their Facebook page offered their own seven word summations of the Gospel from clergy and members alike over multiple days. From the Minister of Music:
Today’s SEVEN WORDS:
You’ll never walk alone in Christ Jesus. (Harry Huff)
We who run institutional Facebook pages assume the task of defining our “voice” in social media. Institutional pages can sometimes feel, well, institutional. The 7 Words experiment nicely amplified multiple voices around the same theme. Through this social media practice they demonstrated this institution is comprised of the people (and not just the pastor or Facebook page administrator)! What communal practice would work in your setting: Favorite hymns? Re-posting pictures of the holy taken by parishioners?
A nationwide witness to Christian unity during a season of political division began not by councils of churches or denominations, but 2 Mennonite pastors and a lay Episcopalian in a swing state. Election Day Communion puts forth a compelling vision: on the day when our country feels the most divided, invite Christians to come to Christ’s common table. Inclusion in the body of Christ comes not at the ballot box but at the waters of baptism.
Social media tools enable the good idea to spread via Facebook, Twitter and a website on the inexpensive platform WordPress. But none of the tools matter without a compelling vision. Learn your digital ministry tools. Today, 728 congregations across the country are participating. But for something to “go viral,” you need a compelling vision or a cute cat photo. And frankly, the internet already has enough cats.
They will know we are Christians by our Snark?
Sunday September 16, 2012 St. James Episcopal Church, Greenfield MA
James 3:1-12 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
Join me if you know this song:
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love
The Summer of 1968 was tense in Chicago. Roman Catholic priest Peter R. Scholtes was a parish priest at St. Brendan’s church on the South side. Fr. Peter was looking for a song that his youth group could sing at ecumenical, interracial and interfaith events, but didn’t find anything he loved. So he wrote this hymn based on Jesus’ words in John 13:35, “by this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, of you have love for one another.”
Let us pray:
James is a strange text. It may have been written by Jesus’s half brother James. Or not. The well-schooled Greek seems more than what a simple Galilean carpenter could compose. The letter is written the a classical Hellenic form- a “diatribe”- replies to “imaginary interlocutors,” a little like Clint Eastwood at the Republican National Convention speaking to an empty chair.
James holds a strange place in our tradition. Martin Luther, with his total commitment to salvation through grace alone, called the letter to James an “Epistle of Straw.” Luther read James’s emphasis on good works and right living and thought he was teaching incorrectly that we could earn our way into God’s good graces. Later in the 19th century long after Luther, another German commentator Johann Gottfried Herder replied that ‘the nourishment of unthreshed grain could be found within the straw nonetheless.’
The Letter of James poses a real challenge to the ancient and contemporary Church. James seems to be addressing a Christian community divided. His two main concerns are how the community treats the rich and the poor and how the community disagrees. These are James’s test for true faithful living: how do you treat the poor and how do you speak.
The lectionary text this week focuses us on James concern about how the Christian community speaks. James works three different metaphors about speech: a horse’s bit, a ship’s rudder and a small fire in a large forest.
Each time, James is pointing to something larger. We’ve got this small tongue, but it can cause a lot of trouble. Controlling your tongue is like putting a bit in a horse’s mouth- this small piece of metal actually guides the entire movement of the horse. Or a boat’s rudder- this small piece of wood actually guides the entire movement of the large ship. For James, our tongues, our speech guides the entire direction of our lives.
There’s great potential, great power in our speech for James. Tongues can be dangerous things, like verse 5 “so also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.” But for James, an uncontrolled tongue is like a small fire in a large forest. James sees potential to do unbelievable damage with our words.
This week was set ablaze with violence because of the words of a few unchecked tongues. The truth is still unfolding, but what we know now is that an anti-Islam film speaking falsehoods about the Prophet Mohammed sparked riots, destruction and even death. Initial media reports suggested that the filmmaker Sam Bacile was Jewish and Israeli. Later reports uncovered that the Sam Bacile might not even exist, and the person pretending to be a filmmaker named Sam Bacile is an Egyptian Coptic Christian. Add into the volatile mix the Florida pastor Terry Jones, best known for his Koran-burning stunts. These events, and the local impact of them, remind me again and again why we need the connections of the Massachusetts Council of Churches as we work to build healthy and favorable relationships with our neighbors from other religious traditions. It an age of near instantaneous communication, we saw this week how the foolish words and images from one person could ignite a tinderbox of potential violence half a world away.
