What equals 9?

An accelerated bulletin schedule due to Hurricane Irma, a deadline moved up, and busy about hurricane prep, left me without a fresh idea for this week’s pastor column. But some recent events made me recall this previous column which I again offer for your consideration.

One of the interesting things about “blogging” is what happens off-line. WordPress has a feature for “comments” and it is a controllable feature. You can allow all comments and then remove inappropriate ones as you see fit. But then that means you have to monitor it constantly. Sometimes manners and charity are not hallmarks of text and comments left behind. It takes time. Not willing to dedicate time to the supervising task? The blog administrator cannot allow any comments at all. That takes no additional time to oversee. There is at least one “middle way.” You can allow comments but require that all comments be approved before they are posted on one’s blog. That takes some time, but you have the luxury of getting to such things when you have time.

Blogs, comments — I have been musing about this for a while. In truth it is not just blogs, it is part of our everyday conversations.

There are lots of folks out there who specialize in “drive by comments.” They have a standard text saved on their device clipboard, search for blogs writing about their topic of the day, find their targets, paste in the text — whether it really has anything to do with the blog’s actual content — and then move on. My limited experience with all this leads me to surmise these folks are not in the mainstream of thought. But then again what equals nine? 8+1=9. True… and so does 5+4, 7+2, etc. Heck even 14-5 does. So maybe the dialogue needs to widen? Just because my sense of the mainstream is 5+4=9, doesn’t mean that 8+1 shouldn’t be part of it all. But what about 7+4 (or any alternative that just does not add up to 9)? Most of the “drive by comments” are in the 7+4 category; lacking context and often manners or charity. Such comments are sent into the ether with the click of a mouse.

A while ago, I posted “Practiced Hospitality,” which talks about being truly welcoming as a church community. Someone commented that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI cannot validly resign, thus he was still Pope, and Pope Francis was an anti-pope, impostor, and about to lead the Church into perdition. (The writer did not actually write “perdition,” but I think I have fairly summarized the 100+ words that were used.) I pondered its connection to being a welcoming community. Such a connection eluded me, alas.

I was tempted to let the comment be posted, if only to see if another crowd of folks would stumble upon the comment and note that Pope Pius XII was the last valid pope, hence even St. Pope John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, St. Pope John Paul II, and Benedict XVI were themselves all anti-popes. Oh yes, and Vatican II is to be ignored since it was called by an anti-pope. But it seemed to me better to let them simply take the time to host their own blog. And then they can decide among themselves what comments they will or will not post.

One such “drive-by” would-be commentator recently deduced my email and sent a rather long missive. (it arrived in my junk folder). Brevity was not a strong point of the missive, but here is the summary: I lack moral courage and conviction. In other words, would it be that I possessed such virtues, I would clearly post his comment and defend my erroneous, nay heretical positions. Hmmm? Let me borrow from St. Joan of Arc as to the question of whether I am in the state of grace regarding moral courage: “If I am not, may God put there; and if I am, may God keep me so.”

I suspect what I lack is time…and, besides, my dad once told me to never argue with a fool since a third person hearing the conversation would be unable to tell the difference. Sound a little harsh? Maybe the Kenyan version is softer to one’s senses: “If you are bathing in the river and someone steals your clothes, don’t chase them.” (think about it: What does a third person see? A naked, screaming person chasing someone).

What equals 9? It is part of what I muse about when there is an email awaiting a response, a comment crying to be posted, a voicemail lingering, and a note to return a call — what to do? A good guide may be “In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas — unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things.” When things don’t add up to “9,” may we always practice charity in our replies.

In the meantime, I have no plans to run naked and screaming through the blog-o-sphere. It is as my dad also said: “The main thing is making sure that the main thing remains the main thing.” My main thing? The people of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Tampa. This blog? Nice. The parish? Priceless — way greater than “9.”

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