As a young man I had no idea that my 12-15 personal meetings with Mother Teresa would mean so much to who I’ve become. Her time, attention and thoughtful words still echo in my memory, often guiding me as I seek to remain faithful to my vocation.
I actually think about her a lot. In an age obsessed with producing consumable on-line and printed content, we are enamored by positions of influence and best practices for effective leadership; we are marked by an insatiable hunger for social entrepreneurship and the newest innovations, packaged and disseminated through cutting edge technologies.
I wonder what she’d think of us.
Most people are surprised to learn that Mother Teresa never actually wrote any of the books ascribed to her. Nearly every one of them are anthologies or compilations of her prayers and addresses and edited by someone else. She was actually a good bit embarrassed by all the books that come out with her name attached to them.
On more than one occasion she de-elected herself as Mother Superior in the order, Missionaries of Charity, that she helped to start. Of course she was promptly re-elected by the nuns and reinstated. That’s got to be a self-selection leadership fail if there ever were one.
In nearly ever Missionary of Charity home I’ve visited on most continents, innovation looks like an unrecognizable second cousin at a family reunion. Clothes and blankets are still hand-washed, in fact, I’ve never even seen a dishwasher at any of her centers.
Technology was even scarcer. Sometimes when people used to call the convent she lived in, Mother would actually answer the phone. No voice mail, let alone secretaries. I have never known any of the sisters to use computers. In fact, much of the correspondence I’ve had or seen with them was generated with a blue ball-point pen or a trusty old typewriter (the kind you see in movies).
So how would someone like Mother Teresa make it in an age where blogs, Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are the technological innovation norms for promoting causes and communicating vision, passion and leadership philosophies?
I imagine she’d get a good laugh at us.
My guess is that she’d kindly point out the irony and absurdity of a self-published, entitled generation of Christian leaders who think their version of the message is so on-point that it needs to get out as widely as possible. I could see her scratching her head in bewilderment that so many folks in ministry actually have the time to write blogs, edit YouTube videos or update Facebook photo albums while real and urgent needs demanding our care and attention go unmet. I bet she would prophetically remind us all that digital relationships and virtual communities can never be an authentic proxy for human interaction.
It’s probable that if she did make all or any of these observations, it would be face-to-face or side-by-side, sitting across a table in her convent, sipping a cup of tea.
And it’s probable that whoever she was with would walk away from one of those meetings, pop open their laptop, steal a wireless signal from a nearby coffee shop, and pass those simple statements from a wise old woman along to the rest of the word via Twitter.
She’d never use it because she’d never need it. We would have her covered.