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Taking Risks: What If They Don’t Like New Coke?

Move over, Edsel.

Many of you know I operate The Daily Office websites, here, here and here. You may not know that after 1.5 million visitors, I’m about to blow them all up.

I have grand plans for a new supersite, but I have to raise $50,000 (and then sell ads) to make them come true. I want to combine prayer and social networking to perform projects large and small for God. (How’s that for ambition?)

I also want to support myself and my family. (It appears I’m about to have a family, including a 13-year-old, totally adorable girl.) It’s one thing to be single, responsible only for myself. It’s another thing entirely to be responsible for two other people; to share responsibility, that is. Can’t let the girl go hungry, or The Boy neither.

And yes, Luke, you get to come too.

What about me?

I feel good about what I’m planning, but it does come with risks. I assume that it will take longer to accomplish than I want it to; that the supersite’s rollout will have unanticipated bugs; and that some of the current “customers” may not like it. I also assume that most of them will.

If I were Coca-Cola, I’d certainly want to test all this out on focus groups and get as much feedback as I could. But I’m not Coca-Cola, I’m just Josh.

I do have help now, volunteer Subdeacons whose work, support and advice I value. If Clint ever says, “Kill it, it’s not working,” I’ll probably follow his advice. But so far, he is enthusiastic.

Social networking sounds trendy (or it did three years ago), but that’s not why it interests me. I want to introduce my current members to each other – the people who generated those 1.5 million page-views. They’re completely worth knowing. I realize that, as The Vicar and seeming hub of the wheel, but they don’t realize it yet, because they’ve never met.

I get their e-mails; I receive their comments on our blogs. Together these folks make up the best congregation I’ve ever been a part of. It’s like they’re the “real church,” more than the actual churches they go to. (Or don’t; they’re not just a bunch of pious old ladies.)

They care about me; I know it for a fact. I also know they will come to care about each other, if I enable them to get acquainted.

But touchy-feely will only take us so far; the issue is the Work, the Great Commission, God’s love and God’s justice.

Here’s what I want: Stephanie inviting all her online friends to give and pray and work for rebuilding a church in Haiti, or buying and installing a water well in a poor village in Africa, or erecting a Habitat house in Atlanta.

I want Fr. Bob to publicize that his parish hall is open all summer for hikers on the Appalachian Trail.

I want Leonardo to have a big place to post pictures of his latest artwork, and Amy to announce the next Quiet Day at St. John’s, Lafayette.

Facebook accomplishes some of this if people use it that way, but meanwhile my FB screen is currently showing an ad, yet again, so I can meet “Single Sexy Women over 40 in Your Area.”

A younger friend of mine, John in Texas, says Facebook is strictly for hookups; that’s how his friends use it, and the only way they use it.

Ergh, I don’t want that. Not even if they’re “Christian” hookups, y’know?

Meeting in church is a different story; I’m all in favor of that. (It’s how I met your Dad, little girl.)

Meanwhile, because of my websites, I receive a steady stream of church-related advertising. Famous Person to Speak at Our Webinar, How to Become a Fabulously Successful Church, Only $400! Those come from people I want to sell ads to, so I can feed the little girl and her Dad.

I also think of artisans and craftspeople with paintings or jewelry or vestments to sell; authors, musicians, tour groups, the CANDLES Holocaust Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana. Eva Kor, a Mengele survivor, isn’t going to be with us forever, and I want her legacy to live on.

I want music, videos, podcasts, without having to search through the clutter on YouTube.

Fr. Tom Fehr belongs to a looseknit group of Common Friars in rural Ohio. I want him to tell the world what his little community’s up to these days.

I want “all” the good Episcopal Church bloggers to locate in the same place, so readers don’t have to stumble across them one by one. I don’t care what they write; I care about having a central gathering place.

I want to offer the Daily Office in all the languages we speak – and I don’t want individuals to have to rely on word of mouth to find them. I already know – I’ve had it proved to me by all those visitors – that the Daily Office is a powerful tool for getting closer to God and learning to love our sisters and brothers, Christian and not, on this planet. Why should the people currently scattered not be united?

And if this will work for The Episcopal Church, it will work for any and every Christian denomination.

You can see I don’t lack for ambition, but it isn’t personal; it isn’t so I can say I’m the big man. I’m not. Jesus is the Big Man, the archetype of loving service, self-sacrifice and obedience. Prince of Peace; Joy to the World.

Truth be told, I want members to link to Occupy Wall Street and comment on the politics of the day. I don’t think we’re well-served by current economic and political systems – but if you disagree, please tell us why in a respectful, intelligent way.

And I certainly want a safe place for LGBTQ people. I think God demands it and the Holy Spirit works for it.

But I know that change is hard for people, and blowing up the old sites will cause disruption and loss, even if the new site begins to achieve the things it can.

One thing I’m fixed on, Morning and Evening Prayer will stand on their own, without commercial interference; no one will have to change anything to get the same prayers we’ve always offered, the same way we’ve always done it.

I just want to open a new door, called The Community.

It will require risk-taking and money. I doubt that the great Episcopal philanthropists will beat a path to my door. It will be my job to organize us properly, as a non-profit religious society that owns a for-profit, taxpaying business. We have to comply with the law and we want to.

It seems more likely we’ll turn to small donors than big foundations, though I don’t want to ask our members to pay for my grandiosity.

It’s a risk, just like coming out seems to be, like admitting “I’m an addict” always is; like baptism is, and discipleship. What if Jesus isn’t the Savior of the World?

That’s the least risk of all, though. I know better. My entire life of 60 years teaches me that You Can’t Go Wrong with Jesus™.

So okay, we blow up the sites and build an online cathedral.

If I have to, I’ll beg in the streets for That Boy and his Little Girl. They’re going to eat, come hell or food stamps. They both like pasta, so what the heck; I can make it 89 different ways.

Human beings are nothing if we never learn to take a risk. And Jesus is the closest thing you’ll ever find to a sure bet.++

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