Tag Archives: Christianity

Take Me to Church

“Take me to church” is a song by Hozier, an Irish musician. If you’ve not heard it, it’s, er, not about going to church. The title (and refrain line) is a metaphor for something else, physical love. But it’s a powerful, wrenching wail of a song, and I don’t clutch my pearls or run to a fainting couch over its overtly sexual message or its lament over how churches can unnecessarily burden people with shame. (There’s a parental warning on the music video. It contains violence and love between two men, but no graphic sex.)

I’m sure it speaks to many young people. And that leads me to the question at the heart of my little essay here: How do we who enjoy church, who believe it is valuable, get young people, the same ones, say, who are moved by Hozier’s song, to go to church, to participate in religions they might have grown up in but now turn away from?

A recent article posted by Sam Eaton at the Faith It website addresses this question with a list of 12 suggestions. You can read it here. Many of Eaton’s ideas are great, but I’ll confess I shrugged my shoulders at some, wondering if they’d really make a difference.

But the article stuck with me, taking me back to my own days of being a “yute,” thinking of my own three children, who fall into the millennial category. Two of them are regular churchgoers while the other is spiritual and goes to church, quite willingly, with family but isn’t attached to a particular one she seeks out regularly.

To think about the questions I posed above, though, you first have to ask a question many millennials probably pose to themselves: Is church necessary? Is it absolutely necessary for salvation, for a relationship with God, for living a Godly life or being a good Christian. And, to be brutally frank, the answer is…probably not. One can live a perfectly beautiful life as a loving, giving Christian, as a devout believer to the depths of one’s soul, and I somehow doubt God will be checking your church attendance record when you stand at the pearly gates.

Without consulting any surveys or polls, I suspect that’s where many young people are today, not going to church because they don’t see it as the be-all and end-all of how to lead a good, spiritual life with a daily connection to God or the gospel. It doesn’t mean they don’t think about God.

We have to face that if we want to attract young people to church, we people of a certain, ahem, age (when asked the year of my birth now, I tend to mumble…). We have to understand that for many young people, church simply isn’t a priority, and they don’t view nonattendance as sinful.

Okay, then, if that’s the case, what will lure them to the red doors? And to answer that question, I ask myself: What do I get out of church, and what do I want young folks to get out of it?

First, if young people showed up at my church, they’d see a sea of white and gray hair. The average age of our parishioners is in the mumble-mumble area. And while millennials are perfectly capable of being polite and nice to their elders, chatting up a granny probably isn’t high on their list of fun things to do.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think we need to look for ways to make worship “fun” or “relevant” for them. If they come to worship, the focus is on God and away from our own needs. Sometimes it’s about boosting our neighbor up in his/her focus on God. There are Sundays when I’m tired and don’t want to go to church, but I go because I know there might be people there who need to see other people standing with them. e69ee70e4c409afbe64b1e07af353f43

And that’s a ministry of sorts that kindhearted millennials will surely understand…once we get them through the doors. They’ll understand, because they’re smart, that going to church is about gathering in a community of love and support where people lift each other up…to God.

So my one big suggestion for getting them there is to first attract them to the idea of church community by ministering to their needs, lifting them up by helping them. And–don’t laugh at me–but I think one of those needs is fairly simple: the need for a place to socialize that doesn’t cost anything.

Back in the day (before I mumbled my birth year), the Catholic church was my home (now the Episcopalian one is). One of the Catholic church’s ministries was the Catholic Youth Organization, or CYO. I’m sure CYOs did lots of things, but the one thing I remember most about them was their social aspect. CYOs sponsored dances–at churches, Catholic schools. The CYO at my parents’ last church was a regular weekend gathering place, a meeting of youths in the rectory basement where they’d chat, laugh, and play cards with the pastor.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if churches provided that kind of space, even bringing bands in sometimes, for young people who don’t have much money to spend but who have time on their hands on Friday nights? What a ministry that would be, not just for the church’s youth but for youth in the wider community! (And I’m sure there are churches that do this.)

If you’re still reading — I do go on! — I’ll repeat my general suggestion about attracting young people. It’s pretty simple. We need to find ways to minister to them, to show, rather than tell the Gospel message by thinking about what they need, what they want, and…providing it. With no strings attached, no looking over the tops of our reading glasses and tapping our feet waiting for them to walk the few steps from the parish hall into the church itself. Our job isn’t to judge, it’s to love.

Maybe they will take those few steps…eventually. Maybe not right away, maybe when they’re down the road a little, when they’re starting families of their own. And maybe sporadic church attendance will turn into regular attendance as they realize this place, this Godly place, has been good to them, it has filled them with hope, it has shielded them and will do so “as long as life endures,” that it is a place of…Amazing Grace.

Libby Sternberg is an author whose novel Fall from Grace will be released this fall by Bancroft Press. 

