Archives For Youth

Is Belief Wishful Thinking?

Jason Micheli —  November 12, 2014 — 1 Comment

Untitled101111I’ve become convinced that its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.

You can find the previous posts here.

15. What do we mean by faith?

Faith is primarily imitation of the Faithful One, Jesus Christ, so by faith we mean obedience, loyalty, belief, trust and sharing in God’s self-knowledge.

While faith refers to all these characteristics and is always more than mere belief, it also means we take a particular belief to be true. If someone held a belief ‘on faith’ but showed complete indifference to any evidence for or against that belief, we would not think that person had faith just as the opposite is true too. If someone of faith is completely preoccupied with reasons for or against their belief, then it’s not clear that person of faith really has faith.

Of course faith is more than judging a proposition to be true, but it is at least thinking it true.

Christian faith is at least belief that there is no conclusive argument to disprove Christian belief. Faith in the resurrection, for example, includes the belief that no evidence can be proffered to disprove the ressurection.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for; the conviction of things not seen.” 

– Hebrews 11.1

16. Must we have faith to be a Christian?

Yes.

Not necessarily because faith is a kind of litmus test distinguishing Christian from pagan but because faith isn’t simply the means by which we accept the Christian story.

Faith is itself a key element of the Christian story.

Faith is necessary to be a Christian because one of the beliefs Christians take ‘on faith’ is faith itself, the ability of faith to move mountains and bring about things which do not exist: the faith of Abraham to journey towards an unknown land, the faith of Israel to abide in the wilderness, the faith of Mary to bear shame and messiah, the faithfulness of Jesus unto the Cross.

“As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed–the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.” - Romans 4.7

17. Is belief wishful thinking?

Of course.

Then, most of our opinions, to one degree or another, are wishful thinking.

Christian belief, like most beliefs, is wishful thinking not in the sense that we force ourselves- delude ourselves- to think a certain way but in that we decide to think according to Christian belief.

A Christian who believes the creed to be true decides to live as if it’s true while someone who doesn’t believe the creed is true wills to live according to a different creed.

Christian belief is wishful thinking just as my love for my spouse is wishful thinking; that is, I will to love my wife. The only difference is that with my wife I seldom need to think too hard about willing my love while with God I often need to will such love.

One could say that Christian belief is wishful thinking because the Christian life is learning to love God such that willing love is no longer conscious or necessary.

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” – Romans 7.15

Untitled101111I’ve become convinced that its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.

You can find the previous posts here.

II. Witness

7. Can I Interpret the Bible by Myself at Home?

Don’t be silly.

You quite literally cannot read the bible by yourself.

Scripture, what we call the word of God, is the testimony to the one Word of God, Jesus Christ, and it is the corporate testimony of Israel and the Church.

Just as scripture is the witness of those who’ve come before us, it must be read in light of and in submission to the interpretation of those who’ve come before us, the saints and doctors of the Church.

If one is repelled by the rigidity of biblicism, then reading the bible for how it can enliven and enlighten your own personal faith is an understandable alternative. If one shares the modern presumptions of historicism and thinks things like virgin births just can’t happen, then reading the bible for individual devotional purposes is again an understandable alternative.

Yet reading the bible for ‘what it speaks to me’ is fraught with its dangers.

The Word of God, Jesus Christ, is mediated to us through the testimony of a People.

Scripture is a communal witness and its primary intent is to incorporate us into that Body of witnesses.

So then the sermon on the mount is not first about you as an individual being merciful, it’s about the Church, the community of disciples, being merciful, which only secondarily entails you being merciful.

1 Corinthians 13, where Paul rhapsodizes about love being patient and kind, is not about an individual’s love and the love of a married couple. It’s about the character of the believing community, which secondarily entails your own character.

The Reformation’s notions about the private individual are very modern and very Western assumptions that are by and large alien to the world of the bible. Reading the bible from or for a personal perspective can be appropriate so long as you come to the bible with that understanding.

But stripping scripture away from its communal identity, risks turning it into a talisman we turn to for answers rather than transformation.

What’s more, reading the bible only from the lens of our private devotion also risks spiritualizing or simply missing the essentially political character of much of scripture.

The Hebrew Bible, after all, is the testimony about a God who rescued Israel from oppression and the New Testament is how that God took peasant flesh and ended up executed at the hands of an occupying military power. Those are unavoidably political stories that have implications well beyond the personal life of faith.

“Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.” ’  

– John 18.21

 

The Bible is Not History

Jason Micheli —  September 23, 2014 — 10 Comments

Untitled101111I’ve become convinced that its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.

You can find the previous posts here.

II. Witness

6. Can the Bible be read as history?

I suppose so, but isn’t that boring?

And doesn’t it miss the point?

The Darwinian methods of the 19th century eventually exerted influence on biblical interpretation as well, creating an approach we can call historicism.

