The birthday gods of blogging are smiling down on me. I have a whole line up of pearly gems to cast down into the internet mire. It’s going to be pretty great. To kick off this epic week, here is a funny little piece written by a Young Person ™, about the age of my second offspring, who USA Today has fixed upon as the Critic Du Jour. Pity they didn’t give me a call because I’m pretty sure any of my own children could rebut this better than I can (even the little ones) but they’re not up at this hour, so the lot falls to me. This Young Person ™ appears to be Catholic, but I won’t hold any of my dear Catholic friends even a tiny bit responsible for what she says here. Let’s dive in, shall we?
When I entered the musty church hall for Easter Mass and dipped my fingers in holy water, I noticed an approaching woman boasting a self-important demeanor. She promptly came up to my mom and started to shame her for wearing pants, gesturing aggressively to her own ankle-length skirt and Soviet-era headscarf. “This is God’s house,” she said, as though it were an engrossing new revelation.
This could be an episode of Everyone Behaves Badly at the Easter Mass. One of the great things about church, though, is just these kinds of little traumas, which are especially instructive to children. One person comes along and takes it upon herself to judge another person, based on outward appearances. The other person reciprocates. That’s the way it is the world over. But in the church, a third person is there—coughGODcough—and that person can move suddenly and catastrophically in the hearts of the two others to transform that nasty little judgment into kindness. So, as the first person is aggressively gesturing, the second person, who feels the blood rush up to her face, can pray, and ask Jesus for help, and then catch that gesturing hand and say, ‘I’m so sorry my clothes are offensive to you. Can you forgive me? How are you? Is everything ok?’ And then the first person also can pray and be moved towards that offensive second person. Meanwhile, the Young Person ™ can bite her nails in embarrassment and try to sink into the floor.
I suddenly understood why so many of my friends were making promises to leave their respective denominations. Like I did that day at church, they likely felt alienated from attending a service that is supposed to instill hope.
So, um, I’m not sure whence our fledgling author derived the notion that the service is supposed to “instill hope.” That’s just bad catechesis. I’m pretty sure even the Catholic church thinks the point of going is to reorient the self towards God and become repentant enough to be able to be joined mystically, one way or another, to that same holy and perfect God. The point is not dying forever and being separated from said God, but instead joining with the community of saints to live a godly, sober, and holy life for the glory of that same, you guessed it, God. In that way, of course, hope is very much on the table, hem, as it were. But it’s a secondary gift, like not being insulted over the Holy Water, rather than the Main Thing. Also, would this Young Person ™ know if someone were trying to “instill hope” in her? I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t see her true hope rumbling down the aisle even if he was waving a bright crimson flag labeled Hope. If she looks up at the probably ubiquitous crucifix and doesn’t get it, she won’t even if someone explains it to her in tiny words.
From the standpoint of teens like me, many Christian denominations are too deeply rooted in tradition. Whatever this “tradition” comes dressed as, we find it a turnoff. Because of this, church should offer more open-ended resources to teens — such as meditation, discussion groups and even nature walks. In other words, the Christian church experience needs to start transcending the traditional and adapting to the times. Only then can teens start finding meaning in church beyond traditional mass, and realizing they can come to God in their own way without indoctrination or an intermediary.
Nature walks for everyone! Actually, I just heard a very thoughtful and careful exposition of the word Tradition from a church I would never normally have the time of day for. It had one of those new-fangled names that always make me, like this Young Person ™, run screaming the other way, like Propel or Engage or Potential or something. I wouldn’t have expected it, but a very reasonable sounding person who clearly knew how to work his way through the text, carefully delineated the differences between human tradition and divine, and when you should throw over the one in favor of the other. Really pleasantly surprised. Still, I would imagine that our young author’s pastor has often spoken of the reasons for which all the things are done. But perhaps she just didn’t have time to listen. Ok, let’s skip all her fascinating break down of the statistics and cut to the good bit. She concludes:
People are dropping out, and the power to change this narrative lies in engaging teens.
And then provides this surprising, but very relevant detail:
I see this in my own traditional church in Northern Virginia. I attend only biannually because of the strict standards and pompous preaching that relate to anything but true spirituality. When I do go to church, I am among only two or three other teenagers in the room, which is both saddening and alarming.
Ah, so you yourself don’t go “because of the pompous preaching” except for twice a year. What do you think? Probably Easter and Christmas? Just to make a wild uneducated guess. I wonder how she knows what “true spirituality” looks like? If she saw it, would she recognize it? Like “Hope” she has naught an iota of true knowledge of the subject about which she is pontificating.
Christianity’s rich history and established values are not an excuse for churches to resist change. In fact, religions like Judaism and Buddhism, which go even further back in terms of ideals and philosophies, have successfully embraced inclusive programs to draw a larger young audience. For Judaism, this means organizations like Union for Reform Judaism learning to create more LGBTQ+ inclusive spaces by funding training summits for lay leaders. For Buddhism, it is allowing college students to learn mindfulness through on-campus meditation sessions and wellness retreats.
Ah, I see, we should be Buddhist and affirming. Well, that’s incredibly novel. No one has said that in at least three or four seconds. And wellness retreats! My favorite.
Even particular Christian denominations are trying this approach, like the famously progressive Unitarian Universalists.
HAHAHA…I’m sorry, I almost can’t go on.
Embarking into spirituality is very much a choose-your-own adventure, but interested youth cannot do it alone. The Christian religious leadership should be a prime source of support, given its ample funds, immense authority and interest in increasing popular involvement. When teens see churches adopting a welcoming presence, they might just take this as a sign to move beyond their own prejudices and explore spiritually. Ultimately, young people like me just need to know that “God’s house” does not have to be a room full of people shivering in slightly too cold pews.
Oh goodness. I thought we were being castigated because it wasn’t full of “increasing popular involvement?” I thought that was the problem? Well, popular or no, this Young Person ™ needs the same thing that we all do. Which is the saving gracious love of Jesus who died on the cross for our sins which have separated us from him forever unless we turn, repent, and embrace the hope of the gospel. Going to church every single Sunday, and, if you are really Catholic, other days as well, is essential for being transformed by this loving and gracious God into someone able to bear his heavenly glory. Ultimately, young people have absolutely been let down by so many churches across this great land who thought that catechesis wasn’t that important, that, in the battle for the mind, the church had at least a good a shot as the culture, and that just going pretty often was good enough.
All parents in every age are anxious for their children to stay in the faith. And it’s dicey enough. Even those who do all the right things, who take them and sit them in the pews and say the prayers and talk openly about faith, can find themselves looking into the beloved eyes of a child who has walked away. There’s no magical formula to guarantee a faithful adult. But there are ways to ensure that you don’t have one. And that’s never to bring them and never to tell them why they’re even there.
USA Today should try getting a well-catechized believer to churchsplain to them about the hope that lies within so many of us. As I said before, they, like practically everyone, should get out more. This country is stuffed with interesting, believing Young People ™. May God have mercy on their editorial staff and, indeed, on every single one of us.