Lessons from our odd Sunday

With reference to yesterday’s post, here is what I think it all means:

(1) Even small town America, without thinking about it or meaning to, is turning away from Christianity.

(2) I need to remember to bring nature into my theologizing. (The Bible says that even the birds of the air love to take shelter in the house of God. Why shouldn’t sugar gliders? Maybe I was being too hard on “Dog Church.” Then again, think what would happen if the squirrel showed up during Dog Church!)

(3) My grandson’s generation will see Christianity thrive again. (And he will be a pastor.)

(4) I grow old. My body is starting to fail me. I’ll die.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • wayne pelling

    Small town in any Western European culture is turning away from Christianity.

    Standing on a ridge in the Blue Mountains, a spectacular mountain range outside of Sydney,my non Christian friends extolled “Oh ,looking at that makes you realise that there is a God,it is all planned” Yes Dr Veith certainly bring nature into theology. Magpies greeting the morning sun could be thanking God in their limited way for a new day.
    God in His Sovereign Grace will ensure the Christian faith continues ,and your grandson will not only be pastor but a great Church leader.

    Yes our bodies run down,we will die but we will be present with the Lord and our bodies will be resurrected.

  • wayne pelling

    Small town in any Western European culture is turning away from Christianity.

    Standing on a ridge in the Blue Mountains, a spectacular mountain range outside of Sydney,my non Christian friends extolled “Oh ,looking at that makes you realise that there is a God,it is all planned” Yes Dr Veith certainly bring nature into theology. Magpies greeting the morning sun could be thanking God in their limited way for a new day.
    God in His Sovereign Grace will ensure the Christian faith continues ,and your grandson will not only be pastor but a great Church leader.

    Yes our bodies run down,we will die but we will be present with the Lord and our bodies will be resurrected.

  • Rose

    My town-and-country church is a vibrant place. From such, a remnant shall return.

  • Rose

    My town-and-country church is a vibrant place. From such, a remnant shall return.

  • Dennis Peskey

    1 Rejection,
    2 Rocky and Rin Tin Tin,
    3 Regeneration,
    4 Resignation,
    5 (What’s missing – Resurrection!)

  • Dennis Peskey

    1 Rejection,
    2 Rocky and Rin Tin Tin,
    3 Regeneration,
    4 Resignation,
    5 (What’s missing – Resurrection!)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    “Even small town America, without thinking about it or meaning to, is turning away from Christianity.”

    Sorry, but I get really annoyed by attitudes like this. As if Satan had some predilection for large urban centers. As if the Holy Spirit, conversely, preferred to hang out mainly in small towns.

    “Even” small towns! Oh, but they probably didn’t “mean to”! Because, you know, they’re the good folk! Wholesome!

    I realize your point here is exactly the opposite of what I’m sarcastically getting at — yes, we both agree that small towns are no better or worse than large cities when it comes to spiritual matters. But you seem to see this only in the specific, as if this past Sunday was the first time you’d seen evidence of this.

    If the Pharisees were around today, I bet they’d live in small-town America. Because while people ignore Jesus everywhere you go, in the small towns they pay much better lip service to God.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    “Even small town America, without thinking about it or meaning to, is turning away from Christianity.”

    Sorry, but I get really annoyed by attitudes like this. As if Satan had some predilection for large urban centers. As if the Holy Spirit, conversely, preferred to hang out mainly in small towns.

    “Even” small towns! Oh, but they probably didn’t “mean to”! Because, you know, they’re the good folk! Wholesome!

    I realize your point here is exactly the opposite of what I’m sarcastically getting at — yes, we both agree that small towns are no better or worse than large cities when it comes to spiritual matters. But you seem to see this only in the specific, as if this past Sunday was the first time you’d seen evidence of this.

    If the Pharisees were around today, I bet they’d live in small-town America. Because while people ignore Jesus everywhere you go, in the small towns they pay much better lip service to God.

  • Ryan

    This is not about where Satan hang out, or conversely where the Holy Spirit spends his time. Many urban centers developed around monasteries.

    Small towns were culturally more close knit, including when it comes to religion, than cities. To see the turning away from religion in these, once close knit, communities is a profound statement to how much consumer culture and other influences have changed the United States from stem to stern.

