After 36 years of serving churches as a pastor and consultant, I came to a startling conclusion the other day.
Not startling to you, perhaps. I might be the last person to get the memo. But the conclusion drew me up short.
My conclusion: Religion shouldn’t be this hard.
“The less engaged people are, the more they tend to criticize. The more engaged people are, they have far less time [and] energy with which to criticize.”
She might as well have completed the above statement with the dismissive wave I heard in her voice. But she didn’t.
She’s a pastor’s wife. Her bread and butter (and heart and soul) are wrapped up in the local church. I have been there. Perhaps the mile I walked in those shoes helps me understand the sentiment. And I think there is a place for tempering unjust criticism from sources that seem negatively biased. That protects people, sure.
But I can’t let it go at that.
If there is indeed a “War on Christmas,” those on the anti-Christmas side of the war have lost — big time.
The television pundits, conservative politicians, and talk-radio loudmouths who believe there is a “War on Christmas” should look around, withdraw their troops, and quit screaming. Because if there is a war on Christmas, Christmas has won.
As Christmas approaches, tens of thousands of churches around the country are planning Christmas services and expecting packed pews. Their choirs are rehearsing Christmas music; and church members have taken the Nativity scene figures out of storage and put them on church lawns. Children costumed as kings and shepherds are learning to sing “Away in the Manger.”
Christmas cards with manger scenes are speeding around the country through the U.S. Postal Service or in the form of online animated greetings that play “Silent Night” and show the wise men following the star to Bethlehem.
In a secularized society obsessed with consumerism, entertainment, and modernization, Christianity is often portrayed as being old-fashioned, irrelevant, and useless, but it still serves some very valuable and profound purposes. Here’s why Americans still need it:
As we prepare for the coming of Christ, the third Sunday of advent is celebrated in joy. As followers of Christ, it is reasonable to be exuberant about the birth of our Savior. The amount of happiness that can seep from the soul in response to a virgin birth, a perfect baby boy, and an adorable scene of livestock and shepherds befriending God’s family is immeasurable. Christmas music, Christmas decorations, and yes, even Christmas presents add to the joy and never fail to put a smile on my face.
This past weekend, as I tried to reflect on what it means to be joyful in Christ, my heart was temporarily hardened as I attended a Reentry Arts & Information Fair for returning citizens. I helped host a table for Becoming Church and their Why We Can’t Wait initiative.
Methodist minister Rev. Frank Schaefer (not to be confused with Frank Schaeffer) has come up against what some might call a conflict of interest in living out his call as a minister of the gospel. Some might even call his experience a crisis of faith, but for Schaefer and his son, Tim, the struggles they have faced in recent weeks and months have yielded beautifully unexpected blessings.
Schaefer's troubles with the larger Methodist Church go back some six years to when he performed a wedding ceremony for Tim, who is gay. Although his son realized this would present Schaefer with a dilemma (the United Methodist Church does not allow their ministers to conduct same-sex marriages), he also knew that it would hurt his father deeply not to be asked to perform the ceremony, regardless of whom he was marrying.
The wedding was performed in Mass., where same-sex marriages are legally recognized.
Though it took some time, charges were brought against Schaffer within the denomination, and he has recently had his license for ministry suspended. He is now facing an ultimatum: either he has to renounce his support for the performance of same-sex marriages or he will be defrocked within a month.
Baby boomers might not be that different from the Greatest Generation when it comes to religion. Like their parents, many boomers will attend religious services later in life. But unlike their parents, baby boomers are more likely to describe a deep, intense spiritual connection from a personal experience than a religious one from an institutional practice.
Many of them don’t know it yet, said a researcher at this week’s annual conference of the Gerontological Society of America in New Orleans, but growing old, regardless of what generation you belong to, brings on dramatic changes that can propel people to seek new meaning in religious services.
Vern Bengtson is the author of the recently published Families and Faith with co-authors Susan Harris and Norella Putney. He based his findings and predictions on a 35-year longitudinal study of 350 Southern California families and interviews with a subset of 156 families. The study’s scope spanned six generations from 1909 to 1988. The conversations explored spirituality, religious beliefs, intensities, and practices.
In a tech newsletter I read, two colleagues addressed the end of the world of the personal computer that they spent three decades mastering.
There will be no more building PCs from scratch, no more tinkering with the innards, no more fine-tuning the operating system.
“The evolution of the PC industry over the last several years has not been good to the old-school PC professional, particularly for those whose careers have been heavily hardware-oriented,” said the writer.
Many clergy and lay leaders are in exactly this position.
A former archbishop of Canterbury has warned that the Church of England faces extinction in less than 25 years unless it can attract more young people now.
Talking to 300 churchgoers in Shropshire, West England on the eve of a church agreement to start a campaign to evangelize England, Lord George Carey said: “We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. We are one generation away from extinction and if we do not invest in young people there is going to be no one in the future.”
Carey was Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the world’s estimated 85 million Anglicans from 1991 until 2002 when he joined the House of Lords (Britain’s Upper Chamber of Parliament).
On a Greenwich Village street where male prostitutes seeking customers shout out their dimensions, I walked past an open but empty church on my way to the subway.
In times past, flocking to church on Sunday morning was a beloved family routine, even here in bad old Gotham. Now they’re trying nontraditional worship on Sunday evenings.
It’s a struggle, both here and elsewhere in the 21st-century Christian world. Buildings with “beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God,” as Luke described the temple in ancient Jerusalem, are falling into disuse and disrepair — not because Caesar attacked and took revenge on an alien religion, but because the world changed and gathering weekly in “Gothic piles” no longer seems necessary for finding faith.