 

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No April Fool’s Joke: FREE “After the War” and Extra Chapter!

It’s free, it’s free — again! I’m offering a two-day giveaway at Amazon Kindle of my 1955 family saga After the War. Mark your calendar and download it, Friday, March 31 and Saturday, April 1. 

And, if you’ve already downloaded and read this book, here’s an extra: I’ve penned an extra chapter for it that tells you what happens to some of the characters in the book more than ten years later! If you’d like a copy of this chapter, just email me at Libby488 (at) yahoo (dot) com, and put “extra chapter ATW” in the subject. I’ll send as a PDF!

After_the_War_Cover_for_KindleHere’s what’s new with this book: I redid the cover, and I tweaked the prose a bit, getting rid of a few phrases here and there that were either repetitious or clunky. Let me tell you, it’s a humbling experience to reread one’s work after it’s been published. Ask any author. We cringe when we crack open the spine of an ARC (advance reader copy) to proofread one last time before printing.

I’m excited to offer this book for free again because it has something in common with my new release coming out this fall, Fall from Grace (Bancroft Press, September 2017). While After the War is a historical and Fall from Grace a contemporary, they both share faith elements, where religious faith plays an integral part of the story, motivating characters to do both good and…not so good things.

So, get crackin’! Head on over to Amazon on the free dates (March 31 and April 1) and get your free Kindle editions of After the War. When you’re finished, email me for the extra chapter!

 

 

 

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“The family that love built”: the Charleston martyrs

“I acknowledge that I am very angry…(but) she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating.” Thus said Bethane Middleton-Brown, sister of one of the victims, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, killed last week by a racist murderer in a Bible study class at a church in Charleston, SC.

The family that love built — the parade of victims’ family members who addressed the murderer in the courtroom the day after his horrific act ended their loved ones’ lives was one of the greatest witnesses to Christian faith I’ve seen in my lifetime. Still grieving, their voices sometimes trembling with tears, sometimes strong and clipped, they came to the microphone one after another and offered this simple message: We forgive you.

“It was as if the Bible study had never ended,” a New York Times reporter wrote.

I suspect these families will struggle with the pain, the anger, and even some hate in their hearts over the years. But when they had the chance to speak publicly, on the record, in a courtroom, they used their moments in the spotlight to preach love, not hate, not personal agendas or political points. 540_293_resize_20120701_662a9a6687957abd8bb58f60d5257c1a_png

Would that we all learned from them. So often, when horrible acts like this occur, we reach for our own particular solution. Angry that it was never enacted (gun control, better mental illness care, anti-racism/terrorism programs), we let that anger spill into hate, at times, for opponents of the solutions we favor.

We saw this in the aftermath of the Charleston massacre. We saw, sadly, hate, not love from some quarters. Hate for gun control opponents. Hate for those who won’t rush to take down the Confederate flag from South Carolina. Hate for anyone we disagree with. Don’t get me wrong — I agree with some of the solutions these people espouse. But to be effective, you must learn to love your policy idea and the people you want it to benefit more than you hate its opponents . (For how this plays out, just look at the last push for gun control in the US Senate, where proponents were happy to use the issue to bludgeon opponents but lacked the fortitude to even “whip” the vote.)

To a certain extent, it’s understandable to get so riled up that we lash out during times like this. When something this horrible happens, even removed from the personal pain of those directly affected by it, we still ache for them in our hearts. It’s easy for that ache to search for expression. And it’s very easy for that expression to become: “If only those horrible people hadn’t done or said X or stood in the way of Y…”

A conservative website, Ace of Spades, acknowledged the legitimacy of this kind of feeling in a raw post right after the shooting:

“The feeling I have — apart from shock and horror — is shame. Shame that this creature looks anything at all like me, shame that there may be a few stray nucleotides in his envenomed heart that resemble my own….

Black people are going to be angry at white folks — even if they hide it, they’re going to be angry at white folks for what this bloody bastard did. And I won’t jeer at this feeling. I understand it…”

But then, in that courtroom, we saw the opposite of hate. We saw the love of Christ. We have to acknowledge it as this because those family members testified as Christians called to live their faith.

Christianity has been around so long now and has been such a part of the history of the western world that we have forgotten how revolutionary its message was at the beginning. As theologian David Bentley Hart has pointed out, Christ’s message of loving one’s neighbor, of forgiveness, was fresh and radical in an ancient world where violence and revenge were not only tolerated but in many cases sanctioned. Think a world dominated by the likes of ISIS, by tyrants. And then think what it must have been like to have someone preach a gospel of love, of “good news,” that actually turned hard hearts away from slaughter, hate, and oppression toward love and forgiveness.

Think of those families in Charleston.