    I would like to know the reasoning behind Dr. Veith’s #3 – I could use that hope as I sit and look at graying parishioners and a future of empty pews in this small town.

  • Ryan

    This is not about where Satan hang out, or conversely where the Holy Spirit spends his time. Many urban centers developed around monasteries.

    Small towns were culturally more close knit, including when it comes to religion, than cities. To see the turning away from religion in these, once close knit, communities is a profound statement to how much consumer culture and other influences have changed the United States from stem to stern.

    I would like to know the reasoning behind Dr. Veith’s #3 – I could use that hope as I sit and look at graying parishioners and a future of empty pews in this small town.

  • Booklover

    To answer Ryan~~

    I think Dr. Veith, in item #3, was drawing meaning from the happening in which his small grandson handed back the communion wafer to the pastor after the pastor dropped it, rather than pop it into his own mouth.

    Of all the happenings, I think that one thing is the greatest miracle! I had 4 sons, and they might have either popped it into their mouths, or fashioned a gun out of it, or thrown it like a frisbee. Truly I think your grandson will be a pastor! :-)

  • Booklover

    To answer Ryan~~

    I think Dr. Veith, in item #3, was drawing meaning from the happening in which his small grandson handed back the communion wafer to the pastor after the pastor dropped it, rather than pop it into his own mouth.

    Of all the happenings, I think that one thing is the greatest miracle! I had 4 sons, and they might have either popped it into their mouths, or fashioned a gun out of it, or thrown it like a frisbee. Truly I think your grandson will be a pastor! :-)

  • kerner

    tODD:

    Well said, amigo. I dislike that attitude too.

  • kerner

    tODD:

    Well said, amigo. I dislike that attitude too.

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    Good grief, tODD. You live in Seattle. Would you say a larger percentage of people go to church in Seattle or in Walla Walla? Yes, the citizens of Walla Walla are also desperately sinful. And I’ll grant that many of the church goers there are hypocrites–though how do you know that? That seems to be one of the kinds of assumptions without evidence that you are always challenging other people about on this blog. But let’s grant it. Let’s say all denizens of Walla Walla are Pharisees.

    What I was observing was the next step: What has happened in the culture when “even” the Pharisees stop going to church? When the civic leaders plan a 5K run on Sunday morning, and it apparently doesn’t occur to them–or it doesn’t matter to them–that this would interfere with people going to church.

    I suspect the city of Seattle doesn’t worry about scheduling things on Sunday mornings. Small towns used to, but many don’t any more. (This is not just based on this one event. Town soccer and baseball leagues all over the country are now scheduling practices on Sunday mornings, something they didn’t do just a few years ago out of deference for church.

    NOTE: I’ve got nothing against Walla Walla. I don’t even know if it is the kind of small town I have in mind. Please substitute some other small town in Washington state. I just used Walla Walla because it’s the only town in Washington that came to mind and because I really like the name.

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    Good grief, tODD. You live in Seattle. Would you say a larger percentage of people go to church in Seattle or in Walla Walla? Yes, the citizens of Walla Walla are also desperately sinful. And I’ll grant that many of the church goers there are hypocrites–though how do you know that? That seems to be one of the kinds of assumptions without evidence that you are always challenging other people about on this blog. But let’s grant it. Let’s say all denizens of Walla Walla are Pharisees.

    What I was observing was the next step: What has happened in the culture when “even” the Pharisees stop going to church? When the civic leaders plan a 5K run on Sunday morning, and it apparently doesn’t occur to them–or it doesn’t matter to them–that this would interfere with people going to church.

    I suspect the city of Seattle doesn’t worry about scheduling things on Sunday mornings. Small towns used to, but many don’t any more. (This is not just based on this one event. Town soccer and baseball leagues all over the country are now scheduling practices on Sunday mornings, something they didn’t do just a few years ago out of deference for church.

    NOTE: I’ve got nothing against Walla Walla. I don’t even know if it is the kind of small town I have in mind. Please substitute some other small town in Washington state. I just used Walla Walla because it’s the only town in Washington that came to mind and because I really like the name.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dr. Veith (@8), don’t go fact-checking me if you’re going to claim I live in Seattle, as I live in Portland. :) I suppose you small-town folks think we city slickers all look the same.

