Saturday, January 30, 2016

Millennials leaving the church — open a dialogue

By Bruce Roberts

The title, “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church,” is reason enough to read Rachel Held Evans’ special post on CNN’s “Belief Blog.”

Rachel is a 32-year-old author. She writes on this topic as an “evangelical leader” based on “the latest surveys,” along with “personal testimonies from friends and readers.”

Presumably, Rachel is concerned about “The Disappearing Church,” as is the staff of The Lutheran and many of us in the pews. This sets a context for trying to understand and learn from her comments. What’s needed, of course, is not just a read of my comments and then getting up to wash the dishes. What’s needed is to gather at church with copies of what Rachel wrote and in a wide-ranging and open-minded conversation identify how, in your congregation, what she says is, or is not, reality.

To give you a taste of Rachel’s argument, here are three quotes from her essay:

    … young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

    Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions — Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. — precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.

    What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance. We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against.

I am 45 years older than Rachel, a product of very different leadership voices that have swayed my beliefs and my values over time. Yet, I find myself agreeing with much of what Rachel has to say.

But this is curious. What Rachel describes is not what I read elsewhere or hear on the streets about what young adults are seeking as part of their bargain for staying in the church. Yes, I realize that what Rachel describes as the voice of the millennials is really her voice summarizing the voices of her friends. But then so are the voices advocating more casual, free-form services that “fit younger lifestyles.”

Is it possible that the issue that connects Rachel’s younger adult generation with my older adult generation is that we all seek that our church leaders truly listen to what we have “to contribute to a faith community” (quoting, Rachel).

I wonder though, if what I suggest is too difficult? Truly listening to one another and expressing appreciation for what is said by another person is not a natural way of communicating for way too many of us, especially if we don’t agree with what is being said.

Church leaders who choose to listen to us may have to set aside their own history of beliefs about the “right” way to do something and ask us for the details (and rationale) behind our suggestions — and then give sincere thanks for our contributions. We will then know we have been heard and we may find ourselves engaging more judiciously in the ongoing conversation.

I remember years ago when our church was contemplating whether to move from once-a-month communion to communion at every service, one of the respected lay leaders of the congregation was very much against this move. From my perspective this seemed preposterous. If communion is an important part of our beliefs and our religious life, why would not including communion in the every-week liturgy be even better? But in conversation, I understood her perspectives. She had grown up with a once-a-month communion and believed that this was the way it always should be. For her, to participate in communion on a more frequent basis made it less special. Once we all understood the history behind her belief, we felt more comfortable in expressing our own history and seek a healthy compromise.

We need to sit down together, we older adults and younger adults, so that as the leaders in our church truly listen to us talk from the heart about hope, grace and well-being in the community of our church, we opposite-poled-generations can express our appreciation to each other for our commonalities.

Bruce B. Roberts is a professor of psychology emeritus at St. Olaf College, one of the 26 colleges and universities of the ELCA. He currently teaches in the Cannon Valley Elder Collegium in Northfield, Minn.

Psalm 71: 1-2

In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me and save me.

Daily Readings for January 30, 2016

Genesis 18:1-16
The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, "My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on-- since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said." And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes." Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate. They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent." Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?" The LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, and say, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son." But Sarah denied, saying, "I did not laugh" for she was afraid. He said, "Oh yes, you did laugh." Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way.

Hebrews 10:26-39
For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy "on the testimony of two or three witnesses." How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know the one who said, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet "in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back." But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.

John 6:16-27
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going. The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal."

Psalm 55 Exaudi, Deus
1   Hear my prayer, O God; do not hide yourself from my petition.
2   Listen to me and answer me; I have no peace, because of my cares.
3   I am shaken by the noise of the enemy and by the pressure of the wicked;
4   For they have cast an evil spell upon me and are set against me in fury.
5   My heart quakes within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
6   Fear and trembling have come over me, and horror overwhelms me.
7   And I said, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.
8   I would flee to a far-off place and make my lodging in the wilderness.
9   I would hasten to escape from the stormy wind and tempest."
10   Swallow them up, O Lord; confound their speech; for I have seen violence and strife in the city.
11   Day and night the watchmen make their rounds upon her walls, but trouble and misery are in the midst of her.
12   There is corruption at her heart; her streets are never free of oppression and deceit.
13   For had it been an adversary who taunted me, then I could have borne it; or had it been an enemy who vaunted himself against me, then I could have hidden from him.
14   But it was you, a man after my own heart, my companion, my own familiar friend.
15   We took sweet counsel together, and walked with the throng in the house of God.
16   Let death come upon them suddenly; let them go down alive to the grave; for wickedness is in their dwellings, in their very midst.
17   But I will call upon God, and the LORD will deliver me.
18   In the evening, in the morning, and at noonday, I will complain and lament, and he will hear my voice.
19   He will bring me safely back from the battle waged against me; for there are many who fight me.
20   God, who is enthroned of old, will hear me and bring them down; they never change; they do not fear God.
21   My companion stretched forth his hand against his comrade; he has broken his covenant.
22   His speech is softer than butter, but war is in his heart.
23   His words are smoother than oil, but they are drawn swords.
24   Cast your burden upon the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous stumble.
25   For you will bring the bloodthirsty and deceitful down to the pit of destruction, O God.
26   They shall not live out half their days, but I will put my trust in you.

Psalm 138 Confitebor tibi
1   I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I will sing your praise.
2   I will bow down toward your holy temple and praise your Name, because of your love and faithfulness;
3   For you have glorified your Name and your word above all things.
4   When I called, you answered me; you increased my strength within me.
5   All the kings of the earth will praise you, O LORD, when they have heard the words of your mouth.
6   They will sing of the ways of the LORD, that great is the glory of the LORD.
7   Though the LORD be high, he cares for the lowly; he perceives the haughty from afar.
8   Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right hand shall save me.
9   The LORD will make good his purpose for me; O LORD, your love endures for ever; do not abandon the works of your hands.

Psalm 139 Domine, probasti
1   LORD, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
2   You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways.
3   Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O LORD, know it altogether.
4   You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me.
5   Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
6   Where can I go then from your Spirit? where can I flee from your presence?
7   If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
8   If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
9   Even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast.
10   If I say, "Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night, "
11   Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.
12   For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
13   I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
14   My body was not hidden from you, while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth.
15   Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb; all of them were written in your book; they were fashioned day by day, when as yet there was none of them.
16   How deep I find your thoughts, O God! how great is the sum of them!
17   If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.
18   Oh, that you would slay the wicked, O God! You that thirst for blood, depart from me.
19   They speak despitefully against you; your enemies take your Name in vain.
20   Do I not hate those, O LORD, who hate you? and do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
21   I hate them with a perfect hatred; they have become my own enemies.
22   Search me out, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my restless thoughts.
23   Look well whether there be any wickedness in me and lead me in the way that is everlasting.

Meditation for January 30, 2016

John 6:19-20 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”

Jeremy Sierra, editor in chief for Trinity, Wall Street shares with us "My wife is from Brazil, so we go to visit her family there each year. Last year, we tried something called stand-up paddle boarding, which is pretty much what it sounds like: you stand up on a surfboard and paddle around in the ocean. I was terrible at it. I fell off at least half a dozen times. My wife, on the other hand, stood up and never looked back. (Literally. The instructor had to call out to her to come back.) Once I got the hang of it, more or less, I enjoyed being out there on the waves with someone I love.

I’ve never liked being in the ocean all that much. The sea, as the disciples learned, is uncontrollable and unpredictable—full of unseen dangers beneath the surface, much like life. And also like life, the best way to navigate the waves is with the familiar presence of those who love us."