Under the Wall Street Journal headline “Have You Checked Your Mailbox Today? Neither Has Anyone Else” comes more data on changing patterns of life that we have, for so long, taken for granted.
Today, only three-quarters of Americans check their mail daily. Some go weeks—or months—without visiting their mailbox. The WSJ article offers a case in point.
The text message notified all residents that if they didn’t pick up their mail in a timely fashion, management would return it to the post office. “It was all in caps,” says the woman, who’d been checking hers only every few months. “I knew I was one of the people they were yelling at.”
Half of those born after 1990 report checking their mailbox “occasionally.”
It’s understandable. How many holiday cards have you received this season? Just a few years ago, that number would likely have been triple. What awaits us in our mailboxes instead? Flyers, more flyers, maybe an occasional bill. Not much motivation to trek to the box in any season.
There is some small nudge, in all this, for church boards to examine every piece of mail that the church sends out. (Are people reading it? Are they even getting it?) But, in this season, we hear a much more urgent message. The people we serve – and sometimes we ourselves – have ceased expecting any good news of great joy. Why look for the messages being sent our way if they have no power to lift us?
You who bring good news to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
We serve in ministry at a time of low expectations for good news, and lower expectations that we might hear a story that lifts not just our own spirits, but the life of the world. Raising expectations for profoundly good news is the work of the church in the 21st century.
Reflecting on the nature of that profoundly good news, Frederick Buechner wrote:
In the long run, the stories all overlap and mingle like searchlights in the dark. The stories Jesus tells are part of the story Jesus is, and the other way round. And the story Jesus is is part of the story you and I are because Jesus has become so much a part of the world’s story that it is impossible to imagine how any of our stories would have turned out without him, even the stories of people who don’t believe in him or even know who he is or care about knowing. And my story and your story are all part of each other too if only because we have sung together and prayed together and seen each other’s faces so that we are at least a footnote at the bottom of each other’s stories.
Quite likely, one of the reasons folks are not checking their mailbox is that it holds no promise of stories like these—stories that connect us to one another and to the life of this world, stories that connect us to the transcendent and to God’s story—stories that deeply matter.
Possibly, this image could be applied to how, as a church board, you approach your shared ministry. Few people need more information about life’s challenges. Fewer still need more airing of anxiety about what life holds these days. And no one needs one more argument about “truth,” as defined by our narrowing frames of experience.
But we all need to encounter a story of hope and expansive connection that touches and blends with our story. And we certainly need to hear God’s story—unfiltered, unapologetic, and direct: “…lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say… ‘Here is your God!’”
Telling one another stories of God’s love, stories that “overlap and mingle like searchlights in the dark,” is a wonderful way to experience the work of ministry.
We wish you deep stories of meaning in these holidays and the brightest searchlights you can deploy as a church board for your ministry in the year ahead.