    And I wasn’t arguing that a greater percentage go to church in Seattle than in Walla Walla (or — closer to home — in Portland than in Pendleton). I granted that they at least pay better lip service in small towns, which includes physically going to church.

    But at some level, we’re both working without evidence here — and how could it be otherwise? What evidence am I going to show you to prove that people’s hearts are more sincere, their faith more honest, in this place compared to that? All we can do is measure what they say and what they do. And that is just as likely a measure of lip service or hypocrisy as it is true faith.

    As to your question, though, of “What has happened in the culture when ‘even’ the Pharisees stop going to church?”, I think one answer is: people are at least being honest. Can you really argue that the culture has lost anything when such a change happens? In fact, wouldn’t you rather that the people who go to church are there because they mean it, and not because it’s expected of them, and it’s a small town, so people will gossip about those bad folks who don’t go to church?

    And yes, Portland (and, I’d guess, Seattle) seems to have little compunction in scheduling runs and bike races for Sunday mornings. We used to have to drive through downtown to go to church, and we’d not infrequently get caught waiting for a traffic cop to wave us through a gap in the race.

    All that said, I still think your original statement betrays the attitude I was referring to (@4). Perhaps this is something you only notice when you’ve been living for big cities much of your life, as I have? (If, indeed, Portland qualifies as big.)

    As for Walla Walla, you probably know as much about it as I do, and that I learned from bags of onions and Looney Tunes references. But I’d like to recommend some other interestingly named Washington towns, such as Sequim (pronounced “squim”) and Puyallup (“pyoo-wallop”, inexplicably).

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dr. Veith (@8), don’t go fact-checking me if you’re going to claim I live in Seattle, as I live in Portland. :) I suppose you small-town folks think we city slickers all look the same.

    And I wasn’t arguing that a greater percentage go to church in Seattle than in Walla Walla (or — closer to home — in Portland than in Pendleton). I granted that they at least pay better lip service in small towns, which includes physically going to church.

    But at some level, we’re both working without evidence here — and how could it be otherwise? What evidence am I going to show you to prove that people’s hearts are more sincere, their faith more honest, in this place compared to that? All we can do is measure what they say and what they do. And that is just as likely a measure of lip service or hypocrisy as it is true faith.

    As to your question, though, of “What has happened in the culture when ‘even’ the Pharisees stop going to church?”, I think one answer is: people are at least being honest. Can you really argue that the culture has lost anything when such a change happens? In fact, wouldn’t you rather that the people who go to church are there because they mean it, and not because it’s expected of them, and it’s a small town, so people will gossip about those bad folks who don’t go to church?

    And yes, Portland (and, I’d guess, Seattle) seems to have little compunction in scheduling runs and bike races for Sunday mornings. We used to have to drive through downtown to go to church, and we’d not infrequently get caught waiting for a traffic cop to wave us through a gap in the race.

    All that said, I still think your original statement betrays the attitude I was referring to (@4). Perhaps this is something you only notice when you’ve been living for big cities much of your life, as I have? (If, indeed, Portland qualifies as big.)

    As for Walla Walla, you probably know as much about it as I do, and that I learned from bags of onions and Looney Tunes references. But I’d like to recommend some other interestingly named Washington towns, such as Sequim (pronounced “squim”) and Puyallup (“pyoo-wallop”, inexplicably).

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    Portland! Sorry, tODD. I apologize for confusing pious Portland with godless Seattle. As for your version of “the church is full of hypocrites,” I don’t dispute it, since I realize that I am one of them–my life falling so short of my beliefs–but surely it’s good that these sinners, as well as others, still go to church, where they can be broken by the law and where they can find forgiveness by the gospel.

    As for good names of small towns, as I was going through Indiana, I came across the metropolis of “Hicksville.” (I wonder if that’s where the insult term came from!) But can you imagine the poor college student going out into the big university where he is asked the inevitable friendly question, “Where are you from?” and he has to say, “Hicksville.” I’m sure he will quickly move to Portland or Seattle or the nearest equivalent just to escape that heritage.

