A post that I wrote a few weeks ago, Sermon at a New Church: The Significance of Baptism, has been getting an unusual number of views lately. I don’t mean that it is going viral, by any means. Actually, it only got four views today. But this is unusual.
Allow me to explain what I mean. For the past five or six years, I have written about the Sunday morning church services that I attend. When I lived in Cincinnati and was attending Catholic churches, I blogged about those services. When I moved to upstate New York and attended a Presbyterian church for over four years, I blogged about the weekly service. Now, I am in the state of Washington and am looking for a church (though my plan is to attend a United Methodist church for a while, or maybe alternate between the Methodist one and the Lutheran one, I don’t know), and I am blogging about the services that I attend.
Why do I do this? Well, when I was living in Cincinnati and attending Latin mass, I found that I had difficulty paying attention to the service and even remembering what I heard in it. I decided at a certain point to blog about the service, particularly the homily. I occasionally did that before, but it was irregular, so I committed to making it a regular practice. In my posts, I would say where I agreed and disagreed with the sermon. That may surprise those Christians who think that the sermon is God’s word to the congregation and should not be questioned, but I was raised to question things. Usually, in expressing where I agreed and disagreed with the sermon, I ended up getting more out of it, especially on a spiritual, practical level.
Ordinarily, the way things work is that I write a post, it gets some views on the day that I write it or the day after, and that’s it. That post that I wrote a couple of weeks ago about baptism, by contrast, is showing up under my “Top Posts and Pages” right now as I write, even though I wrote it a little over a few weeks ago.
I recently moved from upstate New York to Washington, and my own computer has not yet been set up in my room. Because of that, I do not have regular Internet service, at least not enough of the time to check comments regularly, approve them, and interact with them. Plus, I have been a bit misanthropic lately. For these reasons, I decided to close my comments on my WordPress and blogger blogs, at least until my computer is set up in my room. But I did not know how to close the comments on the “About me” page on my WordPress blog, so I simply left a note there saying that I will not be reading or approving comments for a while.
Someone decided, though, to leave a nasty, abusive, trollish comment under the “About me” page about my post on baptism. He said that, since I apparently have all the answers, I should start a church and try to come up with a sermon to preach each week, only to have somebody nitpick it, like I did with that sermon on baptism. He further said that I should spend more time encouraging people in the body of Christ. Then he sarcastically said, “But what do I know? I’m only a clergyman!”
There were so many things that went through my mind when I read that comment. I felt pity for this guy’s congregation. I marveled at the gross hypocrisy of someone telling me to encourage people in the body of Christ, when he was brutally tearing me down—-are not kindness and gentleness part of the fruit of the Spirit? I decided not to publish or interact with the comment because, in my experience, trolls are usually not interested in connecting with bloggers on a personal level. Often, they just shit on a person’s page, then leave. (Well, there are trolls who will continue the conversation, but that results in one bitter experience.) I could write a comment explaining to this commenter how he has me all wrong, hoping for some friendly comment in return, or at least some sense of closure. But I would probably be wasting my time.
As I see that my baptism post has gotten more views, though, I feel somewhat compelled to say something, maybe because I do not want other readers to get the wrong impression about me, too. Here are some thoughts:
1. I never, ever claimed to have all the answers. I have my opinions and my justifications for them, like most people do, and I believe that I have a right to evaluate what people say on the basis of those things.
2. Yes, pastoring a church is hard work. Coming up with a sermon each week is difficult. So are writing a book and making a movie, but people still feel that they have a right to critique those things based on their preferences. What makes sermons any different?
3. I said positive things about that sermon on baptism. I almost always say something positive about the sermons that I hear. My goal is not to nitpick things to death—-it’s not even to offer constructive criticism. Nor is my goal to stand up against heresy or false doctrine—-that is not a preoccupation of mine. Rather, my goal is to interact intellectually with the sermons that I hear, for that is how I have found that I get something out of them, that I am edified by them. Does it really compliment a sermon to listen to it, then not to think about it at all? No! I am showing respect to a sermon when I listen to it and think about it.
4. Some Christians may say that I am thinking about sermons in the wrong manner. I should think about the sermons by asking how they can critique my own life, rather than myself being the critic. For one, I do not see sermons in such an authoritarian manner. Second, in the course of thinking about sermons, my thought process does interact with the question of how I should live my life.
5. The commenter’s suggestion that I focus my energy on building people up in the body of Christ did get to me, and not just because it made me think about his hypocrisy. I should build people up in the body of Christ. I try to do so when I am friendly to people at church, but it is something that I should continually try to do, especially as one who struggles with socializing. I tend to distance myself a bit from the phony, plastic expressions of “encouragement” that I so often see in Christianity (or such is my impression), but that should only lead me to try to learn about what authentic encouragement is, and how I should practice it.
Anyway, I hope that makes sense. People who hate me will probably interpret what I say in the worst possible light, and I really cannot help that. I hope that more people, though, will have a better understanding of why I write posts about the sermons that I hear in churches.