James knows of the dangerous potential of words. He calls the tongue a “restless evil, full of deadly poison”(James 3:8). Why is our speech so dangerous? Because it is possible to speak both a blessing and a curse from the same lips. James sees how duplicitous we can be with our words. Our speech can be positive and it can be destructive. Our tongues are dangerous because, “with it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. “ That same tongue, that very same tongue can speak a blessing and the next moment can curse our neighbor who is made in the likeness of God. For James, these are opposite actions- blessing the Lord and cursing those made in the image of God. You can’t do both. You can’t worship God and Mammon. You can’t praise God out of one side of your mouth and curse your brother out of the other side. Reminds us of Jesus’ words about how we are to come to worship God only after we’ve squared away any conflict we have with our neighbor. James says “from the same mouth comes blessing and cursing.”
You know this. Any of you who returned to school earlier this month know how easy it is for the same person to speak kind words and then cruel names. You know this is part of our condition. You know how easy it is to speak a blessing and the next moment spew some curse. Like all of our lives, all of our body, made for praise and potential to inflict harm on others and damage our relationship with God. You know this, your tongue can get you into the worst kind of trouble. “it boasts of great exploits.” We get taken to task for what we say (Pres Obama “you didn’t build that”) or what we don’t say (Gov Romney not mentioning the troops). Our speech caries the potential to bless and to curse. And it’s so close to home.
Raise your hands, how many of you were formed by a religious community other than the Episcopal Church? How many of you were formed by Roman Catholic Church? The reality of the Church today is that many of us have been formed by multiple religious communities, which is part of what makes our ecumenical and interreligious work so important. If you were form by Roman Catholicism, you may be familiar with the language around mortal and venial sins. Mortal sins are those big serious ones and venial sins are the smaller, daily slip-ups. The Roman Catholic theologian Charlie Curran said “the problem with putting the focus on “mortal” or serious sins, is that mortal sins are very hard to do. Mortal sin completely and totally separates us from God. Hard to do. Rather, venial sins, lesser sins are with us all the time. Curran wants us to focus on the lesser sins- he says its there, with the lesser sins that are with us all the time, that we find our path to spiritual growth.
In some ways, this is the opposite of that workplace adage about ‘not sweating the small stuff’- Curran is saying the small stuff matters. Raise your hands, how many of you were formed by a religious community other than the Episcopal Church? How many of you were formed by Roman Catholic Church? The reality of the Church today is that many of us have been formed by multiple religious communities, which is part of what makes our ecumenical and interreligious work so important. If you were form by Roman Catholicism, you may be familiar with the language around mortal and venial sins. Mortal sins are those big serious ones and venial sins are the smaller, daily slip-ups. The Roman Catholic theologian Charlie Curran said “the problem with putting the focus on “mortal” or serious sins, is that mortal sins are very hard to do. Mortal sin completely and totally separates us from God. Hard to do. Rather, venial sins, lesser sins are with us all the time. Curran wants us to focus on the lesser sins- he says its there, with the lesser sins that are with us all the time, that we find our path to spiritual growth.
We commit so many sins with our lips, and increasingly with our fingers to our keyboards. Many ways we “speak” now- type, text, tweet. As a bicycle commuter, I’ve gotten the clear message from angry automobile drivers without hearing a word through their glass windows. James calls it evil, recognizes how potentially destructive it is, but he reminds us that with that same mouth we bless the Lord. With those same fingers we type kindness and compassion or snark and vile. I watch my Jewish colleagues sign off of social media on Friday nights to keep the Sabbath. They have a unique witness in social media. I’ve often wondered what our unique, particular Christian witness could be. What if they knew we were Christians by our love? By our kindness and compassion? By our words of grace instead of cruelty. Will they know we are Christians by our words?
James expects to see a changed life out of the Christian community he is writing to. First , he expects Christians to treat the poor with generosity and inclusion. Secondly, James expects the Christians to speak differently. James wants us to get in the habit, in the practice of being bridled. Aren’t we like wild ponies! We resist constraint. We claim our freedom of speech as a right! Yes, we can say almost anything. But what should we say? There is a difference between what we can say and what we should say. James expects Christians to speak differently, type differently, act differently.
