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Too Much Information ~ Jeff Crosno

  

      Although the admission will probably disqualify me as any sort of serious conversation partner, let me begin by confessing that thus far I have managed to survive the rigors of modern life without opening my own Facebook account. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Believe me; I know this is quite odd. While we have all been immeasurably blessed by social media since shortly after Al Gore first invented The Internets, it just seems safer for me to access all the weird and sometimes creepy stuff that my friends and family post to Facebook through our church account. That way I do not run any real risk of losing that small and vanishing sense of what should and should not be considered too much information by regurgitating the intimate details of my daily life upon our social media platform. You can trust me when I tell you that this is a public service for your personal benefit, and You’re welcome!

        Now before you completely dismiss me as some sort of cranky technophobe or Luddite perversely opposed to the benefits and conveniences of our culture, let me explain that my condition may be even worse than that: I’m concerned that my daily dabbling with Facebook exposes me to profound spiritual risk. You are no doubt quite different than me, but after reviewing the impressive exploits uploaded by all of our Facebook friends there is an almost irresistible urge within me to find some clever way to announce my own personal significance to the world. Frankly, this egocentric, self-assertive voice has been all too familiar to me from the very earliest days of my childhood: Hey, Dad, look at me, look at me, look at me! So let’s just say that over the years I have invested enough time in prayerful conversation with my pastors and spiritual directors to know that it will always be a very dangerous idea to hand a book of matches to someone who is already standing neck-deep in a pool of gasoline. In other words, given enough time and practice it appears all too easy for most of us to turn Christianity into a form of performance art for wannabe saints who aspire to be caught in the act of kissing the sores of the next convenient leper. And knowing this is true, for a person like me who already spends such an extensive amount of time thinking, acting, and speaking publicly as a disciple of Jesus, it is a safe bet that the actual practice of Christian faith will require on occasion that I must dynamite my own statue by engaging in some honest confession. Since it remains true that none of us are exactly as we say we are, it makes very little sense for us to insist on holding out our skillfully airbrushed self-portraits to those who may already see us with far more accuracy and awareness of our actual warts and flaws. So whenever I find myself tempted to puff up and polish a much more flattering self-image on Facebook, it just seems wise to remind myself of the dangers inherent in acting like a celebrity publicist.  Should I ever succumb to that temptation, I suspect we will all shortly discover that the publicist in question requires a far more interesting client.

        Let me cite a final case in point. Sorting through my email the other day, I think that I felt an almost imperceptible somersault somewhere deep in my heart while glancing at the first line of greeting from a complete stranger inviting me to speak at an unfamiliar conference in London. That’s odd, said the consistently rational, parental voice in my head, who on earth are the folks extending this offer, and how in the world did they find out who I am? But for a nanosecond, there was also this other person residing deep within me, eagerly waving his hand, ready to jump into action by planning intercontinental jet routes and a full weekend of dynamic messages to an international audience waiting expectantly for some hitherto, virtually unknown pastor from Spokane County. Because none of that initially made much sense, I did what any intelligent 7-Eleven shopper would do if faced with such an obvious sign of Divine, providential guidance for hitting on the Pick-6 PowerBall jackpot by using the last crumpled dollar bill that had remained available to buy a bottle of the Baby's formula: I forwarded that invitation email to my wife so she could figure it out and get back to me with further instructions. Perhaps you know why this was my first instinct at the time. No matter how much you may understand that some things are too good to be true, sometimes you still find yourself wanting to believe that some things are too good not to be true. And I suspect that deep down, most of us will always be a sucker for any story that suggests to us that what we are managing to do with our days actually matters to the largely indifferent world that is whirling all around us.

        I don’t mind telling you that I married quite well, or at least much better than I actually deserve. She got right back to me with an email reply within just a few minutes, sending me a link to a recent Forbes magazine article that reported on a new Internet phishing scam. Apparently the perpetrators of this latest hoax send local preachers unexpected invitations to speak at international conferences to eventually extract from them the kind of personal information that proves useful in draining a pastor’s bank account. Of course, this would not be a very nice thing for people to do to one another, and that is obviously rather disappointing. I am still trying to determine the extent to which Al Gore should be held personally responsible for this problem.

        If the reader will permit me to dispense some unsolicited advice, let me now caution you to beware the attraction of being needed.  For most of us, wanting to be wanted will always be a fairly popular drug of choice.  Another way to say this may be to remark how often we labor long and hard to bestow upon others our acts of service and even gestures of love for the sake of being noticed and affirmed.  In the end, enticing us to do those right things for the wrong reasons may be one of the devil’s best works.  But may I also remind you that in this world there will usually be few, if any readily available clues regarding the immediate effectiveness of your life’s work?  With this caveat in mind, choosing to let your spirit soar or plummet in relation to the size of your job, your visceral response to the moment, or the appraisal of any onlookers is a sure pathway to utter exhaustion and cynicism.  In other words, to put all of your emphasis on the immediate evidence of tangible results rather than the mystery of a Kingdom which matures like a seed growing in secret is to forget that vitality will always be mightier than mere size.

        Before I completely wear out my welcome, I want to tell you that the best advice for those who hope to participate in the real work of God may be to simply stay put.  Jumping from one place to another is usually a great way of avoiding the very maturity you need most.  But you will likely never find it apart from the reliable sources of frustration, which alone will force you to finally put your roots down deeper than your immediate circumstances.  As those early Christians known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers used to say, a tree which is often transplanted never bears fruit.  So remember that mustard seed of which Jesus spoke.  Remember what he also had to say about the wheat and the weeds.  And always remember that profligate Sower who scatters God’s good seed everywhere with the gracious abandon of an eternal confidence.  Even when your role or responsibility seems to be very slight and of little consequence, don’t forget to bear witness to the joy of being providentially placed by God to participate in the miracle of that trustworthy Kingdom.  This is actually what the poet R. S. Thomas later came to understand when appraising his own importance after he became the pastor to a tiny congregation in the hill country of central Wales: “I was vicar of large things in a small parish.”

Jeff Crosno