Sunday, October 20, 2013

2013.10.20 What the Church Needs Now?

The song says: “What the world needs now is love sweet love.”  We always need love; it’s the garment of our existence, the force that keeps us alive and helps us put one foot in front of the other, even if, and when, we have lost our footing. The Church of Jesus Christ preaches unconditional love. What we need is to ease up on the many conditions we place on that Love.

What the church perhaps doesn’t need now is to abandon its own language and identity.  The Church does not need to go secular in order to attract people to its message; does not need to derive wisdom from the world of social psychology or the field of consultants and then couch it in theological language to make it seem religio-spiritual. Such dazzling endeavors may be good for marketing and sales, but they can also be temptations of self-betrayal, sell outs. 

A clergy colleague recently expressed amazement that the young people in her parish coming for a Confirmation class, likely under duress she imagined, were not interested in discussing contemporary issues of their age group. They were interested in God. Surprise!

These teenagers, 15-18, felt as if they were drowning in a kind of existential loneliness and they wanted a structure to put faith into, and a language to express their soul’s deep hunger, and some meaningful ritual that would take them beyond what is offered by Facebook communications, electronic games, sports, academics. They weren’t interested in talking about their sexuality or their addictions or even all the angst about parental divorce in their lives and those of their friends. 

In short, these teens wanted God and God-talk.  

They wanted what the church offers:good people, good theology, spiritual practices, song and psalm and gospel, Bible, ethical guidance, and listening hearts. They really wanted to follow Jesus and love God and feel more secure in how to do that. 

The priest who met with them told me that there was particular interest in the baptismal covenant, something Christians all know by heart and have recited many times over. Has it gotten flat, irrelevant?  The baptismal promises are a very solid Code of Ethics, a covenantal structure to frame conversations about talk about God and basic Christian attitudes and behavior.

What does it mean to respect the dignity of all human beings, to seek Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace? How do you do these things?  These were the issues that riveted their interest and conversation. in Church.

The Confirmation class process, it seems to me, provided a model for honest talk, plus support for living up to their Baptismal Code when complex decisions arise. Sort of like the Twelve Step recovery meetings process: no one stays sober alone. Well, no one can be a faithful Christian alone either.

What the church needs now is to give people the best of what if has to offer—with professional guidance, yes, but unadorned with sparkles or glitter. No one is fooled, especially the young.