So the king said…, “Go through all the tribes of Israel…and take a census of the people, so
that I may know how many there are.” --2 Samuel 24:2
Once upon a weekend’s time in my college years, I was a passenger in a classmate’s car, traveling to his home in New York’s Amish country. While passing an Amish schoolyard along the way where children were at play, he suddenly stopped the car. Without revealing his devilish plan, he motioned the children to come near the fence line. When they did, he quickly pointed his Kodak Instamatic camera at them and began taking photos.
As some of you know, Amish generally avoid photography as it’s felt to encourage pride. Being familiar with Amish culture, my classmate knew this to be true. I suppose he wanted to impress me with his prank. I wasn’t ‘impressed’, but the moment did leave an ‘impression’ on me. I’ve never forgotten the children kindly smiling, approaching the fence; and then their shock and pain while scampering away crying, “No, please no!” Over forty years have come and gone. The sting of the moment remains.
When fear of the COVID-19 virus began emptying church sanctuaries of worshippers last month, cameras quickly came to the rescue. Our church purchased a small one. Some of you have ‘viewed’ me and my wife, Barbara, leading the virtual liturgies. What a strange place an empty sanctuary is on Sundays, but this strangeness is not the half of it. There’s also the feeling that comes with a camera, seemingly embedded in its hardware. The Amish recoil from it: the feeling of pride; the pride and pleasure of being seen.
We dare not forget Facebook was created by college boys to secretly rate the appearance of female classmates. I don’t know if the origin of You Tube has the same taint of misogyny. Nevertheless, both websites enable users to register ‘Like’ votes. I don’t imagine during this crisis that I’ve been the only clergyperson who’s counted ‘Views’ and the ‘Like’ replies. The virus has made virtual worship necessary. Barbara and I are doing our best in this unexpected time. I’m quite sure Joel Osteen and other TV preachers are not losing sleep over my arrival onto the World Wide Web.
The Bible verse at the top of the page is King David’s command long ago for a ‘hard count’ of the people residing in his nation. God, in the end, was not pleased with David’s decree for a national census. Proverbs 16:18 is the Bible’s succinct warning about selfassessments: “Pride goes before the fall.” The Amish have always been alert to pride, prioritizing community life and well-being over individual expression.
Please know I miss seeing you in church! Virtual liturgy is, well, just that—virtual. Our bishop has not yet announced when sanctuary worship can resume. When the time comes to return, our council will determine the future of our sanctuary camera. While many clergy throughout the land are counting ‘Views’ and ‘Likes’, the humble simplicity of the Amish is more instructive. Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1). Let’s all hope pride doesn’t go viral in churches and among clergy during this pandemic time.
Safe with you in Christ,
Pastor Doug Heagy