28 July, 2008

“I love God; it’s his fan club I can’t stand.”

Heather has a tag on her Facebook page that says:
“I love God; it’s his fan club I can’t stand.”

Heather is my husband’s niece. She’s a bright young woman, an English major with wonderful skills in television editing, production, television broadcasting, and she has a knack for “getting the story.”

Her father is an active pastor and both of her grandfathers are retired ministers; and she has an aunt and uncle who are both clergy. Given these realities, her tag line makes me ask, “What story are we missing?”

I attended a conference on “the post-modern and emerging church.” Each person in the group with whom I attended is deeply committed to the United Church of Christ and all of us are struggling with the same issues: why is the church, its mission and its ministry eluding our young people. I don’t mean teen-agers. Teenagers in every generation have rebelled against the values of their parents; it is part of the maturing process. What I’m referring to is the age group between the ages of 18 and 40 who have never come back to our churches. Why are they few in number? Could they feel the same way as my niece? “I love God; it’s his fan club I can’t stand.”

In our gathering, a 30-something year old man of our group said something that caused me to stop and think and I’m still thinking.

He stated, “Everything the church does dis-empowers young people.”

He gave examples that were true of our church as well as his congregation. The only path to spiritual growth in our churches comes through participation in the institution we call the Church. We attend Sunday school as small children, we are confirmed, we grow up and we can sing in the choir, serve as an Elder, a Deacon, or a Trustee. We can become a committee member or team member and we can serve the institution.

But look at what is missing! All of these things serve bricks and mortar and keep the institution going. But this path gives little or no relevance to personal relationships or a faith that makes a difference in lives. I’m not sure this is very empowering to our young people. This, I believe, is the “fan club” my niece was referring to in the context of her signature line.

Are we a fan club for God? What does a fan club do? Think of the “Mouseketeers” of the 40s and 50s, a fan club for Mickey Mouse. The only thing required of Mousketeers was to promote Walt Disney. What about Elvis Presley and his fan club? What was this all about? Young girls swooning over his music and writing love letters to the king?

Fan clubs imagine what it would be like to see their hero(s) in person. Today we can blog with the stars, attend conventions from Star Trek to MASH, or participate in sports clinics with the pros. Fan clubs are not empowering, fulfilling, or relevant any longer; they exist to serve the personalities that have become the object of obsession. In the end, it’s a lot of fluff and meaningless activity that neither challenge us nor deepen our faith in God or our commitment for a better world.

Like my niece and countless young people and families, I too feel our churches are missing the story. Are we keeping our membership at St. Mark out of loyalty to the land, the building, and the institution? Out of a reverence for the memory of our previous congregations? In honor of our parents and loved ones? Are these things more important to us than our loyalty to God or our commitment to a personal journey of faith?

I am wondering if we’re living the wrong story these days. I am wondering if there is another story that we’ve been missing. What do you think?

Is there REAL faith?

“You know, if you want a church where you can pretend for an hour or two that everything is just fine with you , with your family, and with the world, then we’re probably not for you. But if you want a church where you can tell the truth about how it is an know that it’s okay, maybe you’ll find a home here.”
UCC website

“…religion is something people do because that’s what is expected of them. We are told we must believe in God to go to heaven, so we do it blindly or not sincerely because we are afraid of the consequences….Is there true sincere faith?”
Question left in my church’s offering plate.
Why are we part of a faith community? What do we get out of it? What difference does faith make in our everyday lives?
My question to both of the above.
Here’s the response my faith leads me to give.
  • · Some people attend church because they’ve always attended church. Their ancestors before them attended church, so they do too. It’s a habit and a duty.
  • · Some people participate in a community of faith because they are looking for answers to life’s questions. They are looking for what will fill emptiness in their lives, trying to satisfy an unidentified hunger. They shop from church to church, faith to faith, looking and looking, and moving on when something offends or challenges them.
  • · Some people attend church because they fear the wrath of an angry god. They’ve been told that God will judge harshly those who do not jump the hoops and submit to the anger of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present God.
  • · Some are part of a community of faith because it is in relationships with others that they are fed, nourished, challenged to grow, and refreshed in their whole being.
  • · Some people don’t attend church because they see people who do as hypocrites and judgmental, but they still have questions, are still looking to fill that emptiness.
  • · Some people don’t attend church because they can’t wrap their minds around the whole “motivation by fear” concept.
  • · Some people are not part of a faith community because they have no idea what goes on there but have seen and heard in the media what “Christians” are about and they don’t like it.
  • · Some people are not part of a faith community because they’ve never been there, their parents didn’t attend, and none of their friends attend. These are spiritual people and the consumer’s market of offerings in the Spirituality section of the bookstores and the internet communities are great places to check things out.
I would propose that participating in a faith community and having faith are not the same. Humans are born with a spirit, a soul that yearns to be connected to something larger and beyond themselves. That yearning is satisfied through faith, but not by faith. Faith is not a solution, but a journey. True, sincere faith is an honest and open trek through life – both the challenges and the joys – growing and reaching toward that “something” beyond and greater than us. In Christianity, that trek is guided by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and the writings of his earliest followers. And that “something” is the One Jesus called God.
Yes, my friend, there is true, sincere faith. It is not found in a book or on the internet. It is not found in the media or in anything someone else can give you. It is found by looking within yourself, recognizing the God-shaped hole within you, and seeking honest, open, and challenging ways to fill that void. It is a journey we must share with others who feed, nourish, and challenge us. Easy answers and the status quo of life will not be a part of this journey. It is a journey that will continuously transform, change, and remold you.