Historicism treats scripture purely as an historical document. Faith claims and the confessional intent of scripture are ignored for ‘what really happened.’

Historicism betrays a deeply modern prejudice against the supernatural and the miraculous. In doing so, it exhibits a cynical dismissal of the sophistication of ancient rhetoric- it’s not as if resurrection were any more common or believable in the first century than it is in the twenty-first.

Historicism attempts to rescue scripture from the fantastical elements of a premodern world and to discover the ‘facts’ behind the stories of scripture. For example, we all know the resurrection could not have really happened- so what’s a rational and an historically plausible hypothesis to the real Easter story?

While approaching scripture historically brings to the Church an appreciation for the context behind scripture…

the downside to approaching scripture solely in terms of history is that in trying to get at the story behind the story you miss the Story.

Scripture, after all, isn’t trying to narrate a strictly factual, historical story. It’s attempting to give witness to the saving love of God and convert you to that love.

The Virgin Birth is a helpful story by which to point out the deficiencies of both biblical literalism and historicism.

When it comes to the Virgin Birth, what’s important for biblical literalists is that it really happened. Indeed the Virgin Birth, with the inerrancy of scripture, is one of the Fundamentals. The Virgin Birth is important only to the extent that its necessary to safeguard the infallibility of scripture.

For historicism, what’s important when it comes to the Virgin Birth is the (unimaginative) assumption that it did not happen. A purely historical approach to scripture will then attribute the nativity narrative to an extra-Christian myth attached on to the Jesus story, or it will try to wipe away all the unbelievable, impossible parts of the story and arrive at the nugget of historical fact underneath.

What both approaches miss, it should be obvious, is what on earth Matthew and Luke could have wished to profess about God-in-Christ with the story of the Virgin Birth.

‘Why did Matthew and Luke include this story?’ is a more interesting question from the Church’s point of view because once you ask that question it becomes clear that for the Gospel writers the Virgin Birth is shorthand for Jesus as the start to a New Creation, for in Mary’s womb God once again creates ex nihilo, out of nothing.

“This is the genesis of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham…”

– Matthew 1.1

Untitled101111I’ve become convinced that its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.

You can find the previous posts here.

II. Witness

5. What’s Wrong with Reading the Bible Literally?

Biblical literalism attributes a supernatural origin to scripture. The bible, in this view, is the direct, unfiltered Word of God. It’s an approach to Christian scripture that has a correlative in how Muslims understand the Qu’ran as containing the very words God dictated to the Prophet.

Scripture, it is held, is as free of error as had it fallen from heaven printed and bound. This view of scripture is a modern belief, arising only in the late 19th century.

Such an absolute assertion of scripture’s divine origins and textual infallibility provoke several significant problems.

First, positing every word of scripture as the literal, inerrant word of God flattens the whole of scripture, making every word just as important and authoritative as any other. The purity of codes of Leviticus are now logically equivalent in importance to the sermon on the mount, God’s instructions to the take the holy land by bloodshed as critical as Christ’s self-sacrifice.

By flattening scripture and making it all of equal import, the central thread gets lost:

the One Word of God, Jesus Christ.

Biblicism makes Christian scripture, like the Qu’ran, into a collection of equally authoritative precepts, teachings and codes instead of diverse, polyvalent testimony to the saving love of God made flesh in Jesus Christ.

Second, demanding that every word of scripture be infallible forces the Christian in to a kind of cognitive dissonance where we must ignore or disavow what we learn in the natural world should our learning seem at odds with scripture. So then a literalistic rendering of the creation story, for example, forces some Christians to dismiss evolutionary theory or prehistoric life.

Gripping onto scripture’s infallibility can also lock Christians into defending or perpetuating the social mores of the cultural context in which scripture was first recorded.

Third, biblical literalism is an unmediated revelation.

Scripture is the Word of God with or without the testimony of faithful witnesses.

While, in the fundamentalist minds, this secures scripture from the acids of the modern world, it does so at the expense of any role for God’s People. Rather than the Word of God being mediated through the testimony of God’s People, and hence being inherently relational, it is instead presented in an authoritarian mode.

Scripture is something to which we must conform; it’s not something which invites us into a transformative relationship.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

- 2 Timothy 3.16

 

Untitled101111I’ve become convinced that its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.

You can find the previous posts here.

3. (How) Is the Bible the Word of God?

The Bible is the Word of God in that scripture- when proclaimed rightly and received faithfully- is the reliable testimony to the one Word of God, Jesus Christ who is the logic of God made flesh.

So when Christians use the term ‘the Word of God’ they’re actually referring to multiple forms whose authority and ‘infallibility’ varies by degrees.

Imagine, for instance, the image of three concentric circles.

At the center, in the inner, centermost circle, is the Logos, the eternal Word of God that was made flesh in Jesus Christ.

Christ is the only capital ‘W’ word of God in which Christians believe and after which Christians conform their lives.

