I want to talk about faith today. That will be a topic I will return to as I am very interested in the role of faith, and religion, in our world. This is something that has undergone a seismic shift just in my own lifetime as I am acutely aware when my children tell me things that are said to them in school.
Here is a paragraph I read recently which I think sum I all up:
“Let me begin with the story of a boy. He grew up in a secular home – an environment increasingly common for Americans today. Even though there was enough residual Christianity in his family for him to be baptized as an infant, the story of Jesus had long ceased to shape his family’s life. He spent his childhood and adolescence in California, where the church has never been well established. This boy inhabited a narrative that dominates American life today-that you are what you earn or achieve, that identity must be cobbled together from a wide array of shifting possibilities, that you must work incessantly at securing meaning and community because these things are not given. Amidst competition, consumerism, anxiety, and opportunity, life is what you make of it, largely on your own. Underneath these swirling waters of struggle and flux lie deep currents of meaninglessness, isolation, and despair in a world where the modern myths of endless progress have been exhausted and the future is ambiguous.”
This is where we are. I know it instinctively, and I know it when I read yet another heartbreaking news story of cyber bullying, teen suicide or another father who gives up on supporting his family and either walks away or worse, takes himself out and his family along with him.
This is what secularism breeds. Not a popular thing to say, if people even say it. I actually find that most people have some kind of faith but they don’t have any kind of regular practice or discipline. I understand this because that was me for many years. I grew up in a family that attended church every week but when I went to college, I fell away from it, as so many do. I married someone who wasn’t raised in a church and who was uncomfortable with “organized religion” and consequently did not attend church for a number of years – until a personal financial crisis sent me back for a year and half – and then the birth of my children sent me back for good.
Now I can’t imagine getting through my life without it. Against my original intentions, we’ve gotten more and more involved and now I serve on the vestry, direct the Sunday School and two pageants a year, and just finished a year as senior warden when we did not have a priest, which means I had to run the church.
Here’s the thing… I can’t imagine life without it. This is where my strength comes from…to live my life, to deal with all the crap that is constantly being hurled at me. I tell anyone who asks that I am not strong enough to do this life without it.
As Dwight Zscheile points out above, without the central narrative of faith in our lives, reinforced by the support of others in a faith community who know the same things we know, life is just about what you do, or what you earn, or who you know… and none of those things last. Even if I am lucky enough to have a year where all those things are working well, it’s not something I can pass on to my children. And where will they go when, as Rob Bell has put it, “the rain comes.” ?
My husband had an interesting change of heart when the children were born. Someone who refused to step foot inside a church door, who was deeply distrustful of anything that resembled “organized religion”, has gradually come in from the cold. He did it when he says he realized that he had nothing to pass on to them in terms of coping skills. His system of spiritual belief is so uniquely his own that he can’t teach it. He wanted the children to learn a faith system so they would have this foundation to stand on in the world – to hold them up when the “swirling waters of meaninglessness” come on them.
But what I find is that this is the side of faith no one talks about – the deep sense of purpose and meaning that faith gives us to order our lives. People say they can’t go to church because of how busy they are – and we are all time starved. Most parents both work outside the home, and then there’s soccer and dance and music lessons, etc., etc, you know the drill. And if you have more than one child, it’s that times two or three.
How to fit it all in? I found the answer in another book about choices. This man said that we live in a time where there are so many choices – very different from the time when the only thing you could do on a Sunday was go to church. Today, there are at least five or more choices for every minute of the day. His suggestion was to only choose the best things for your family.
That gave me the clarity I needed to say to myself – what is more important than my children’s spiritual well being? And so, what we do, to quote the late Stephen Covey, is “put the big rocks in first” – fill the bowl of our lives with the biggest rocks which are the best choices, and go from there. I declared Sundays off limits to anything except church and family time. And that has made all the difference.
In case I ever doubt, I just read the paragraph below, and compare it to the one at the start of this post:
“Let me end with a story about another boy. This boy grew up in a quite different home environment than the boy described at the start of this chapter- one shaped intentionally by the story of God’s love in Jesus. From before his birth, he was enveloped in the care of people not related to him by blood, but by the sisterhood and brotherhood of the body of Christ. His imagination was shaped by stories of the impossible becoming true – an oppressed and enslaved people being freed from Pharaoh’s empire; a little guy named David prevailing over a giant; a father who drops everything to run and welcome a wayward son home; a savior who was crushed by people’s hatred yet raised from the dead, taking us with him. This boy shares in a meal every Sunday around a table where people from many different nations and walks of life gather to receive “Jesus bread” and the experience of God’s love. He is growing up in a church “village” of elders, mentors, and friends that no community in society offers. In a world whose future seems even more uncertain than the first boy’s, he shares in the ultimate promise and hope, the foretaste of which is available to him now.”
From “People of the Way: Renewing Episcopal Identity” by Dwight J. Zscheile