Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Fighting Benign Whateverism

In my life, certain quotes and phrases have always stuck with me.  Whether it is good advice, random fact, or just something I find interesting, I just remember it.

Before saying something harmful to someone, walk a mile in there shoes.  That way when you say it, you’re a mile away…and you have their shoes. (middle school)

In all the events of your life, there is one common factor…you.  You may not be able to control a situation, you can’t control other people, but you can control yourself and how you respond. (college)

Some say that the youth are the future of the church.  I disagree.  Youth are the church. (high school)

This past Sunday, I was reminded of the last statement.  One that has stuck with me for many years.  And just reinforced how powerful this statement really is.

When you look around, you can not simply say that these youth are the future of the church.  Yes, that is true…but that also says that at the moment, they are nothing…a sentiment I strongly disagree with…

Youth are the church.

This past Sunday was Youth Sunday here at Church of the Holy Communion here in good ole Memphis, Tennessee.

This was not your typical Youth Sunday where some youth played some minor roles in the church but they did everything.

They wrote the Eucharistic Prayer, they wrote the Prayers of the People, they wrote and delivered the sermon, they were the Eucharistic Ministers, they did the readings, they chose and performed all the music, they even made up the choir.  An entire Sunday morning service…written and lead by the youth of the church.

Another great aspect of the morning was the privilege of having Dr. Andrew Zirschky join us to lead our Formation hour before the service.

Hey talked about the new belief that is rapidly growing in the church in today’s society.  I concept outlines in the Raising Teens in an Almost Christian World: A parent’s Guide, by Dietrich Kirk.

I wanted to highlight a few bullet points that are covered in the book regarding youth in the church.

The results came after years of research by the National Study on Youth and Religion which Dr. Zirschky was apart of.

Major Findings:

1.      Most American teenagers have religious beliefs.
2.      Organized religion doesn’t matter much to most teenagers.
3.      For a significant minority of teenagers, faith does not matter.
4.      Adolescents are incredibly inarticulate about their faith.
5.      Religious vitality differs by tradition.
6.      Highly religious teenagers fare better than less religious teenagers.
7.      Teenagers mimic religious devotion of their parents.

What does all this mean?

In the book, they call this trend in the church “Benign Whateverism”.  But what does that mean?

It means that most teens these days do believe in a god or some deity but when it comes to how they feel about it…eh, it’s whatever.

In a society where “church” is simply getting up and going to a service on Sunday mornings and after that we just go about our everyday lives…is it really surprising that most teens have this attitude towards religion?

I have a challenge for you…

The next time you gather with your family for dinner, after the usual check-ins, and heyhowareyas (because those are important conversations too)…take it a step further.

Ask your parents, ask your kids, your friends…What do you think of when you hear the word church?

What is it and what does it mean?

Have a conversation about that for a little while and just see where it goes.

Then ask what is it that Jesus taught us about how we should live?

How different are your two answers?

Does that feel right to you?  Why when we ask what does the church, the house of God, mean and what did Jesus teach…why are those two separate conversations!

Why can’t they be the same. 

They can.  It will just take work. 

In my years of working with youth, they has been one constant result when research is done to determine how to keep youth active in the church as the move into young adulthood.

In a word I would say it is relationships.

More than the relationships the youth build with each other in youth groups.  More than the ones they build with their Youth Minister.  More than the ones they build with the volunteers with the youth program.  More than the priest.  But the WHOLE congregation.

In John 20:16, Jesus has risen and is no longer in the tomb when Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus appears, he calls her by name, “Mary.”

The impact that had on Mary’s life was tremendous. 

In John 21:17, another time the resurrected Jesus makes an appearance but this time to the disciples.  ‘Simon son of John…”

Again, calling him by name and again having a tremendous impact on the life of Peter.

One thing I have grown to believe is that we can be the living example of Christ to others.  By the Holy Spirit working through us in our lives we can be Christ to others.  And it can be something as simple as calling someone by name.

Imagine the impact that it could have on someone’s one life when instead of walking by and ignoring someone, or walking by and saying a simple, “Hey, how are ya?”

What if you said “Hey Michael!  How are you doing today?”

What if we not only said that, what if we meant it.

What if instead of having the church be some place we go on Sunday but it being this thing that we live.

What if we all made an effort to take the time to talk to a child, a youth, and an adult at the church…more than just a simple hey.

If we shift from being a church to living the church then we take a step towards fighting benign whateverism.

We take a step closer to living out the church.  And not simply preparing the youth to be the church but include them in the church.

Cause that is what they are.  They are the church.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Why did the cheering stop?

Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday as it is also known as…a day where we cheer and yell “Hosanna” and cheer the procession of Jesus our Lord, our Savior, our King into Jerusalem!

People line the streets with the coats and praise the glorious entrance of Jesus.

It is a cheerful, celebratory day that marks the beginning of one of the most difficult, blessed, holy times of the church year. Holy Week.

In a sense, Palm Sunday was Jesus coming out party and preparing to take his rightful place as king, but as the people were soon to see, it was not the kind of king they were expecting.