Next in the trio is the testimony to the Word of God given to us by Israel, the prophets and the Church. This testimony to the Word of God is the word we call scripture.

In the final, outermost, circle is the word of God as its proclaimed and interpreted in the worship and ministry of the Church to which Christians will often reply: ‘This is the word of the God for the people of God/Thanks be to God.’

The only true, literal, infallible, eternal Word of God then is Jesus Christ, the Logos of God.

The bible is the word of God in that it points us to the one Word of God, Jesus Christ.

Our reading and preaching of scripture is- or perhaps more apt, becomes- the word of God for us only when it faithfully proclaims and embodies the one Word of God, Jesus Christ.

“Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” - John 20.30-31

4. Should We Interpret the Bible Literally?

The form of the scripture text should determine how you interpret scripture.

If the scripture text is poetic, then you should it interpret it poetically. Metaphorically.

If the scripture text is exhortative, then you better go and do whatever it says. Whatever is the best modern-day equivalent of what it says.

If the scripture text is parabolic, then you should scratch your head and look for the scandal of the Gospel. Or whatever would be likewise scandalous in our day.

If the scripture text is fabulous, then you should dig for the deeper meaning, the text’s artist seeks to show rather than simply tell. e.g., Garden of Eden.

But when Christians refer to the bible as the word of God, don’t forget that while Christianity is indeed a revealed religion, the revelation of the Word of God is a mediated revelation.

Our access to the Logos comes to us only by way of scripture and the Church. Scripture therefore is not revelation. The pages and printed words in your bible are not, in and of themselves, the Word of God. They are our testimony to God’s Word as its been disclosed to Israel and the Church. Because of that testimony, scripture is authoritative for us and it is sufficient for communicating all we need to know of and follow this God.

At the same time, one’s testimony is never identical with the person of whom one testifies. Scripture’s testimony can only partially and provisionally capture the mystery of the eternal Word.

None of this threatening should be threatening, however, because the Word of God, Jesus Christ, is a mediated revelation.

Testimony can be imperfect without jeopardizing the perfection of the One to whom scripture testifies.

In other words, the bible does not (always) need to be interpreted literally because we do not believe in the bible; we believe in the One to whom the bible testifies. We worship Jesus Christ not the bible.

And, it should be pointed out, Jesus himself did not interpret scripture literally:

I say “You are gods,

sons of the Most High, all of you;

nevertheless, you shall die like mortals

and fall like any prince” (Psalm 82 vv. 6-7)

 

Untitled10111I’ve become convinced that its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.

You can find the previous posts (questions 1-32 of section I) here.

II. The Witness

1. What is the Bible?

The Bible is the witness of Israel, the prophets and the Church to the Logos, the One Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ.

Like John the Baptist pointing to Christ, the Bible is testimony which points to the One Word God speaks to us in Jesus.

Therefore, we do not believe in the Bible; we believe in the One to whom the Bible bears witness.

We do not have faith in the Bible; we trust that the Bible’s words are reliable- not inerrant- testimony about the Word of God, Jesus Christ, in whom we have faith.

He Scripture came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him scripture. He scripture himself itself was not the light, but he it came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” 

- John 1.7-9

2. What does the Bible say about the First Human?

The Bible says that Jesus is the first human.

By calling Jesus the ‘2nd Adam’ scripture makes the audacious claim that Jesus, not Adam, is the 1st genuine human.

Jesus is the first one to live a fully human life by always trusting that he was beloved by God, which set Jesus free to love fully and to live faithfully as though the whole world was a new and different creation.

That Jesus’ life met with the Cross reveals not that he wasn’t really human but that we are not human. His faithfulness all the way to the Cross is proof of Jesus’ full humanity and proof of our inhumanity.

Thus, Jesus is the first human in that the word ‘human’ has no content apart from the character of his life.

“God has recapitulated all things in heaven and on earth in Jesus Christ.” 

– Ephesians 1.9-10

 

 

Untitled10111I’ve become convinced that its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

Knowing most folks won’t read long boring books,  I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.

You can find the previous posts here.

Question 30~

I. The Father

30. What Do We Mean by Miracles?

If God is the cause of all things, in every moment holding all things in existence, then a miracle is NOT a discrete moment in which God intervenes in a world where God is otherwise not involved.

A miracle, rather, is a discrete moment in the world when only God is involved.

A miracle is NOT a moment where God enters the world to act.

A miracle is a moment where God, who is already acting in the world at all moments, removes all other causes upon an object.

A miracle is NOT when God shows up.

God’s already there.

Always and by definition.

A miracle is when God acts to keep all other causes from ‘showing up.’

So then, just as Jesus displays what it is to be fully human, he also- in his miracles- shows us what it means for the world to be fully the world.

“Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people. And they all ate and were satisfied; and the broken pieces which they had left over were picked up, twelve baskets full.”

