According to several sources, the number 40 is used almost 150 times in the Old and New Testaments. Some examples: Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. There were 40 years of wilderness-wandering for the Jewish people fleeing bondage in Egypt. Noah and his family were in the ark for 40 days and 40 nights of the flood. There were 40 days and 40 nights of fasting while Moses was on Mount Sinai. Jonah was given 40 days to convert the people of Nineveh. Saul, David, and Solomon reigned 40 years each.
IT’S A WEDNESDAY night in early November and the sanctuary of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan., is full. The audience, mostly 20- and 30-somethings, is listening in rapt attention to Mike McHargue, better known as Science Mike. Self-proclaimed science enthusiast McHargue, co-host (with musician and songwriter Michael Gungor) of The Liturgists Podcast, is doing a live episode of his solo side podcast, Ask Science Mike, as part of a tour for his new book, Finding God in the Waves.
After questions ranging from the neurological effect of belief on the brain to the role of women in the church, a young man stands and shares his story. He works at a conservative church, he says, and finds his beliefs are starting to differ from the people he works with. Finally, he asks, “When you start to ask big questions, and you don’t know where they’re going, and you don’t know where they’ll take you, how do you find the courage to continue to move forward when you know it might have dramatic consequences?”
“I have terrible news,” McHargue answers. “If this continues, you will not fit in where you are. How do I know? There are a thousand people at a Baptist church, who I love dearly, who could not stand to be in a room with me, because I’m the one who rebelled against the tribe.” He pauses a moment before continuing. “Here’s the other thing. This is good. The way you understood God, that served you for so long, isn’t working anymore because you’re growing. ... So I say, get excited.”
McHargue and his Liturgists Podcast co-host Gungor are no strangers to questions about belief, doubt, and straying from the theological tribe. Both men grew up in conservative evangelical churches, and both men lost their faith as adults, regaining it in a different form later on. It’s an experience familiar to plenty of the millennials and Gen-Xers who make up the “nones,” the growing portion of the U.S. population who have no religious affiliation.
The poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center, also found that, of those raised this way, most had one Protestant, or Catholic parent, and one religiously unaffiliated — sometimes called a “none” — parent.
“To be sure, religiously mixed backgrounds remain the exception in America,” the report on the poll states. “But the number of Americans raised in interfaith homes appears to be growing.”
Your weakness is never more obvious than when you show it to strangers — and you can’t avoid showing it to strangers when you live with them.
This is how you really love other people, too. There is nothing like putting yourself in a place where you need other people and their forgiveness to develop on your own love and affection.
It's my experience, observationally and personally, that people of faith go through the same kind of U curve, the same ennui that you experience psychologically. …. this malaise, this sense that you're praying and no one's listening, that the honeymoon is over. Those really rich feelings during prayer or everyday life — that God is here and present in this moment, “I feel the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit” — for most people, I think that ebbs. I think that's part of the plan.
… I talked to a group of nuns who are in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, because I figured they had a dog in this fight — if they lost their faith it actually would matter. What do you do when stuff gets boring or dull or hard? To a nun, their answer was the same — sometimes you don't feel God, and you just keep going. It's a relationship.
If your church is suddenly overtaken by millennials with their heads stuck in their phones, you can thank Pokemon.
Yes, Pokemon. The Nintendo-owned franchise, which produced colorful cards and later video games, is back — this time luring young adults out of their apartments and into museums, parks, and places of worship.
An annual “snow bird” sojourn to South Africa was convicting. The constant news highlighted the American political “silly season” along with the drumbeat reports of President Jacob Zuma’s illegal brutish behavior. An African storekeeper exclaimed, “Do Republicans not see the Trump antics are undermining the good feelings we have because of President Obama’s accomplishments? We are afraid for all of us.”
When I was 15, I stepped into a warm bath on my church's sanctuary stage. I was a bit of an outsider - the occasionally bullied Chinese-American kid in the white suburb - and I had found a place of belonging at this Chinese immigrant church. I made a joke about how I felt the same way about my new faith as my 16-year-old friend felt about her new driver's license: I had no idea how I ever lived without this. Even my pastor chuckled as he clasped my hands, preparing to dunk me.
I spend (most of) my Sunday mornings sitting in a pew at an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation, singing old hymns, and reciting the Lord’s Prayer which I have had memorized since before I went to school.
