Monday, August 23, 2010
Will our children have faith?
A friend sent me an email worried about her childhood church that had fallen on hard times. I sent off a response that many, many churches have fallen upon hard times. I would guess that in the past 5 years we have seen the closing of more churches in the main line churches than at any single time in American Church history. We have also seen large and vital churches just 15 years ago fall into the realm of either part-time or what is known “in the business” as “struggling congregations.” Even those huge independent churches with their fire-breathing clergy are beginning to dwindle in attendance.
In the Northeast we would often blame it on the change in demographics. Here in the South we often blame it on the “conservative-liberal” contentiousness that has infected the Church. But like Diana Butler Bass and Phyllis Tickle, I think that there are other forces as work. Tickle in her The Great Emergence ties the decline in mainline churches including the Roman Catholic, as a sign of a sea change that is happening theologically, liturgically and historically. She shows how these changes happen about every 500 years in matters of faith. Although I think she stretches the history a bit; I do believe she has a good case.
What I do see is that belief in most religions of the world is finding it difficult to continue concepts that have kept them alive for millennia. Christianity is no exception. Whether it is because faith is being assaulted with scientific fact that belies the myths of those religions, or whether it is because the world has become tired of the organizations that have supported exclusionary tenets, I am not sure. But I am finding that the two most over-arching faith systems in the world, faith and science, are finally coming to terms with each other and consequently leaving both science and old faith parameters in the dust. It is also why I am so supportive of having a faith-filled marine biologist as presiding bishop of our Church.
Religion is not the opiate of the people; it is the quest for meaning in life. Faith in that which is beyond us is what makes life full and hopeful. Faith is rooted most often in the stories of our lives but is expanded to include all humanity. While I served as a Lutheran pastor, I was made aware of just how important cultural expressions of the holy are. God was perceived as just as organized and collected as German thought processes. It made me think of how I have come to know God in an Anglican form that is equally foreign to my Latino or my Asian friends. In the face of growing globalism, how do I express my faith in the Divine—a sense of the Holy-- to those who have been formed in a technological age?
My knowledge of the Holy-God-the Divine is rooted in a Hebraic experience of faith that was molded by Greek mythology and philosophy, medieval superstition, Reformation rationalism, Enlightenment absolutism and Darwinian evolution. My faith is as orthodox as the BCP 1979 and I believe deeply in the love of Jesus Christ. But I wonder what the future of my faith will be. The hope in the Holy is not JUST for Christians. It is for all humankind. This does not mean that I put my faith in humanism. No, my relationship with the Holy is real and meaningful. It is the continuous call from God to live ‘a life worthy of my calling.’
Faith for the future must be willing to introduce folks to a relationship with that which cannot be expressed. It must be willing to share a faith that not a game of Monopoly where Salvation is a “get out of jail free” card. Church for the future must be willing to share its uncertainty in order for the members to embrace the constant call to holiness. For certainty is a stumbling block to a relationship with a god that cannot be imprisoned by words. And when we must have certainty, we fail in our relationship with God. “ Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)
The faith we share is what will call us to Church. That Church will look different from my ethnic-bound Anglican world. There will need to be space in that new Church for those who are ethnically bound, but there will be space for those do not conform to Anglican roots. There will be those who can open their metaphors for the Holy to a technological understandings of hope. That is where the faithful will be. Their music may not be Palestrina or even Foley; their chant may not be four-part harmony. Incense may not be used. But I will know I am in Church because God and the faith-filled will be there.