- Luke 9.17

 

Untitled10111I’ve become convinced that its important for the Church to inoculate our young people with a healthy dose of catechesis before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.

You can find the earlier installments here.

Here are questions 27-28

I. The Father

27. If God is all-powerful and all-knowing then what is evil?

There are two kinds of evil: evil suffered and evil done.

To evil suffered we give the name ‘creation.’

To evil done we give the name ‘no-thing.’

Evil suffered is what comes to a creature from outside it, the evil that happens to a thing for which it is not itself responsible.

Evil suffered is relative in that the suffering of one creature comes about by the flourishing of another; for example, when a lion eats a lamb the evil suffered by the lamb is real but it comes about by the lion simply fulfilling its lion-ness.

Evil done is particular to responsible beings, as in, wickedness.

Evil done is ‘nothing,’ meaning it’s an absence or privation within a person.

A wicked person does not possess within them something called wickedness. There’s no such thing as ‘wickedness’ in and of itself. Rather a wicked person is someone with an absence of good, a person who fails to be fully human.

If we were ‘free’ in terms of being independent from God, then evil suffered would present the only problem of evil, for God, having no control over our free actions, would not be able to prevent evil done.

However, since God is the cause of all things, both evil suffered and evil done present problems for believers in God.

“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”    

– Matthew 5.45

28. If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, is God responsible for evil and suffering?

Responsible? Yes.

But guilty? No.

If God is the cause of all our actions, even our ‘free’ acts, then God is the cause behind both evil suffered and evil done in that God has created all things in the world and continually holds all things in existence.

In the case of evil suffered, God has created and continually holds in existence a world in which the flourishing and fulfillment of one creature leads to the suffering of another. A tumor flourishing as a tumor leads to the suffering of the person with cancer.

A lion fulfilling it’s lioness leads to the suffering of the lamb.

So God is responsible for much of the evil suffered in the world, but God is not ‘guilty’because there is not another kind of world God should have created. A world where God stops the lion from eating the lamb, for example, would be a world where God prevents the lion from fulfilling its lioness. In other words, a world of machines rather than a world of creatures.

In the case of evil done, God has created and continually holds in existence every person who commits evil. Even as those people commit evil, God holds them in existence. Their evil acts are never ‘free’ in the sense of being independent from God so in this sense God is responsible for evil done.

However, God is not ‘guilty’ of evil done for evil is not a thing which God has created. Evil is a privation, an absence, identifiable only in relation to the good God has made. Evil is a defect, the failure of people to flourish and fulfill their humanness.

Whereas there does not seem to be another world free of evil suffered that God should have created, it does seem possible that God could have created a world where humans do not fail to fulfill their humanity.

That God did not create such a world is a deep mystery to which we can only reply by way of the Cross.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12.21

Untitled101One of the things our youth have conveyed to our new youth director is their desire for catechesis before college. Training before we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

Knowing most folks won’t read long boring books,  I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.

You can find the previous posts here.

Here are questions 18-21

I. The Father:

18. Is God Indifferent Towards Us?

Of course not.

A person’s act of being as well as every action done by a person is an act of God. So, if the creator is the reason for everything that is, there can be no actual being which does not have the creator as its center holding it in being always.

So God literally cares more for us than we can conceive. Our compassion is a feeble attempt to be what God is all the time.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” – Psalm 139

19. What Do We Mean that God is Love?

If everything is contingent such that its existence is not necessary but relies, at every moment, relies upon God for its existence, then everything in your life, at every second of your life, is a something that could be nothing. Without God.

So everything, everything in your life, every moment of your life- existence itself- is completely gratuitous.

It’s a gift. Grace.

“I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10.10

20. How Can God Possibly Love Us Creatures?

The gulf between Creator and creature is so great it would seem that God cannot love us in any meaningful way.

Yet Jesus affirms repeatedly that God loves him and through the Holy Spirit we are incorporated into the Father’s loving relationship with the Son.

So God can’t love us. God can only love us in the Son through the Spirit.

“Anyone who loves me my Father will love him…” – John 14.23

21. How has God Shown Love for Us?

Creation itself is a revelation of God’s love for it’s completely gratuitous. God reveals God’s love by giving us life, by responding to the crosses we build with resurrection and by taking us up into God’s own life through the Holy Spirit.

And if everything in existence is grace, then God, in his nature, is Love. Not: God is loving. God is Love.

And if God is Love, then the universe’s blueprint, its grain, its logic is Love.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…” -John 1.1

 

 

Untitled101One of the things our youth have conveyed to our new youth director is their desire for catechesis before college. Training tobefore we ship them off to college, just enough so that when they first hear about Nietzsche or really study Darwin they won’t freak out and presume that what the Church taught them in 6th grade confirmation is the only wisdom the Church has to offer.

Knowing most folks won’t read long boring books,  I’ve been working on writing a catechism, a distillation of the faith into concise questions and answers with brief supporting scriptures that could be the starting point for a conversation.