In a matter of days, the crowd of people that so gloriously welcomed Jesus as the rightful king and the savior, we calling for his crucifixion.    

What happened in that time?

Why did these people who welcomed him with such enthusiasm just a few days ago now call for his death?

Why did the cheering stop?

Well, to understand this more fully, we have to take a look at the events of the week itself.

Then, Jesus curses the fig tree for being barren.  Then he enters the temple and clears it of the money changers.

Jesus was angered by the lack of worship taking place in the temple.  His father’s house, a place of worship, had become a “den of robbers”.  In anger he yells and flips the tables.  The temple, that was built for worship was not bearing the fruit of its purpose. 

The nest day, as Jesus and the disciples pass by the fig tree again, Jesus stops to talk to the disciples about faith. 

Many of these are described in the parables in Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 20, and John 12.

But still, what was different.  Where did the cheering go?

If you read these parables, one thing that sticks out, that is normal for us, but a huge change back then, was that this was for everyone.  There was no speculation as to who you should love; the answer to that question was everyone.

This was a change from his teachings before which mostly dealt with the Kingdom of Heaven.  That was something that the people enjoyed hearing about, it gave them hope.  They believed it was about reclaiming Jerusalem and ridding themselves of the oppression of Roman rule.  Something anybody would be happy to hear about.

But that was not what Jesus had in mind.  His Kingdom was not something that they could grasp or understand. 

His teachings shifted from the new kingdom to the commitment it would take.  “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mark 8:14)

And the main reason the cheering stopped, Jesus stopped talking about easy to hear things that made everyone happy and started talking more about a cross.

This is not an easy thing and it is not meant to be.

It is challenging.  It is difficult.  It takes commitment.  It takes a cross.

Why did the cheering stop?

Because Jesus began talking more and more about a cross.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

How are Chores like Lent?

I hope you are doing well this fine Tuesday afternoon.  So today I wanted share a story about a time a friend and I compared the different household chores we did.  Naturally, we both had the basic laundry, clean your room, and clean the bathroom.  After that, they began to vary.  His were still more tasks such as clean this room and such.  Meanwhile mine had branched out into dig out and build a 3 tiered garden into the sloping back yard.  Another time it was installing a screen door. 

Now before you get the wrong idea…I enjoyed doing these things.  Sometime around middle school, I realized that I liked to make things.  I also liked taking things apart and trying to put them back together.  More often than not I would put it back together but have pieces left over.

In some ways, I would compare this to Lent.

Now, if we look at these chores…there is one very distinct difference between the two.

One thing that I think makes all the difference in the world.

So why did this story remind me of Lent. 

So as many of you may have heard before…Lent is a time of “fasting, repentance, moderation, and spiritual discipline.”

Cool, yea I hear that schpeel every year then I give up drinking sodas for Lent, right?

Well, I compare that to those simple chores.  Those things we all had to do growing up.  Make your bed, clean your room, clean the bathroom, vacuum or dust…

We did them mostly because we were told to and it was expected.  We go about these chores carelessly and half-heartedly without ever fully understanding why we are doing it.  Mostly because we are told to and then we continue to do it as we get older because we were taught to do that when we were younger.

For example, did you know that making your bed can be considered a “life-hack”?  That making your bed each morning  gives you a sense of accomplishment, creates a positive state of mind as you go to bed, lowers your stress, leads to other good habits, and a variety of other things.

Hmm…I didn’t know that.

But when it came to the other chores, I took my time on them.  I researched them.  I did them correctly and was thorough.  I was invested in them because it was something I enjoyed and cared about doing.

Why is Lent not more like that?

With a penitent heart….have you heard that saying before?

Penitent…feeling or showing sorrow and regret for having done a wrong; repentant.

We have all made mistakes.  Making mistakes is in our nature.

But Lent is a time that we are supposed to repent.  It is our custom to give things up or take things on.  But I do not think that merely giving up sodas cuts it anymore. 

It isn’t wrong.  It isn’t bad, but it just feels too much like those simple chores.


Especially during this time, as we get closer to the time that Jesus gave his life for us…

Doesn’t he deserve your whole heart?

It doesn’t matter if you feel it is tainted with all the bad things you have done, if you fear it is unwanted or unworthy, it doesn’t matter if it is broken, or lost, or whatever it is that is keeping you from being able to fully open up and lay down that heavy bag that is filled with all your guilt and burdens…

That is what Lent is.  Take all of that stuff, all of that darkness in your life and start packing it up.

Do so carefully.

Do it intentionally.

Do so whole-heartedly.

Holy Week is right around the corner.  We start with the grand entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem.  Jesus washes away the dirt and the wear of the days travels as He washes his disciple’s feet.  He breaks bread with his friends.  Prayers in the garden and is betrayed.  He dies for our sins and on Easter we celebrate the fact that he overcame death…

When you go to the Altar on Easter….take that bag you have packed all your stuff in…

Celebrate and give thanks at the Lord’s Table…

Then as you walk away…leave your bag there and rejoice in the New Covenant that is Jesus Christ.