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    Portland! Sorry, tODD. I apologize for confusing pious Portland with godless Seattle. As for your version of “the church is full of hypocrites,” I don’t dispute it, since I realize that I am one of them–my life falling so short of my beliefs–but surely it’s good that these sinners, as well as others, still go to church, where they can be broken by the law and where they can find forgiveness by the gospel.

    As for good names of small towns, as I was going through Indiana, I came across the metropolis of “Hicksville.” (I wonder if that’s where the insult term came from!) But can you imagine the poor college student going out into the big university where he is asked the inevitable friendly question, “Where are you from?” and he has to say, “Hicksville.” I’m sure he will quickly move to Portland or Seattle or the nearest equivalent just to escape that heritage.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith (@10), I think you’re backing away, or at least watering down, your original statement of “Even small town America, without thinking about it or meaning to, is turning away from Christianity,” so I’m not really going to chase it down much. Suffice it to say that yes, it would be better for hypocrites to go to church and hear God’s word than to stay home or attend a run or whatever.

    But that’s a rather different question of whether a Sunday-morning 5K race in a small town signals a significant shift in the culture. Or whether the wholesome folks in the small town “meant to” turn away from Christianity, as compared to the city slickers, for whom it is apparently obvious that they “meant to”.

    As for “pious Portland”, I already said my bit about Sunday morning races. I’ve only lived here for 12 years, so I don’t know if there’s been a recent shift or not. But I’ve heard (note: not actually citing evidence) that Oregon is the most unchurched state in the union, though apparently there’s some debate over whether Washington may actually claim the title. The fields are ripe.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith (@10), I think you’re backing away, or at least watering down, your original statement of “Even small town America, without thinking about it or meaning to, is turning away from Christianity,” so I’m not really going to chase it down much. Suffice it to say that yes, it would be better for hypocrites to go to church and hear God’s word than to stay home or attend a run or whatever.

    But that’s a rather different question of whether a Sunday-morning 5K race in a small town signals a significant shift in the culture. Or whether the wholesome folks in the small town “meant to” turn away from Christianity, as compared to the city slickers, for whom it is apparently obvious that they “meant to”.

    As for “pious Portland”, I already said my bit about Sunday morning races. I’ve only lived here for 12 years, so I don’t know if there’s been a recent shift or not. But I’ve heard (note: not actually citing evidence) that Oregon is the most unchurched state in the union, though apparently there’s some debate over whether Washington may actually claim the title. The fields are ripe.

  • kerner

    I would be willing to bet that the percentage of church attendance would be roughly the same in Milwaukee County, WI, where I live, and, say, Florence County, which is up on the UP border. There are more rural dwellers who go to church 2-3 times per year, if that. We jst don’t think of rural America that way.

  • kerner

    I would be willing to bet that the percentage of church attendance would be roughly the same in Milwaukee County, WI, where I live, and, say, Florence County, which is up on the UP border. There are more rural dwellers who go to church 2-3 times per year, if that. We jst don’t think of rural America that way.

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    I really don’t think the town leaders meant to cut out Sunday church going considerations when they planned the run. I suspect it just didn’t occur to them. That, of course, is even worse than a deliberate plan to schedule against churches, since it shows how church is fading from even conservative culture. (That small towns are more culturally conservative than big cities–will you grant that, tODD? Yes, I know about Crystal Meth, but I still say small towns are more on the conservative side than liberals. I do have evidence that our small town is politically conservative from the past elections. Isn’t the conservatism what you don’t like about small towns, tODD?) Again, when conservatives, yea, cultural conservatives stop thinking about church, then, yes, that is a significant cultural shift.

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    I really don’t think the town leaders meant to cut out Sunday church going considerations when they planned the run. I suspect it just didn’t occur to them. That, of course, is even worse than a deliberate plan to schedule against churches, since it shows how church is fading from even conservative culture. (That small towns are more culturally conservative than big cities–will you grant that, tODD? Yes, I know about Crystal Meth, but I still say small towns are more on the conservative side than liberals. I do have evidence that our small town is politically conservative from the past elections. Isn’t the conservatism what you don’t like about small towns, tODD?) Again, when conservatives, yea, cultural conservatives stop thinking about church, then, yes, that is a significant cultural shift.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X