You can find the previous posts here.

Here are questions 15-17

I. The Father:

15. Does God Change?

No.

God is immutable, immune to change, for change implies that where was an absence or deficiency prior to the change. For something to change, in other words, there must be some potential in it which is not yet realized.

 

But in God there is no absence, for God is Being itself. God does not change (to be more loving, for example) because already in God is the perfection of Love itself.

 

Perfect Love is already eternally actual in God; therefore, there’s nothing you can do to make God love you more and- good news- there’s nothing you can do to make God love you less.

 

“I the Lord your God I do not change.” – Malachi 3.6

 

16. Why Does Scripture So Often Speak of God Changing God’s Disposition?

Scripture speaks of God changing because scripture narrates not God’s essence but Israel’s experience of God in the world.

 

Scripture speaks of God with such human language because we have no way of comprehending or conveying God by any means but our words.

 

Likewise, since humans are ‘talking animals’ the infinite has no other means to reveal himself to us but finite words.

 

“Who is this that questions my work with such ignorant words?”

- Job 38.2

17. Does God Suffer?

No, the idea that God suffers (patripassianism) is an ancient heresy.

The Father does not suffer. For 3 reasons:

 

As Being itself in whom there is no potentiality but only actuality, the perfection of all emotions (Love) is already present eternally in God.

 

To suffer is to be affected by another outside you. To be changed.

But God does not change because there is no potentiality in God only actuality.

 

God subsists in all things that exist and holds all things in existence. God cannot be affected by anything outside God because there is nothing that is outside God.

 

“He is before all things and in him all things hold together.” – Colossians 1.17 

 

IMG_5884-300x200This weekend is confirmation in my church. After a year long process of catechesis, about 40 youth will make good on their baptismal promises to follow Christ in the way that leads to both death and life.

Since it’s confirmation weekend, it seems an appropriate for a student themed podcast.

Teer sat down with Dugan Sherbondy, the author of Sow What?, a few weeks ago while at a middle school youth retreat. They discussed current trends in youth ministry as well as what might just be the next BIG thing (if you can actually guess that). Dugan is a youth pastor and speaker who lives in Phoenix, AZ by way of Illinois. He is passionate about helping students articulate their faith, as well as obscure dinosaur facts.

You can check out more about Dugan on his website, www.dugansherbondy.com

DuganSherbondy-SowWhat-CoverMockUp-300x300You can listen to the interview below.

You can also download it in iTunes or, better yet, download the free mobile app, which you can use to listen to old installments of the podcast and look for future ones.

 

Parents: Echoing Back

Jason Micheli —  August 23, 2013 — 1 Comment

luthersockeLike I do every August, I’m busy preparing for the kick-off of our year long confirmation program for 6th graders and our nascent year long catechism for graduating seniors. Throw in there plans for a class on Mark I’ll be teaching.

Meanwhile our youth and children directors are getting ready for their years and the hundreds of kids who will come through the doors after Labor Day.

Throw in all the admin time such time requires.

And here’s the bitter, ironic but abiding reality:

NONE OF WHAT WE DO MATTERS

NONE OF IT MATTERS

NO SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASS, CONFIRMATION RETREAT, YOUTH GROUP SESSION CAN MAKE YOUR KID A CHRISTIAN IF NOTHING WE DO WITH THEM AT CHURCH IS ECHOED BACK AT HOME.

WHERE THEY SPEND 98% OF THEIR LIVES.

Martin Luther, the Reformation theologian who spent his whole life embroiled in matters involving the institutional church, was convinced that Christian formation actually happened in the home not in the Church. It happened in the family.

If ever the People of God are to flourish, Luther believed, if ever people will be capable of believing in God’s love it will be because of what happens in the home, in the family, and not in the Church. For Luther, teaching about God’s love had less to do with the official words of the Church and more to do with the love shared in the home.

Luther called it ‘echoing back.’

It’s the kind of teaching that happens in families- around dinner tables and shared struggles, in conversations and in ordinary moments.

Echoing back: it’s where the words of scripture and the words Church are made visible in the lives of the people who love us. In other words, our ability to understand Christ’s love for us depends on whether we see that love, experience that love, through the lives of those who love us.

According to Luther, the words of the Church alone can’t do it because God invites us not just into believing in him but into a way of life. And for a way of life, we need more than words; we need guides, mentors, friends.

If it’s true that the laos have abdicated the ministry to the cleros, it’s also true in too many cases that families have abdicated Christianity to the Church, leaving it to pastors and badly paid staff to Christianize (or at least inoculate them against the corroding effects of secularism) them.

The one bright side is that if kids and youth don’t grow up in homes where the Church’s message is echoed back by their families, then they’re still ripe and vulnerable to an anti-family, fight-the-Man-renegade like Jesus of Nazareth.

 

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple.”

