Dangerous Bubbles

A Letter to Pittsburgh Presbytery from
Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge
General Minister
Thursday, January 27, 2022

Dangerous Bubbles

Jesus’ final words to his disciples, according to Matthew, begin with “Go…” He had already given them practice in stepping out of the cozy environs of his circle to share the Gospel in places where they’d never been. They had returned from their missions exulting that great things happened wherever they went. Now, as he prepares to leave them for good, he makes this their standard mode. “Go out. Reach beyond yourselves. Always.”

As they go, they are to do his work, which always includes listening as well as speaking. It’s a pattern Paul demonstrates on his visit to Athens – he familiarizes himself with the city and listens to its voices before he begins telling its residents about Jesus.

Going out entails leaving our comfort zone. Being part of Jesus’ mission requires that we go to places, listen to voices, and interact with communities with which we are unfamiliar, even if they feel utterly foreign.

We need to get out of our own bubble for the world’s sake. The treasure of good news with which we’ve been blessed cannot be hoarded to ourselves, or it will rot.

Religious communities are by their very nature prone to becoming havens of refuge for those who think alike and look alike. It is a good thing to have a safe harbor to call home, but the minute a faith community looks inward more than it presses outward, its demise begins. Whenever any individual or group cuts itself off from those that think or look different from them, decline sets in.

For followers of Jesus, going out into the world is a strategy not only for making the world better – it also makes us better. When we stay in our bubble, we are prone to fear the outside world as a threat to our comfort and sense of control. We fear most what we know least. Celebrity travel guide Rick Steves opines, “Fear, to me, is for people who don’t get out very much.” He is talking about taking trips to unfamiliar destinations, but his point rings true for more than tourism. He continues, “Travel is fatal to bigotry, prejudice, and narrowmindedness. It’s not for wimps.”

When we engage people and ideas outside our bubble, our perspective broadens. We see more clearly, listen more generously, understand more fully, and act more selflessly. We are empowered, rather than diminished.

In its November 30, 2021 edition, the “Washington Post Magazine” recounted the alarming nationwide decline of local newspapers, and the impact of that decline on the communities affected. Between 2005 and 2020 more than 2000 U.S. local newspapers ceased publishing, and today only half of U.S. counties have a local newspaper of any kind. In losing a local newspaper, the community loses exposure to diverse local voices and viewpoints.

According to contributor Margaret Sullivan, studies have discovered that the absence of local newspaper publication corresponds to depressed civic engagement and heightened political polarization in the populations so affected. People in local news deserts are less likely to vote, and if they do, more likely to vote along strict party lines.

Isolation from those who look and think different from us causes us to shrivel. It weakens our communities. It decreases our engagement not only civic affairs, but in the mission of Jesus. The crisis of deepening social isolation has been exacerbated by a pandemic that has required social distancing. As we emerge from the pandemic, more than ever we need the jolt of Jesus’ commission to “go out.”

The world needs to hear the story of God’s love that we have learned as disciples of Jesus. That is reason number one to go out. Reason number two goes right alongside – we need to get out for the sake of our own vitality as well. As we emerge from the pandemic, it will become clearer than ever that only a mission-driven church can be a truly healthy church.

Yours in the mission of Jesus,

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