At age 22, I make an effort to get my dose of word and sacrament before heading to brunch on Sunday mornings. Though I love the beach, I found greater joy in singing songs and leading Bible studies at a mainline church camp during my recent summers.
I love the sound of an organ.
Like many of my millennial peers, I was barely in diapers when the Cold War ended, never practiced fallout drills in school, and only recently learned what those yellow-and-black signs on old buildings meant. As a kid, if I thought about nukes at all, it was in a passive tense, World War II-history sort of way. In other words: not my problem.
But as we mark the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — when U.S. aircrafts dropped bombs on two Japanese cities, killing 135,000 people, by conservative estimates — I spent some time in the Sojourners archives trying to fill the gaps in my nuclear education. Here’s what I found.
According to a new study from the Pew Research Center, there are markedly fewer Christians and more “nones” — those who identify of no faith at all — in the U.S. than just seven years ago.
In the wake of this news, many critics have lost themselves in the question of who’s winning. But this isn’t a crisis. We don’t need to defend ourselves. We don’t need to obsess over whose team is in the lead.
But we also can’t just shrug our shoulders. If we have any faith that Christianity has value in the public sphere, we should be reasonably concerned when people begin to see little importance in Christian identity.
1. BB King, Blues Legend, Dead at 89
"The crowds treat me like my last name. When I go onstage people usually stand up, I never ask them to, but they do. They stand up and they don't know how much I appreciate it." — BB King, in a 2013 Rolling Stone interview.
2. The ‘Gang of Girls’ Risks Their Lives to Report from Inside a War Zone
Three of its editors have been killed, eight reporters detained and tortured, and 12 have fled the country. “In the ensuing void of order and information, Enab Baladi has become one of the most prominent independent publications of the war. That it's largely female-staffed is extraordinary. Women are barely represented in the government or in opposition groups—and certainly not in the Islamist gangs that control large swaths of the country. Yet the female editors and reporters have driven deeper coverage of how war affects civilians, families, and day-to-day life for millions of Syrians.”
3. WATCH: Divestment 101: What Do People Mean When They Say Divest?
To learn more, go to sojo.net/divest.
4. There Are No Urban Design Courses on Race and Justice, So We Made Our Own Syllabus
“Instruction at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design is based in the work of architects whose worldviews don’t give heavy weight to social problems.” In that vein, here is a suggested reading list for urban designers to begin problem-solving and creating solutions for real-world environments.
5. Congrats! You Have an All-Male Panel!
The public shaming tumblr calls out events and conferences that feature all-male experts. A humorous, if not altogether depressing, screen scroll.
When did you last think about the relationship between your community's worship practices and their missions? It's such a loaded conversation. What makes for "mission?” Why do we set the two practices — what we do in worship and what we do after — at odds with one another? Is it simple geography? One happens behind the ecclesial closed doors while the other is more public? I want to know when we lost the sense that our liturgies were public events rather than secret rites. But that's another post.
A new survey shows in stark relief that what some are calling the Great Decline of religion in America continues: Since 2012, the U.S. has about 7.5 million more Americans who are no longer active in religion.
Last week, the 2014 General Social Survey was released. The GSS is the gold standard for sociological surveys. Funded by the National Science Foundation, this multimillion-dollar study gives us the most accurate data on American society — including religion.
(An important point to remember as you see the data: Each percentage point increase represents a growth of 2.5 million adults. So a 3-point rise in secularity, for example, means that about 7.5 million people left religion since 2012.)
Rachel Held Evans has grown into a powerful voice in American Christianity, first as the author of Evolving in Monkey Town and later with the New York Times best-seller A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Those who follow her writings often note that her thinking has become increasingly progressive, especially on hot-button theological issues such as gender and sexuality. That shift culminated in her leaving evangelicalism for the Episcopal Church.
Next month, Evans will release Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church, a book that oscillates between stinging critiques of American Christianity and prescriptions for how she believes believers can more faithfully participate in church life. In an interview with Religion News Service, she talked about the key to revitalizing the church and defended her exit from evangelicalism. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: You say that the way to stop the exodus of millennials from churches isn’t cosmetic changes like better music, sleeker logos, and more relevant programming. Why are these methods ineffective?
A: These aren’t inherently bad strategies, and some churches would be wise to employ them. But many church leaders make the mistake of thinking millennials are shallow consumers who are leaving church because they aren’t being entertained. I think our reasons for leaving church are more complicated, more related to social changes and deep questions of faith than worship style or image.
