I had my first experience of going viral this week. Not to worry. It was just a 24 hour bug. And I’m pretty sure it’s not contagious. In response to the Nashville Statement issued on Tuesday by evangelical leaders that roundly excludes LGBT folks from the church, Thursday, I put up the message you saw on your way up the drive this morning, “The Jesus Statement: All Are Welcome.”
Thanks to lots of folks sharing the picture—including a blog with a following of 30,000 people—the picture soon went viral…okay, viral-ish. As of yesterday, the picture had been seen by about 8,000 people, reacted to by 371, and shared 113 times. It’s not a flock of panda cubs rolling around at the zoo, but I confess, it gave me a bit of a rush…
But when the hits stopped coming—about 24 hours later—I crashed. I kept checking my phone, desperate to see if there might be some more likes or shares. There were very few.
Coming down off the viral high, I began to reflect on what had happened. “Going viral” is an important form of advertising these days. We are blessed to have folks among us—like Trudy Stoddert and Holly CothranDrake—who know how to use Facebook to get the word out about Pilgrimage. Trudy did a “push” of the post with the sign, which got us more views. We’ve been talking lately about how many people in our area are looking for a church community like Pilgrimage. Facebook is an effective and inexpensive way to get the word out about who we are to the people most interested in finding a community like ours.
But…That rush I felt from reactions to the post got me thinking… I wonder if, as a society, we have become addicted to attention. Going viral has become the holy grail. The more people who see your post, the better. Which means we tend to post things that are outrageous– outrageously cute or weird or strident or witty, because we want the attention. And we often end up posting gut-reactions rather than well thought out statements because we want to post quickly to catch people while they’re still interested. Had I waited until today to post the sign picture, it might have gotten a sniffle, but certainly no virus.
Even as I tallied up the likes and shares, though, I realized that I—and many of our go-to progressive Christian bloggers—were doing what we often do: we were reacting to fundamentalist Christians. We posted messages and pictures and memes and signs that declared first and foremost, “We’re not those kinds of Christians.”
Don’t get me wrong. It is important to speak out against statements that purport to be Christian but don’t seem to have anything to do with Jesus. But is beating up on Christian fundamentalists really all we have to offer those who are desperate to hear the good news of God’s love for them? Is reacting to negative portrayals of Christianity an effective way to share the faith of Jesus?
As important as going viral is these days—even for faith communities—I still think the most effective way of sharing the good news of God’s love for others is to love others…to love our neighbor…to love our enemies. To love the earth.
One of the greatest dangers of our addiction to attention is that we’re getting less adept at sustaining interest in any given topic these days—because staying engaged means putting up with the boring parts, too. We don’t like the boring parts—because they’re so boring. And they don’t get likes, much less shares. Earth care, particularly climate justice, is a case in point.
I’ve seen many articles in the last week that explore the connection between stronger storms, like Hurricane Harvey and the monsoons inundating southern Asia, and climate change. You’ve probably read them, too. As ocean temperatures rise, warmer water contributes to higher intensity storms, which pour larger amounts of rain on affected areas. Hurricane Harvey dumped 50 inches of rain onto Texas. That’s a trillion gallons…nearly five times as much rain as Katrina brought 12 years ago. As sea levels rise and shrink mainland boundaries—and swallow islands all together—storm surge damage increases. The list of dire consequences of climate change grows daily.
We can leave the job of cataloging the physical effects of climate change to the scientists. As people of faith, our job is different, though no less vital. Our job is to make caring for earth a matter of prayer and worship. And love.
Today begins the season of creation, a time when we remember our connection to everything God created. I was puzzled when I saw the verses chosen for today. It’s a great text; it’ll preach all day long. But it focuses on human beings. For it was you, God, who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Lovely. But what does it have to do with creation, other than the creation of human beings?
When I read the next verse, I understood. “My frame was not hidden from you”—this frame God was knitting together in our mothers’ wombs—“when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” Wait a minute! God was just knitting us together in our mothers’ wombs. How did we end up in the dirt?
Psalms are poetry. What we have in these verses is poetic parallelism, two ways of describing a single thing. I suspect the allusion the psalmist is making here is to Genesis 2 and the creation of the first person, Adam, which literally means “earth.” Adam was created out of, born out of mud. Talk about “intricately woven in the depths of the earth!”
What if we are? What if we are—literally—children of the earth? What if we are that intimately connected to the rest of creation? In her poem, “White Flowers,” Mary Oliver describes just how “intricately woven in the depths of the earth” we are.
Have you ever rested on the “porous line” Oliver describes? Have you ever felt that intimately connected to creation? My guess is all of us have…at the beach, in the mountains, working in a garden, watching a solar eclipse…
So, if we are that intimately connected to creation, if we are “intricately woven in the depths of the earth,” if we can’t tell where our body ends and earth’s begins, how can we possibly allow our interest in earth’s wellbeing to wane? If changes in climate already are affecting so many people, most of them poor (41 million have been affected by the monsoons in southern Asia), how can we let anything as trivial as another news cycle distract us from the important work of mitigating climate change? Why aren’t we working every minute of every day to convince our legislators to enact laws that will reduce greenhouse gases?
I’m going to stop there…because some of you—all of us—are probably starting to feel overwhelmed. And guilty. And, maybe, hopeless. That’s because we have kind hearts and want to do whatever we can to act the earth into wellbeing. But it’s just so hard, isn’t it? The problems are too big. Our efforts too small.
But there is a gift we people of faith can give in global efforts to slow climate change—we can remind ourselves and others that all creation is connected and that what connects us is our creator, the one who created every living thing out of, with, and for one purpose: love.
As people of faith, as followers of Jesus, the greatest gift we can give in the wake of climate crisis, is the gift of love…which means doing everything we can to act earth into wellbeing—convincing our legislators to enact laws that will reduce greenhouse gases; becoming active in organizations like the Citizens Climate Lobby; continuing to gather with our Pilgrimage climate group (which still needs a convener); spending time out in creation.
And maybe the best way to act earth into wellbeing is give it our sustained attention…not only when hurricanes blow in or when dire reports from scientists make the news cycle…but every moment of every day…no matter how many likes or shares we get.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2017