Friday, October 19, 2007

Why Do You Go to Church?

When Sunday School started this fall, I asked my Grade 6-8 class, “Why do you come to Sunday School?” They looked at me in disbelief, and I immediately corrected myself -- I know why they come to Sunday School: their parents make them come. “So why do your parents make you come?” I asked.
They understood that their parents felt it was important to learn about God and Jesus, but really had no idea why: they figured it had something to do with making them good people.

So here’s my problem: if you’re just looking for a way to be a good person, you can be a secular humanist and sleep in on Sunday morning, and sooner or later, these kids are going to figure that out. Christians have no lock on being good people, and there will be plenty of non-Christian friends who will gleefully point out the many, many times throughout history when Christians have actually been as far from “good people” as it is possible to get.

My co-teacher, and the mother of one of our students, mentioned her gratitude to God for all that he has done as one of the major reasons she wants her daughter to be in Sunday School. And that’s great, as far as it goes. But is it enough? Sooner or later her daughter is bound to notice that God causes the rain to fall upon the just and unjust alike, and wonder what the point of gratitude is.

A study by the Barna Group recently arrived in my mailbox showing that young people have an increasingly negative view of Christianity. (You can read the report at: Even those with some experience in churches saw Christianity as judgmental and hypocritical. They also thought that Christians were “anti-homosexual,” failed to put into practice our teaching of “loving our neighbor as ourselves,” and that Christianity no longer looked like Jesus.

It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s what the kids in my Sunday School class are going to hear from their peers as they move into high school and college. There will be lots of reasons not to go to church -- will we have given them any reason to come?

We can no longer count on social pressure to keep our children in church until they discover their own answers to why be a Christian. If we are to have any hope that our children will know God, we need, desperately, to be able to articulate a deeper understanding of our faith, something that goes beyond platitudes or a fear of Hell. And for that to happen, we need to understand, ourselves, what we are doing here.

The place to begin, I believe, is in telling our own stories. I know why I go to church, but I’ve spent the last four years in an intensive discernment process listening for God’s voice in my life. That makes me far from typical. But I don’t think it should. I think that each and every one of us has a powerful and compelling story about how God has moved in our lives. If we didn’t, we’d long ago have quit setting the alarm clock on Sunday mornings.

What is your story? Why do you go to church? Or why don’t you go to church -- is there something about the way Christianity is taught that keeps you away? What would you tell my sixth to eighth graders?

If you feel up to being public about your story, leave a comment on the blog. If it’s something too intensely private to share with the world, I’d love to hear from you directly: I’ll keep it confidential, just between you and me.

in telling our stories, I believe we begin to find the places where God is truly and deeply present in our lives, allowing us a fuller relationship with Him. And that, in turn, allows us to help others find and be found by Him, which is the true meaning of Christ’s command to us to “go out and make disciples of all nations.” So please, join the story telling! At the very least, it will help me offer better answers to my sixth, seventh, and eighth graders about why they should keep dragging themselves to Sunday School when they’d really rather stay in bed.


Monday, October 8, 2007

Fall in the Garden

It’s fall in my garden. The undisciplined flowers of summer have given way to brown stems. It’s particularly sad this year, since my fall-blooming asters succumbed to some illness in mid-summer. There’s just row on row of deep brown leaves, about eight inches tall, filling the lower half of the garden where there should be bright purplish blue and yellow flowers.

The cucumbers gave up the ghost in August, too. I’ve never yet managed to keep them alive and healthy through the whole season. I think it’s powdery mildew, but I haven’t found the cure, yet. So all I have left is a couple sickly yellow leaves -- and a lone cucumber I somehow missed when there were still leaves on the plant. The zucchini succumbed as well: so much for my father’s prediction that I would be up to my elbows in squash. And I think the squirrels liked the peppers: I kept seeing baby peppers but only got to eat one. It was almost two, but the squirrel got there ahead of me.

The tomatoes are still doing OK -- there are lots of green tomatoes on the vines still, and we’ve been eating tomatoes non-stop for about two months. The herb garden is doing great, too, but it’s too crowded -- I squeezed too much into too little space trying to make room for the new patio. The plants have done surprising well considering the fierce competition for sun and water.

It’s fall in the garden. Some blighted promise: the cucumbers, the asters. Some hopes that bore generous fruit - the tomatoes, the parsley and thyme. Some that as it turned out, I didn’t really know what to do with them when they did reach their potential -- the Thai chilis, the lavender.

Maybe that’s why I garden: it’s really a lot like life. There are no guarantees, but there are lots of surprises. You don’t really control any of it, and when things go well, it’s best to share -- sure, you can put up tomatoes, but really, how much picalilli can one family eat? Best to share them with friends so they all get eaten at their sun-warmed best.

Most of all, I appreciate the reminder that no matter what succeeded and what failed, there’s always next year. By next April, I’ll be wandering around looking at new plants poking through this fall’s dead leaves, debating what variety of tomatoes to plant, surfing the Internet looking for yet another treatment for powdery mildew -- or another answer as to what’s causing the cucumbers to die! And whatever the results, I’ll plant the cucumber seeds anyway -- in the hope that this year will be different.

Those green tomatoes are big enough to ripen on the window sill into November, and the pesto should be great this year. And I just noticed that the Gerbera daisies I had given up for dead are blooming again. Maybe I’ll get a bouquet before final frost after all. It’ll be a good reminder, as the papers and unfinished reading assignments pile up, that all things end -- and that for the things that do fail, there’s always next time.