As some of you may know, HE WHO MUST NOT BE NAMED is the moniker I sometimes use in sermons to protect the anonymity of a certain short-red-faced-bushy-eyebrowed-falls- asleep- before -the- doxology-generous- with- his- money- and- his- criticisms- parishioner (bless his heart).

Hilariously, now, one of YOU has taken this mantle and taken to emailing me cryptic, quasi-threatening emails from- yup- hewhomustnotbenamed@gmail.com

Here is an example:

Rev. Micheli,

In the most recent posting on your “website” I have found issue with your claim regarding church signs.  First of all, if you truly do no like these signs STOP going past them so frequently.  Second, these signs are EXACTLY what the church needs.  We need to show the godless generation (those young adults you want us to reach out to) that the church has a sense of humor.  
We cannot rely on our pastors to provide the comic relief needed during a boring service to attract this crowd that YOU say we need to attract.  These signs serve a purpose.  Maybe Aldersgate needs to reexamine our sign humor.  Do we really need to advertise for the youth group on them or our children’s activities.  
If they want to come to those programs people will figure out when it is, and if they can’t do it without a sign then its not MY problem.
Be careful young man, you never know, we might just put one of these signs in our pastors front yards!
In the Peace of Christ,
HeWhoMustNotBeNamed

Every day, two freaking times a day, I have to drive by one of those church signs with the individual letters you can move around like magnet poetry to create- supposedly- witty, catchy, thought-provoking, chicken-soup-for-the-vanilla-soul kind of messages. And on swim practice days, its 4x/day.

You’ve seen the ones.

‘Christianity: Some Assembly Required’  

‘Life is fragile, handle with prayer.’ 

‘1 Cross + 3 Nails = 4Given’ 

 ‘America bless God’

 ‘One in the hand is worth two in the…just kidding. 

Call me cynical (if you haven’t already) but I hate these signs. I’m sure some of you love them and think I’m cold and callous, but I think they’re lame.

My problem isn’t that these don’t communicate.

My problem is that I fear they communicate very well.

They say to anyone who’s never wanted to go to church before: ‘Stay away. We’re exactly what you thought we were.’

They say:

We’re not going to challenge you.

Our religion is the sentimental kind that will have about zero application to your life.

You don’t need to be here because the paradoxical message of Christ can be summarized in this lame Christian koan.

And this isn’t just me being cranky. In the book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church, David Kinnaman notes that one of the most frequent reasons cited by young people is their impression that the Church is shallow.

So you see churches with lame signs only appeal to people inside churches not to the people who’ll be driving past your church come Sunday morning off to some other way to spend their time. Meanwhile, your sign conforms to all the impressions out there that Church isn’t a place of depth, unexpectedness or adventure.

Thus my plea…take down your lame sign.

And then there’s this sign, which has even more depressing suggestions of lameness (I mean…how did NO ONE in that church think that might be a double entendre).

A sermon for All Saints based on Ezra 3

On Thursday afternoon this week, I found myself in what you might describe as a ‘sour mood.’ Or, as my wife likes to put it, I was ‘man-strating.’

First, early on Thursday I received an email from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named here in the congregation, my own personal Caiphus. For some reason, he felt the need to email me to dispute Dennis’ sermon from last Sunday.

You know, the sermon that was written by and preached by NOT ME. I mean if I’m going to start getting blamed for Dennis’ sermons too then he’s got to step up his game. Specifically, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named wanted to dismiss the Pew Trust statistics Dennis shared with you, about the percentage of people in their 40’s and 30’s and 20’s for whom church is not relevant to their lives at all.

His email was succinct: “I come to church every Sunday. If other people don’t that’s not my problem.”

That’s when I started manstrating.

Right after reading his email, I got in my car where I discovered that every single radio station was playing a campaign commercial, the kind explaining how this Tuesday is the most critical date in the history of human civilization and unless Barack Obama/Mitt Romney wins the earth will stop spinning, America will cease to exist, and the Death Star will reach full operational capacity.

Driving in my car, my mood worsened.

When I got home Thursday afternoon, my phone rang. And rang. And rang…don’t you love phone calls this time of year? Barack Obama’s campaign called me 3 times, asking for my vote and my money. Mitt Romney’s campaign called me 2 times, asking for my vote and my money. George Allen and Tim Kaine followed with robo-calls of their own, asking for my vote and my money.

So when my phone rang for the 8th time, I was full-on manstrating.

 

‘Is Jason Micheli there?’ the voice on the other end inquired.

 

‘No, he’s not here,’ I lied, ‘can I take a message?’

 

‘My name’s Matt. I’m calling from Princeton Seminary.’

 

‘Oh,’ I said, ‘this is Jason.’

 

‘But I thought you said…’

 

‘Never mind what I said. How can I help you?’

He then explained that he was a seminary student and that he was calling on behalf of the Bicentennial Campaign, soliciting gifts…and testimonials from alumni.

