Toward saying more with less – Pastoral Backstory – July 20th, 2017


July 20th, 2017

Heard any of these evaluations of our online lives before?

Our embrace of a “high-tech, low-touch” existence has been a Faustian bargain.

Our curated social media personae permit us to create false impressions and compensate for deep insecurities.

Our ability to hide behind avatars, menacingly troll comboxes, and spew hatred with impunity is all amplified by the online ecosystem.

Those are some of the most common complaints lodged against this new, increasingly unwieldy world of virtual community.

Add to that the sobering concern that attention to our screens diminishes our capacity to be attentive to anything else for long, and we have a situation to which the word “crisis” applies.

Yet for all the perils of appealing to our technologies without guidance or restraint (and there are many more than the ones enumerated here), there may be one salutary offshoot of this otherwise problematic mode of discourse: the way the medium has cultivated a capacity for condensing our thought with great economy. That is, with the meteoric rise in the speed of our communication, now brevity coupled with clarity–saying more with lessis at a premium in the digital realm. (In the sermonic realm, too–I know.) Yes, the preference for succinctness can militate against the necessary patience to distill complicated thoughts (E.g. “tl dr“). But when confined to the smallest of spaces in which to express thought, one must work harder to find just the right word and syntax. In that small way, this online nation is sharpening rather than blunting its citizenry.

So why tout one good aspect of the internet among its many troubling ones? Twitter is the most popular space in which to nurture this new aptitude for concision (though, we also concede, it has nurtured other impulses not worth touting). And this week we came across just a few tweets–those short communications that offer you only 140 characters per utterance–that just so happen to condense the essence of the sermon last Sunday.

Our theme from Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan was how life begins and prevails with compassion.

Jean Vanier

If you wanted to capture the introduction to the sermon–how according to Freddie DeBoer’s observations, the life centered on the self’s maximization is a recipe for becoming “a wreck”–Rich Villodas harvested a quote from Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche Community for the intellectually handicapped:

With every investment there is a corresponding opportunity cost. When we are our highest priority we necessarily de-prioritize others. But, since long before DeBoer was issuing warnings, Jesus warned that those who “seek their life will lose it,” and so making ourselves the priority makes us our own liability. That was the condition to which Jesus’s parable spoke. But Jean Vanier summarized that presenting issue with masterful brevity.


But what about the parable itself?

Mosul, before and after

Jesus chooses a Samaritan as the incarnation of compassion to challenge the complacency of a people who know better. You may have heard this week of only the most recent harrowing story from Mosul, Iraq–a city retaken from ISIL by Iraqi forces. The reports of what transpired under ISIL challenge our conceptions of what humans are capable of doing to others.

But there are other stories, too–stories of compassion and bravery that have to be told.

Rukmini Callimachi is a Romanian reporter for the New York Times. My intention in posting this series of several tweets from Callimachi about Muslims coming to the aid of their Christian neighbors persecuted by other Muslims is not so much to challenge complacency in us (though he who has ears to hear…) as it is to mimic Jesus’s way of harnessing the unexpected hero in His parables.

Except this is no imaginary tale, but a real life-and-death situation in which compassion is front and center.

Read this first tweet, and then click anywhere on it to take you to the series of 15 more that tell a noteworthy tale of jeopardizing oneself for the good of another.

With only a few keystrokes, Callimachi’s tweets reconfirm how there is no compassion without risk, or without love


Rosaria Butterfield

Finally, we ended the sermon acknowledging that compassion is not a feeling but a concrete action, involving proximity, restoration, and inconvenience. So we suggested one way forward: discover what suffering might exist right beneath your nose by making a new habit to invite neighbors to dinner. Modern culture encourages suffering in isolation. Neighborhoods bring people into close proximity to one another but also permit them to keep distances between them; that’s their draw. How then do we overcome those cultural barriers to community that allow us to live a quiet but half-dead existence? How about a decent meal? We appealed to Rosaria Butterfield’s practice in her family of devoting more than occasional evening to engaging their neighbors over a home-cooked repast. The following are two tweets that both summarize the warrant for the practice, and also a link to her explication of it.

While there is always a global need for compassion, our practice of it can begin by just looking over our fence.



Sustained attention to pressing needs is what we all need to cultivate if we’re to make any progress in solving them; and admittedly our online habits too often diminish that capacity. But there is both skill and usefulness in saying more with less. That we do well to cultivate, too.

not that kind of dissolution

Addendum: We remind you that the Session has called a congregational meeting this Sunday, immediately following the conclusion of worship to officially “dissolve my pastoral relationship” with CtK (in keeping with the direction of our Book of Church Order, 23-1). (However my last Sunday to preach will be July 30th.)

Following the conclusion of that vote, the Session will then hold an informational meeting sharing with you the next steps for transition and ministry in CtK, including a word from our Assistant Pastor Kevin Gladding, who has accepted the invitation from the Session to serve as Interim Pastor. (Rejoice!)

While only members may vote to dissolve the pastoral relationship (again, per our BCO), everyone–members, associate members, and regular attendees–is strongly encouraged to stick around following worship. These are family matters we hope you’ll all be part of.



Author: Patrick

Pastor of Christ the King Church (PCA)

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