I have a friend in her mid thirties now who rarely wears shorts or skirts. Tall, lanky, impressive in stature. But when she was a small child, she was all knees and elbows. Do you remember those little wooden toys where when you push on the bottom, all the limbs of the giraffe go slack? My friend was a baby giraffe as a little girl. And a beloved uncle, kind and good, once said that her legs were like piano legs. His words fell into that tender place worn raw from cruel words of grade school kids, and they stuck. We do not know what battle someone else is fighting when we speak our words of blessing or a curse. James asks you to watch your tongue and keep your words holy. Will they know you are a Christian by your words? Amen.
And so I did, posting a photo of my tasty meal. I visit a lot of churches, more churches than restaurants. I’ve yet to see a sign like this in a church.
“Checking in” with social media allows us to narrate where we spend our time, talent, and treasure. Every Sunday, we boldly invite our people to give generously to further our common ministry. Post a small sign like this or a note in the bulletin asking the same. As Vee Vee said, “Help spread the word to your friends.” Invite our people to check in.
(These are my Director’s Report notes from the Massachusetts Council of Churches Annual Meeting “Christian Unity in the Digital Age” on Saturday April 28, 2012)
It is good to be with you today. I give God thanks for the MCC’s Board of Directors, all who serve on the many working groups, and all who give financially throughout the year to forward Christ’s hopeful, audacious prayer that we would live and act as one Church. Joel, Gayle, Polly and Robert are an wise and generous Executive Committee. I am especially grateful for the MCC staff- Administrator Fred Hayes and intern Nicole Bernier, who come to us through the Life Together program of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. Fred, Nikki and the staff of the Wellesley Hills Congregational Church worked very hard to make this day run smoothly. Join me in showing them our gratitude.
One evening this winter, I sat down in the dark wooden chairs at a nearby monastery for evening prayer. After a long day of ministry with the changing MCC, I needed to be in a place that was familiar, steady, dependable. I pulled out the hymnal and the prayer book and sat still in the darkness. Across the aisle from me, I saw a glow coming up from behind a pew. A young woman was peering over her iPad. Even here, amidst the cold stone and monastic chant, I could not escape new technology. An iPad in a monastery at evening prayer? Was nothing sacred? Didn’t our faithful old prayerbook work just fine? Was she tweeting, facebooking, skyping? Couldn’t I rest for a while in a corner of the Church that wasn’t in the midst of change? The service began the same way it always began and moved along that dependable course, while I sat in my pew and fumed. A few days later, I found out that the young woman was visually impaired and was reading the large type liturgy off of her iPad. Isn’t this where we are as the Church in Massachusetts? A time of dramatic, destabilizing change, unsure if the things we see changing around us are indeed helpful and holy.
You know these changes in your own community- Church is no longer a given in people’s lives. We can’t depend on all the familiar ways of communicating and it seems like a new media platform pops up every other day. We don’t automatically have a place of privilege waiting for us in the public square. We can’t presume Church: A recent Gallup poll identified Massachusetts as the fourth “least-religious” state. We can’t depend on denominational identity in the same way. Raise your hands, how many of you have been formed by multiple Christian communities? We’ve all heard it before, but the era of cradle-to-grave anything is mostly over. The Presbyterian Church (USA) just said that 58% of their members did not grow up in their tradition. As the Pew Forum’s US Religious Landscapes Survey notes, 44% of Americans “now profess a religious rather affiliation that is different from the religion in which they were raised.” Whether it’s new evangelical converts to Orthodoxy who didn’t grow up speaking Greek or the flux between Protestant and Roman Catholic communities, the composition of our local churches is changing. Christian unity matters because the divisions of the church are now in every local congregation.
All these changes are multiplied when we gather with a council of churches. We can go at it alone, each trying to forge their own way through this time of immense change, doubling down into our denominational bunkers. Or we can work together, recognizing that God is doing a new thing with all our churches and we might have something to learn from one another. You are a part of the new thing God is doing here.
I believe the Massachusetts Council of Churches can adapt and must adapt to our changing landscape and the changing needs of your churches. I am taking to heart this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth: “We will not all die, but we will all be changed”(1Cor 15:51b). Christ’s prayer for the unity of his Church is timeless; our ecumenical structures are not. The Massachusetts Council of Churches is changing. You saw our budget, 53,000 less than the year before. We cut the Associate Director position. And we will be ok because we are a people of the resurrection. Some things will change, some things will die. But the bedrock truth of our faith remains that we are one in Christ. Christ’s prayer for the unity of his Church is timeless; our ecumenical structures are not.