If you try to woo us back with skinny jeans and coffee shops, it may actually backfire. Millennials have finely tuned B.S. meters that can detect when someone’s just trying to sell us something. We’re not looking for a hipper Christianity. We’re looking for a truer Christianity.
Q: If these aren’t the answer, what is?
The zeitgeist is clear. Much like Emmett Till’s murder in 1955 sparked the civil rights movement, the tragic string of murders of blacks in 2014 catalyzed another movement, the #BlackLivesMatter movement. This movement picks up where the civil rights movement left off, addressing systemic racial injustice in the legal and penal system, educational system, and economic system. In some ways, the battles we fight are more challenging than the ones our grandparents fought. Undeniably, we face off in a more complex world and against forms of systemic racism that are so subtle that they are almost invisible. Nevertheless, due to a unique combination of gifts and experiences, I’m hopeful that my generation of black millennials is ready to lead us on to a more equitable society. Here’s why.
1. We are propelled by the prophetic legacy of the past.
With a technological savvy that gives us unprecedented access to the true history of our people, and as perhaps the last generation to breathe the same air as the civil rights generation, we draw upon the legacies of the past as we move forward. When I sense that my capacity to forgive is waning, I recall my recent conversations with several survivors of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., and I’m reminded of the inner healing that forgiveness promises. When I am tempted to pander to the powers that be, I call my radical granddad and ask him to tell me again about the many Black Panthers meetings that took place at the church he pastored in Berkeley, Calif., in the 1960s. When I feel that I’m losing my courage, I read Ida B. Wells’ autobiography and am reminded that we are not alone. We are connected — part of a chain of black activists, each generation inspiring the next. Our heroes guide us every day.
A lot has been written about the decline of the mainline church over the years. Numerous theories have been passed around. Nearly every pew-sitting faithful Christian in America has her or his own opinion. As a minister I have heard a lot of these complaints from the masses; the request is simple. They want the church to be the center of social and political life as it seemed to be in the 1950s and 1960s. They want the pews packed with people, the nursery overflowing with babies, and the church to have the same level of particularity that it did years ago. The church today finds itself having to share time and attention with the rest of the world. Because of this (and numerous other factors), the church for the most part has seen the number of people attending the hallowed halls of a church house begin to decrease.
In an effort to find a culprit for the shrinking size and popularity of church, a scapegoat has been named and they are "young people today” — a catchall term for people under the age of 35 (or thereabouts) who have seemingly left the church en masse.
They are vilified as the sole reason and cause for the church to not be busting at the seams with people. If only those "young people" could just stop being so selfish on Sunday mornings and just come to worship God at 11 a.m. like people have been doing for years, the world might be a better place.
Jesus was clear.
You cannot serve both God and money.
Throughout my 20s, this was not a problem I thought I struggled with.
First of all, I didn’t perceive myself as having all that much money. So, how could I be serving it? (I deal with the inaccuracy of how I perceive of my own wealth here.)
Second, money was never a part of my thought process when choosing my career. If money wasn’t the motivator for choosing my job, how could I be in danger of “serving two masters?”
It’s been said that one of the greatest tricks devil ever played was convincing most of the world he doesn’t exist. His greatest encore might be wrapping up vice in the midst of a big ball of virtue and letting the whole thing rot from the inside out.
I might not struggle with being a slave to money in the sense that I obsess about how much I make. But, in looking back over the past 10 years of my life, I’ve found myself serving the master of mammon precisely in the ways that I DIDN’T think about money.
A study came out recently saying that millennials (a category that I apparently fit into) consider ourselves the “post-racial” generation. By and large, young adults think they are the ones who have moved past racism.
Except, that’s not true. Racism is alive and well.
Here at Sojourners I’m privileged to be a part of enlightening conversations about diversity, racism, sexism, and a whole host of other injustices. This makes it all the more frustrating when I try and continue those conversations outside the Sojourners community, and I’m met with resistance. Most of my friends are extremely uncomfortable discussing race. And not just because it’s a taboo subject; this is D.C., after all, and politics are always fair game in friendly discussion. Instead, I’ve found that my friends are so unsettled by the subject that they either try and change it, or they tell me it’s not about race, it’s about income inequality. Those arguments, which I follow up with “where do you think the income inequality came from?,” are still met with resistance, and arguments that if we could just bring people out of poverty, the racial disparities would vanish.
Except they wouldn’t.