My faithful staff, recognizing my profound need to find ways to express myself briefly, want me to take on tweeting to my followers. This should be no problem, as I have no followers. What could be simpler? I am fine with it.
In the hope that I might gain some followers ("don't follow me, dude; I have only lived here four years and I have been lost in the cemetery all morning"), over my vacation, my plan is to tweet 140 characters of daily wisdom based on the Bible texts found in the Presbyterian Church USA Mission Yearbook. I will begin July 15 and continue through mid-August. I think you find me at Sam @PastorSamMassey
. Or something like that. So give it a try, please, and let me know if you can find me and if you want to be a follower. You don't actually have to follow me, of course, just try it to see if it works. Or not. Of course, if you want to follow me that would be fine too. To follow me, that is, would be fine. And to not follow me would be equally fine, that is, I am fine not following me.
Although technically, I have to follow myself, so I must be talking about you. Are you fine?
Keeping within 140 might be tough. Characters, that is. Have headache and going home.
Last Sunday I watched someone, a wonderful person who knows better, doing as he normally does. He had his back turned toward some young, shy, first-time visitors, and he was engaged in conversation with church members he had known for years. With a sigh, I began making my way toward the newcomers when I too got waylaid. By the time I had politely disengaged, the visitors had slipped out the door. I hoped someone had greeted them, but I had no confidence.
Why are congregations growing older and grayer? Statistics tell us that young people don't hang around church the way they used to do. Three reasons are given:
1. Fundamentalists and their anti-gay rhetoric don't carry water with younger people;
2. The normalizing of atheism and agnosticism by compelling, vocal advocates makes unbelief an acceptable, even popular, position to take; and
3. Liberal attacks highlighting apparent religious encroachment on American freedoms, such as birth control, disenchant the young.
I can't say that First Presbyterian Church, Iowa City, has young people flocking to it.Yet it draws enough young seekers that some observations about how to attract young people might be made.
In response to the three reasons given above, yet taking them in reverse order:
3. Historically in the United States, the church addresses its social concerns by taking moral stands and practicing evangelism. These twin strategies serve in place of an attempt to use government coercion against those who disagree with the church's positions. The church has stood for freedom because the church has experienced the shadow of oppression. The church is not in favor of libertinism: It simply recognizes that individual moral behavior, no matter how unrestrained, is still less destructive than out of control government. Young people look for moral stands from the church in the public realm, but not the churchization of the government's role in society.
2. Religion, science, and philosophy were once dance partners. The latter two broke away from the former and the world continues to endure the consequential flailing and fragmentation, which includes atheism and agnosticism. Yet science and philosophy have unraveled sufficiently that large questions are now reborn that beckon religion's return to the dance. Young people look for the intellectually credible engagement by the church of scientific, philosophical, cultural, political, economic, and social issues that they encounter daily. They don't want to be told what to believe, but they do want to know that their questions and doubts will receive a hearing. They also want to know traditional answers presented as ancient wisdom.
1. This is the most important point that I have noticed: Young people come from divided families of origin, they are highly transient, and they are open to sampling in order to find - in every circumstance - what fits like a hand in glove. The first criterion with young people is how much they are made to feel at home. For the sake of Jesus, the one who had no where to lay his head, can we offer open-armed, open-hearted hospitality to the young? Perhaps we remember that Disney ditty from Beauty and the Beast:
Be our guest
Be our guest
Our command is your request
It's ten years since we've had anybody here
And we're obsessed!
With your meal
With your ease
Yes, indeed, we aim to please
While the candlelight's still glowing
Let us help you
We'll keep going...
Course by course
One by one
'Til you shout, "Enough! I'm done!"
Then we'll sing you off to sleep as you digest
Tonight you'll prop your feet up
But for now, let's eat up
Be our guest!
Be our guest!
Be our guest!
Please, be our guest!
I have discovered that my recent post about John Edwards didn't "take" with our web technology. Probably a good thing, as I don't like John Edwards and never have, even before he flushed his political career, I hope permanently. Yes, it has been suggested that I should forgive him, but I don't see that as my job. You could argue that it is my job to coach other people to forgive him, the ones directly hurt by him. But I only urge forgiveness as a way to release the need for vengeance. It is healthy to let go of hate. Yet I have never recommended that anyone try to forgive while still in harm's way, and I consider John Edwards a continuing public menace. I will explain, and I begin by telling you why I don't like him, although you may not find my reasons compelling . . .
It is not only because of John Edwards' hair fetish, equalled only by George Cloony's character in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Granted, I don't have enough hair, and I lack Edward's boyish good looks, which only exacerbates my irritation.
It is not because Edwards' is a trial lawyer. Attorneys play their part in democratic processes, although if I faced him in court I probably would detest him even more. Who likes losing?
It is not that he ran into a bathroom and locked the door in order to escape the press, thereby leaving outside those of us who have legitimate reasons for using restrooms. Moments like these cause me despair, not dislike.
It is not only that he had an affair while his wife lay dying of cancer. This is the Washington thing to do apparently, judging from both Edwards and Newt Gingrich. Yet I have seen it on several occasions outside the Beltway. Guys of a certain (im)maturity get scared when they feel like they want to leave a marriage or - as in the cases of Gingrich and Edwards - they feel like the marriage is about to leave them. Fearing the loss of mommy, they jump to another relationship in order to have the courage to break their prior solemn oath and covenant. I pray to the Lord that he strike me dead before the thought to do the same ever crosses my mind . . . because that would be far more merciful than what my wife would do to me.
No, the main reason I don't like John Edwards, and consider him dangerous, is the way he manipulated Jim Wallis of Sojourners' fame. Wallis is a liberal evangelical who seeks justice, mercy, and faith in the political and social dimensions of our common life. He is a rare exception of which we need many more, a person of moderate, humble faith who is willing to express that faith in the public square as an invitation to others to do the same. In democracy our religions and their political implications should be accountable to public scrutiny, don't you think? Wallis is a bright guy, far more so than I am. But when he essentially endorsed Edwards for US president in 2008 I cringed. This sounded as if Wallis made Edwards God's candidate for president, and for me this crosses a line.
Edwards clearly seduced Wallis and then betrayed him, and by doing so Edwards made Wallis look foolish. Even more to the point, I suspect the backlash against Edwards has caused many persons of moderate to liberal faith to become embarrassed: They are not as willing to speak loudly and faithfully in the public realm lest they be equated with rank foolishness (Wallis) or hypocrisy (Edwards). Wallis is no fool, and I hope we hear from him - and many others - during this year's election cycle. But I worry.
As one historian has noted, America is a nation with the soul of a church. Faith speech is part of our life together. When it is silenced, two things happen: First, other ideologies arise that shape governance, often outside of sharp public scrutiny. Rapacious capitalism is one example; a total disregard for life is another. Second, extremely virulent forms of faith arise that allow for no compromise, all in the name of God. Put simply, when good people remain silent and the nation's soul is not honored in our discourse, the radical and the religiously dangerous combat to fill the vacuum. It is happening already. Either the rest of us speak up, or others - in our name - will speak for us, either ignoring our concerns or claiming our faith and God's authority. John Edwards' aside, we cannot allow ourselves to be dismayed from speaking faithfully in the public realm, with humble voice and willing reconciliation, for the sake of democracy. God help us if we fail. We must speak, lest our silence be misunderstood.
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