Even amidst all this change, let me be clear on this: For unity stronger than simply intra-Christian strategic cooperation or temporary agreement on a given advocacy that ends when we disagree, we must be absolutely clear on our theological foundation. Christian unity is not optional, not something we just check off or outsource to a committee. Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon has pointed to our “faulty ecclesiology,” where “councils are often regarded as organizations alongside churches, but this misses the point. Councils are not organizations the churches join, but covenants they make with one another to express something of our unity in Christ.” Here, we are a part of a covenant made with God and one another. This is a holy thing we do together. I am convinced that the Holy Spirit will not abandon us yet.
The Massachusetts Council of Churches is a 110 year old expression of our unity in Christ in Massachusetts. We inherit a strong legacy of common Christian witness to justice and reconciliation. In the past year, we have done right by that heritage. Together, we created and participated in a massive interfaith service marking the 10 year anniversary of September 11th in Boston- and we connected and promoted hundreds of local commemorations around the state on that Sunday. We held strong where we could, and faithfully lost the battle to stop casino gambling. We became an internship site for the Life Together program as a sign of our commitment to raising up new leaders and ecumenical formation. We held a wonderful interfaith dinner and marked Jack’s departure as executive. We transitioned to a new leadership and continued the hard work of reassessing our structures and resources. We are imagining new ways for our traditions to interact. We invited ‘Ecumenical Pilgrims’ to visit two different Armenian Orthodox Churches for Armenian Christmas, as a way of experiencing the diversity of the body of Christ here in Massachusetts. We have restarted the Christian-Muslim dialogue. We welcome our musicians and liturgists to our ecumenical hymnal event at Boston University School of Theology. We have developed a robust digital ministry that has us connecting with new communities. And coming up, we will be present- not just me but representatives of the Board as well- at every one of the denominational gatherings this summer. As the United Methodists, Lutherans and Episcopalians in Western MA elect new Bishops, we will be an ecumenical presence. And at the end of May, we are partnering with many denominations and Christian agencies for a Week of Ecumenical Advocacy- you are invited to talk with Nicole Bernier and Ruy Costa of Episcopal City Mission about how you can be involved. We are digging deeply into relationships with local congregations and ecumenical clergy associations across the state. It is a great joy of this ministry that I get to visit local congregations and tell the stories of what we are doing together. Now, my calendar is looking a bit empty after, well tomorrow. So invite me to come guest preach and teach in your local parish (firstname.lastname@example.org) . I am committing to be present at churches in every county in the Commonwealth this year. We are setting clear and measurable goals for our shared ministry. We are building a strong web of relationships to strengthen the body of Christ. Together, we can and we will be a unified, vibrant, hopeful witness.
You are a part of this change. This annual meeting is an experiment as we test out those strategic goals we set last year that prodded us to think about new communities to connect to, younger leadership, better communication and events relevant to vital, local congregational life. All the while, we are holding constant to the bedrock commitment to Christian Unity even as we explore this strange new land of social media and what it means for the Church. Social Media commentator Jim Rice draws on Avery Dulles’ Models of the Church and suggests that social media’s ability to collapse time and space provides us with “new and tangible analogies of God’s transcendence and immanence.” Our experience of social media can provide us with new analogies for the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” Let me be clear, I am not saying that social media will save the Church or the ecumenical movement. That is Christ’s role. But it’s adapt or die.
If we choose to avoid social media, we concede space and a conversation about the nature and mission of the Church will go on without us. This is also not just a technical fix about how to create your church/organization/council’s Facebook page It is an adaptive challenge to take our established ecumenical relationships and open ourselves up to the new and somewhat unclear expression of the Church in social media. What could the chaotic, conversational, boundary-crossing networks of social media teach us about what Christian unity might looks like in ways unlike what we have imagined? What new thing might God be doing in our midst?
It is good and right that we explore this together. We have four very wise shepherds in front of us to kick off the conversation. You have their bios in your bulletin. I am deeply grateful to Jack, Keith, Vicki and Domenico for your ministries and your willingness to be here today. Thank you for teaching us.