He tried to grease the sale by telling me all the new things going on at my alma mater, and then he asked if I would make a gift to the campaign.

I said sure. He said great. I said okay. He asked how much.  I told him.

And he said: ‘Times are tough, huh?’

That’s when my mood turned truly foul.

‘Look kid, maybe no one’s told you yet what you can expect to make as a pastor but I’m not Bill Gates. Besides, you should’ve called earlier. I’ve already given money to Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, George Allen, Tim Kaine, NPR and the Rebel Alliance.’

He sounded confused.

‘Well, um, would you like to share any thoughts about how your seminary education prepared you for ministry? We’d like to compile these and publish them in the alumni magazine.’

And instantly my mind went to that email from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, sitting in my inbox, still waiting for a reply.

And I knew this was one of those moments where a grown-up could choose to bite his tongue and not resort to petty sarcasm. But I’m not one of those grown-ups.

‘Sure, Matt, I’d love to share my thoughts. Here goes: Princeton Seminary prepared me exceedingly well…to maintain a church for church people.’

I could hear him typing my response.

‘In fact, Matt, why don’t you suggest to the trustees that they can slow down, delay the Bicentennial for several decades, because based on how Princeton taught me to do ministry it must still be 1950.’

‘That’s not the kind of feedback we were looking for’ Matt said.

‘Of course not, but its what you need to hear.

Princeton Seminary taught me to pray the kinds of prayers church people like, to preach the kinds of sermons church people like, to plan the kind worship services that church people like, to manage the kind of church that church people like.

 

But seminary didn’t teach me how to do any of those things in a way that makes church relevant and life-changing to an unchurched person.

 

And that’s the future, Matt. And the clock’s ticking. It’s ticking faster than any one in church wants to believe.’

 

Those Pew statistics Dennis shared with you last week- about how with each new generation the church plays an ever-shrinking role- those aren’t just numbers.

They’re people with names and stories. People God loves.

 

That’s why this week I sent our youth director, Teer Hardy, out into Alexandria and DC, to find some those people behind the numbers and hear their side of the story.

 

I wish I could show you the video he shot. If we were in the National Cathedral, I could show you the video. But since we’re in this sanctuary, you’re just going to have to listen. Here’s one of the responses (Cue Audio)

 

My name is ___________________. 

I’m 33. I’m married and have a 1 year old boy. I work full-time.  

As a 30-something, how relevant is the Church to you in your life? 

At this moment, not very much. I guess it’s been almost five years since I worshipped in a church, besides a few weddings. Some of my earliest memories are of going to church during Advent. 

I miss that element in my weekly life, of worshiping and belonging to a community. Part of me would like to have that resonance of faith in my daily life, but most churches don’t seem to have someone like me, someone my age, in mind. Your question could easily be turned around, couldn’t it? How relevant is someone like me to your church? 

When you hear the word ‘worship’ what comes to your mind? 

The word ‘worship’ doesn’t immediately lead me to think of institutional religious practices. 

To worship, to me, is to reframe my attention away from everything I typically pay attention to as a full-time working mother, and turn to God, experience awe, gratitude, connection to other humans. I could attend a formal church service and never experience any of those things, but I do experience them in other ways and places.  

What assumptions or habits do churches have that are an obstacle to someone your age? 

I think there is a risk of the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction. I think churches sometimes try to pander and make themselves appear relevant to a young audience. People my age and younger are a lot savvier now. We’re marketed to all the time; we can tell the difference between a sales pitch and a genuine interest in us.

 

This is someone who grew up in church and is open to being a part of another one.

 

But did you hear what she said?

 

People like her won’t return to what they left if it’s the same exact thing they left before.

 

Now it’s easy to write people like her off. You can say ‘it’s not my problem.’

I could steer you towards plenty of people who would agree with you.

 

You know where they’re all at this morning? That’s right, in dying churches.

 

And Methodism’s got plenty of those. Churches who love their way of doing things more than they love their mission to reach new people.

 

Churches where perpetuating how they do things is their mission. Churches who feel no urgency until the day comes they can no longer pay the bills.

 

But, just in case there’s still some of you who want to dismiss the statistics and not be bothered about the strangers in the street who don’t think Jesus can change their lives, we solicited some other interviews too.

 

Cue Audio:

My name’s _____________________. I’m 24 and work full-time.

 

What about how churches do worship fails to resonate with you? 

 

I think everyone is at a different place in their lives and everyone has a different perspective. I know that my ideas and opinions about things have changed, and I would be amazed if they didn’t change again. Sometimes it feels like churches want new and younger people so long as we don’t come with our own opinions and needs. We’re expected to sign on to exactly how they like to do worship. In that sense, it’s not much different than children’s church when I was a kid.

 

It’s difficult for me to accept someone else’s preferences if I don’t get the feeling that they’re open to someone else’s way of doing things too. 

