This past week I read an article that stated there are more people within the US borders that self-identify as witches than the largest presbyterian denomination. Although this did not shock me outright, it still surprised me. It has since led me down a rabbit-hole of reflection, note taking, and asking of myself how I would formulate an apologetic for Christian spirituality.
Statistics for the past couple decades have been showing that the Church is in decline in the US. Not only that, but it seems as though the Church is roundabout having a difficult time navigating the post-modern world. There is likely not one silver bullet that is the culprit, but it is likely a multi-varied issue. Some of those issues, I will attempt to address in this short, open letter.
Younger generations are less likely to go to Church out of principle. Rather, they tend to go based on purpose, they need to know a reason why. This means that the given assumptions that people will come are now out the window. Yes or no, can the Church articulate a reason strong enough to cause Millienials or younger to continue coming that goes beyond “it’s what we are supposed to do.” For what purpose should you be a part of a Church?
So here is what I would like to do, I would like to plead the case for Christian spirituality to Millenials and younger (and their families). Christianity is often more taught as a culture to which we should assimilate than a way, a path, a mode of travel that legitimately leads to something (or Someone) that could not be found any other way. Of course, I recognize that a post/article will not change the world overnight, but ideas are bulletproof, radical and revolutionary. Ideas can change the course of history if they are good enough and find their way to turn the steering wheel for all of us.
Alright, so why should we bother?
I want you to know that Christian spirituality legitimately deepens your life, if you commit yourself to it. This doesn’t mean committing yourself to church culture, that is not what I mean. A few weeks ago I was revisiting the New Testament passage in John 10 which recounts Jesus speaking about the “abundant life.” The root word for “abundant” is the Greek word “Perissos.” This means “exceeding beyond the limit.” I have found myself having more and more conversations about how Christian spirituality exists to do CPR on your soul, how having a faith is about having a life that is far more than you could ever have imagined. I want to see you come ALIVE in the most vibrant ways possible. I lament that Christianity is more often made about assimilating to a particular culture but the good news is that there are good faith communities out there that are interested in helping you come alive. Well, more than just come alive, but to have a life that “exceeds beyond the limit.”
I, personally, want to see you be a part of the Church. I want to see you become fully integrated and valued members of the community. You bring vitality and imagination for what is possible. I regret that there are days when you experience other generations put down how much energy you have, how much hope you have, and how you are not held back by cliche statements of “we have never done that before” or “we tried that once and it didn’t work.” We need you to come and be you. And, we need you to feel free to share your voice and help shape your own Church. I believe that you are not hearing or experiencing a Church that communicates that they want you and, even more than that, love you. This means that we have to speak and relate to you in a way that you will hear and experience that message on a deep and existential level.
I want to change your mind about what it means to be a part of a Church. To belong to a faith community is not the end of a journey, but the start of one. It is the deliberate putting of oneself before the tried and true practices of transformation, vulnerability and authenticity. I want you to be a part of a Church because it will change you. And I mean this in the best way possible. For years the church has emphasized the transmission of information about Jesus to the overlooking of transformative practices that mold and shape and influence the way your internal loves are ordered. Modern life wants you to skim the surface, short and simple. Modern life wants to numb as well as distract you from having any kind of depth to your life. Modern life wants you to maintain a shell of an existence, to look good, to perform well, and to not ask yourself if you are dying inside. To be a part of a Church means that you know there is power in a path, and wisdom in a tradition. Commit yourself to the Jesus path and tradition. And, by the way, I mean the LONG tradition. Go all the way back. I am talking about the Church Mothers and Fathers that lived in the deserts, probe the reflections of those that built the monasteries that gave rise to scholasticism, engage the wisdom of the saints, the mystics and the holy fools of the Church. To be a part of a Church means exposing yourself to all these fantastic individuals that have changed the course of history.
I want you to have an extended family. A number of months ago I gave a talk about teen anxiety. I likened the life a teenager to be as that of a trapeze artist learning how to do those amazing feats. When in training, there is a harness but also a net beneath the trapeze artist. The family is the harness and the Church can be the net. When a mistake is made, and the fall is too hard and too fast for the harness, the net is there to catch you along with your family. To be a part of a Church is a profound thing. Even developmentally. This is because the Church can be one of the first places where we internalize “I can love and be loved by people who are not related to me by blood.” This is an incredible feat of trust and vulnerability to allow oneself to love and be loved. I want that for you. I want you to have an extended family.
I want you to be a part of the Tikkun Olam. This phrase, borrowed from the Jewish tradition, is beautiful. The Tikkun Olam is the “ongoing repair of the world.” Christian spirituality exists to help you grow out of your own ego-centrism and into a geo-centrism (and I would even argue a cosmic-centrism). To move from caring about repairing yourself to joining a community that wants to help repair the world. But hear me out, you are a part of the world, and so your very self is included in that reparation. Every one of us is encouraged to voluntarily pick up pain and suffering if we know that it will help to birth a new world. This is what I believe it means to “carry one’s cross.” It has very little to do with passively accepting hardship, pain, abuse, etc. and everything to do with being co-creators with God of what in theological language is called the “kingdom of God” or the “new creation.” You are able to help repair the world in a way that I cannot. The world needs you as much as it needs me or anyone else. And so to put it succinctly, the world needs you to be a part of a community that wants to repair the world.
Come on, John. Really?
In a day and age when Christianity feels like it is eclipsing, I know that I am taking an unusual approach by defending it and trying to make a case for it. But I think I need to let you in on something, I’ve been there. I, too, have wondered of the legitimacy and the value of spirituality, let alone a Jesus centered spirituality. I had a time when I thought, “I don’t believe any of this.” Ultimately, I literally walked my way back into faith but I found that I let go of the small god I was holding in order to be held by a larger God than I could have ever imagined. So, I’ve been there. Not only that, but yes, the community that calls itself Jesus-Followers have really made some mistakes over the years. That is true. However, we are 7 times more likely to dwell on the negatives than the positives of life. Rarely do people bring up all of the orphanages, hospitals, schools, non-profits started by members of the Jesus path. Rarely do people bring up all the wells drilled, all the sciences started by members of the Church, all of the disaster relief that comes about by those who have allowed their lives to be directed by their faith.
And yes, I understand that there are some that like to talk about Christianity as regressive, as behind the times, as though it is trying to return us to a pre-modern view of the world and of the cosmos. I want you to know there are intellectuals of the faith who hold to the idea that God is not just “above” but that God is “ahead.” That God is actively drawing all things together into the future where there is greater goodness, beauty, truth and love. There are also many intelligent people who would love to talk about Christianity as it relates to Neo-Platonic, Aristotelian, Newtonian, Quantum or Evolutive cosmologies.
One final thought, and it is one that might get me in trouble, but I take the Bible seriously. By that, I mean that I listen to it when it says that Jesus alone is the Word of God. This means that Jesus is the real Scripture of the Christian. The birth, life, work, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus is our deepest inspiration for how we live here and now. Don’t get too caught up in the little details of the Bible, its all pointing to the body of God broken open and poured out for the repairing of the world, and that includes you. Take and learn from Jesus himself, and may he be the Scripture of your life.
(Note: If you are looking for some good readings on this topic, check out my “Recommended Reading” at the top menu.)