They represent what Christianity should be, the “family that love built.” Thanks to those Charleston family members, we were able to witness it anew.

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Can I get a witness?

We’ve all been horrified, haven’t we, by the cruel executions carried out by ISIL? I can’t bring myself to talk about them, their barbarity is so horrible. And the question that dances around in my head is: What is to be done?

Not on a national or global level. But what is to be done on a personal level? How does one confront such evil acts on the individual level, in the here and now, in our own lives?

I’m too old to don a uniform and volunteer to fight to protect those who are in the path of this savage group. My thoughts instead go back to the gospel I’ve grown up with and embraced with more vigor as I age: Christ’s message of love. Love one another.

But to think of loving those barbarians who perpetrate such evil, horrific acts? It’s a hard slog. Far easier to love the person who irritates you or whose views you don’t share. There’s a smugness in that kind of love that lets you feel…superior. No, it’s far harder to love, to even seek to love, those who have only hatred in their hearts.

But I am a Christian, and this is the message of Christ, to forgive one’s enemies, to offer them love in exchange for hate. It’s hard to do. We can go through our entire lives without realizing how hard it is. The church’s life itself contains a history of not always recognizing the true meaning of the message of love.  As David Bentley Hart argues in his book Atheist Delusions:

“….men and women have done many wicked things in Christ’s name….(but) Christianity expressly forbids the various evils that have been done by Christians, whereas democracy, in principle, forbids nothing (except, of course, the defeat of the majority’s will).”

Hart’s point is apt.  Depending on your political sympathies, you might point a finger of blame for Mideast turmoil at the leader you think (or thought) most feckless and least honest.  But, come election day, the majority rules.

Speaking of majorities, Christianity is still the dominant religion in the US, according to Gallup, but over the years, the percentage of people identifying themselves with any religion has declined, and the percentage who belong to a church or synagogue has gone down even more. Gallup’s numbers on this are here.

john_15_12_love_one_another_poster-rac0d4c53566348458f59796e03c63b1a_au58_8byvr_512All of this leads me back to the word of Christ, His message of loving one another. There are a multitude of ways to exhibit such love . My friends and family provide examples for me daily, and I hope I reciprocate in ways that make a difference to them. Where I fall down on the job most, I think, is in spreading the gospel to those who might be seeking a spiritual home. I suspect many of us fail in that regard, if Gallup’s numbers are a reference. We don’t know how to reach out to seekers and searchers. We’re afraid of offending or turning off a searcher, especially in an age where religious sentiment is often mocked and religious-minded Christians painted as being one step away from an intolerant brand of fundamentalism that few share.

How does one evangelize in this secular, diverse time, where we celebrate tolerance and respect for other faiths — a good thing, a wonderful thing. But in our respect for other faiths and points of view, many of us have stopped celebrating our own beliefs. We think it impolite or politically incorrect to stand up and say, I’m a Christian, and Christ teaches us to love one another. Won’t you join me?

It’s that last question that’s hard these days. To ask someone of another faith to join you in your celebration of Christianity is, to some, an insult. “What–you don’t think my faith is good enough? You need me to convert to yours?”

Most mainline Protestant churches don’t do much evangelizing. The Catholic church doesn’t do much either. Oh, I know they all send missionaries overseas. But they don’t evangelize the way, say, Mormons do, going door to door. They don’t reach out the way evangelical churches might, on radio and television. It seems so déclassé, so outré, to engage in that kind of up close and personal religious persuasion. But maybe we Christians need to do more of it. Maybe we need to have the courage to stand up and actually talk about that message of Christ’s love and how essential it is in our lives. Maybe we need to…witness.

So, here is my witness:  I believe Jesus Christ came into a world of barbarity and said: It doesn’t have to be this way. You should love one another. Even when it’s hard. Let me show you just how hard it can be…

So, yes, I’d like to be able to say to those cruel barbarians across the ocean the same thing: There is a better way. And, in my view, it’s the way of Christ. But if you find that better way on a different path from mine, I will still be able to see Jesus in you.

If you love one another.

I cannot join the fight. I can only try to express the love of Christianity in my own life. For those seeking such love, let me issue an invitation–try going to your local church or temple. Find one where you are comfortable. It might take a while. You might need to go back several times to get to know people and figure out how you fit in.

My church is St. Edward’s Episcopal Church on Harrisburg Pike in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. There, you’ll find a loving group of people who’ll help you when you’re down but won’t badger you when you need to be alone. It’s filled with groups that try to do good by knitting shawls (the Knit Wits!) for those ailing in body and spirit, by feeding the hungry through a local food bank, by actually serving the hungry at a local shelter, by squeezing the hand of a friendly soul who is suffering an inner pain. We laugh together. Sometimes we cry together. We eat together. We worship together. We pray together. We love together.

In the name of Christ, I ask you to come join us.

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