 

This other response come to me by way of Facebook:

 

My name’s ____________________. I’m a Graduate Student.

 

I think my faith is in a transitional phase. In college, I found Christian groups to be radical and extreme and it made me doubt the beliefs I had learned my whole life in church and youth group. It left me feeling that the Church just isn’t all that relevant to real life. 

 

Worship sometimes feels like a passive ritual to me. You show up, listen, then go home.  It doesn’t impact my day to day life. 

 

 

Those two people. Guess where they came from?

They grew up here at Aldersgate. They’re ours. Yours.

So, even if you think we don’t have a responsibility to reach as many new people as we can, at the very least you should agree that we have an obligation to people like these two.

After all, you’ve made promises to them.

Remember? When they were baptized- you promised to do whatever it takes to nurture their faith.

 

If we’re not willing to create the kind of church that will be relevant to them when they grow up, then, frankly, we should stop baptizing them when they’re babies.

 

If we’re not willing to adapt how we do church, we should stop baptizing children.

 

Because every time we baptize, we vow to do everything it takes to make them a saint.

 

Shirley Pitts can tell you- John Wesley understood this.

Remembering the saints is something we do. Once a year.

 

Producing saints, Sunday after Sunday, day in and day out- that’s our Christ-given great commission.

 

 

This is what you need to remember.

 

Dennis and I- one of our three goals for the coming 18 months is to raise the number of people in worship by 10%.

 

Round it up to 100 people if you want.

 

Before you nod your heads and say ‘that’s a great idea!’ remember the Ezra chapter 3 catch:

 

We can’t say we’re going to build a new temple and think we can do so by replicating how we’ve always done things before.

 

Because how we do things now will net us what we have.

Now.

 

We’re making worship our number one focus this year and our goal is 10% more people worshipping God with us.

 

To get to that goal, we’re going to have to be creative, take risks, value people over preferences, we’re going to have to examine all our assumptions, we’re going to have to get more basic/more essential, and change.

 

And if you think I’m talking about worship style or music style, you’re missing the point. For example:

 

Most of you would be very reluctant to invite an unchurched friend to worship with you. I understand that reluctance, but it’s got to change.

 

Many of you can’t talk about Jesus or use religious language in a normal conversation with your peers. I was like that; I understand that, and we’ve got to change that.

 

Many of our members are involved in all kinds of activities in the church without ever worshipping with us. I understand that’s an ingrained part of the church culture, but it’s a part of the culture that’s got to change.

 

Other than acolytes, we don’t have our children or youth involved in worship, serving communion, reading scripture, helping to plan, leading prayer or ushering. I understand that might sound chaotic. It’s still gotta change.

 

Many of you don’t know the names of the people you sit near in church every Sunday. I DON’T understand that and it’s definitely got to change.

 

Many of you think worship is something Dennis or I or Andreas or Jason or the band or the choir offer you, and you receive- rather than something we collectively offer our larger community on behalf of God.

 

And more than anything, that mindset has to change.

 

Look, I know change bothers people.

I’ve been at this long enough to have habits I’m afraid to change.

I understand.

 

But what I want to bother you more, what I wish I got emails complaining about, what I wish I got emails complaining about, is how our community is filled with lost coins, lost sheep, lost children and how we’re not laser-beam focused on getting them here so they can embrace a Father who’s waiting for them.

 

I want that to bother you because Jesus made it very clear: it bothers God.

 

I was still on the phone with Matt from Princeton when another call beeped in.

It was probably another campaign calling me for my vote and my money.

 

But at least it snapped me out of my rant and Matt said:

‘That’s a good point Mr Micheli, but transitioning a church into the future- don’t you think that’s your congregation’s responsibility too? Don’t you trust that God can equip your people with the necessary gifts?’

 

I told him he must get very good grades in seminary, and he chuckled gently.

 

And then the little jerk asked me for more money.

 

But he was right.

 

Building on our foundation for a new future is a gigantic, God-sized calling. And it belongs to all of us. Together.

 

Ezra says the leaders who build the new Temple after the exile are the grandkids of the ones who remember how things used to be.

 

Ezra says, at first, everyone thinks their idea to build a new Temple is a great idea.

But Ezra says some have a change of heart when they realize the new Temple won’t be the same as the old.

 

Some refuse to give their money to it, Ezra says.

 

Others opt out Ezra says.

 

But others, those who are old enough to remember what was 50 years ago, Ezra says they weep.

 

They weep, but they’re still there. They’re still there when the new Temple is dedicated.  They’re still committed. They’re still contributing. Because of what God did for them in the past, they’re still invested in the future of what God’s doing.

 

And sure when the new Temple is dedicated, Ezra says you can’t distinguish the sound of celebration from the sound of grief.

 

But that’s okay.

 

Because as messy as it is, that’s what it sounds like- celebration and grief, that’s what it sounds like- when God’s People take the next faithful step.