Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What is a “Funk and Wagnall’s”?

A couple of my friends (family) have brought up the Orthodox and Roman traditions of following the “church calendar.” This something I truly admire. Unlike many Protestants, it is something of which I am starkly aware. If you have no idea what I am talking about you can research it here. Not just everyone in a local congregation follows it. The whole church, all over the world, follows it. It’s brilliant, really.

However, as much as I like this part, it is a practice that doesn’t go far enough for me and for two reasons. From what I have learned, this is a new generation that is unlike any before it. And they are filled with contradictions. First, they are a fatherless generation, so they are very leery of patriarchal systems. But secondly, in what seems to be a contradiction, they so badly need to be heard. Perhaps it is a direct consequence of such a paternal deficiency that they need to be heard.

Let’s unpack this seeming contradiction. First of all, they are known as a “fatherless” generation. This is arguably the distinguishing characteristic of the kids who are growing up in today’s world. Now stack that on top of the fact that they have more information and input at their fingertips than any previous peoples. Social networks, search engines, and even their favorite bloggers have more impact on their lives and their beliefs than strangers who claim to be “experts” ever will.

They display their lives online—at least the part they want you to see. They count on Wikipedia but have no idea what a Funk & Wagnall’s is, or was. The vast majority of them (90%+) have uploaded data, videos, and/or photos onto the internet. This generation was “born” online. That is why those born since 1990 are referred to as the iY Generation.

Dr. Tim Elmore wrote the book Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future. In his promotional video for the book he says, “When I look at students today and schools (read churches) today, I see a gap. Students today are primarily right brain thinkers; schools (churches) are primarily left brain delivery. Students want to upload their own thoughts; schools (churches) insist on downloading information. And this chasm has led to a disconnect between adults and this emerging generation of kids.”

With so much peer influence, available data, plus paternal rejection, why would they seek out a pastor, a priest, or even a heavenly Father for exclusive input on matters of faith?

If you really want to do some research on this you could read this or this. If you don’t want to understand Generation iY, then you have the answer as to why we are having problems reaching them—indifference and a lack of understanding by the older generations. If you want to go even deeper you should read Elmore’s book.

But secondly, besides being dubious of single source authority, this generation, like no other before it, needs to be heard. Elsewhere on this blog, I have quoted author and former director of Alpha USA Todd Hunter. He says, “It used to be that people primarily listened their way into Christian faith. That made the Christian role talking: defending the faith, explaining the faith, doing apologetics, preaching, writing tracts, etc. While that reality is not entirely gone, these days outsiders are increasingly talking and observing their way into faith. They need to tell their story and see if Christianity is real. This major shift is difficult, because right when seekers are looking instead of listening, the church is at a high mark of un-Christian living. Transformation into Christlikeness has always been the goal of Christianity. Now it is utterly strategic—the future of the faith in the USA, humanly speaking, depends upon it.”

This makes our job listening and living it—two things we don’t do very well. What can the church do? Well, can we rethink our delivery? If not, we may need to prepare ourselves to lose an entire generation. How about simply changing our approach from, “Here’s the truth and you had better believe it and act this way!” to, “Here’s what Jesus said! Here’s my experience. Now, how do you think we’re supposed to live that out?” And then we shut up and listen to them. Not just one Sunday or one Wednesday, but every time we come together. Then that “format” becomes our liturgy.

That’s what happens every time we meet at Agora. Maybe you have a better suggestion. I’m wide open. Our community has evolved and hopefully is still evolving. I say all the time that we don’t think we have it nailed. In fact, I think the idea that we think we need to have “it” nailed is a major deficiency in the universal church today. (“It” meaning message and method.)

Here’s the thing. Could we possibly have enough trust in God and faith in our kids that they could hear from the Holy Spirit for themselves, beginning at a fairly young age? And that between them and us, we could work things out? That sounds like community to me. In our experience, it feels like a community too—wrestling with the questions, the words, the works, the faith, the doubts, the struggles, and the successes.

Finally, we must find a way to allow the kids to play a major role in the conversation. Not just around the Sunday lunch table, but where it matters most—around the Lord’s Table.


follower1371437495 said...

Could we possibly have enough trust in God and faith in our kids that they could hear from the Holy Spirit for themselves, beginning at a fairly young age?

This would be possible if we gave up control. We would have to give up the notion that we can manipulate God by doing X, then He will do Y. We would also have to give up control of what our kids think. Because, you know, they are only supposed to think/believe what they are told. And if we are able to do all that, then we would have to give up control of when and how in order to allow the Holy Spirit to do His thing.

I think all that is possible, sure. But I've become a cynic. I have a lot more trust in God and faith the Holy Spiri and this generation than I do in the "the church."

follower1371437495 said...

*in the Holy Spirit

luke said...

Is the church calendar a deaf patriarchal system?

Jeff said...

I think the calendar is probably neutral, but the mass might be... *cringes*

luke said...

I don't want to derail your posts, but what makes something deaf and/or patriarchal?

Jeff said...

Let me start by saying that I will eventually get to my reasoning for some of this, but I will briefly address it here.

Secondly, Luke, did you coin that phrase: "deaf patriarchal system"? I like it; I've just never heard it.

Isn't the patriarchal part obvious? In that system, it certainly isn't the local community which is deciding what issues, scriptures, and life situations are timely, important, and appropriate to the local gathering. However, I have to think this is where such a decision belongs.

In the same way, I am very much against a National (Federal) public education mandate. I think it belongs in the hands of the locals. (But that is a lengthy conversation; I won't go any further with it here.)

So although I believe in the idea of everybody in a congregation being on the same page, I think the subject matter and the accompanying scriptures should reflect the needs and the struggles of the local group.

As to the deaf part, most churches have less input from their congregations than McDonald's gets from it's customers. I've worked in churches where we had a "suggestion box," but it was all for show. (Let me quickly add, I think the suggestion box is a stupid idea for a community. Great for a business, bad for a church.)

Our typical and traditional liturgies only call for personal reflection and/or corporate response, but no unscripted conversation.

Granted, this is a leap, but if the twelve were Jesus' community, they took every day, every situation, every encounter as an opportunity to (call it whatever you want) disciple, learn, grow, ask questions, develop, re-form, transform, and even reflect aloud. It's the closest thing we have to a liturgy outside of the Seder in the Gospels.

luke said...

You said, as a challenge to the church calendar, this new generation is leery of patriarchal systems and wants to be heard. Implying that the church calendar is patriarchal and doesn't leave room for people to be heard - i.e., deaf.

No, the calendar doesn't go far enough, but nothing does. There's no formula for the Christian thing. But the patriarchal and unresponsive aspects of the calendar can be positive.

A patriarchal liturgy fosters solidarity and community beyond local situations. When I went to Brazil, I went to a monastery for Mass; I could participate because I knew the readings and the liturgy even though I didn't know Portuguese. When I go to Mass at the monastery here in Oklahoma it's the same - I can follow along even in the silence. Complying with a communal tradition is a refreshing experience in a world that nearly worships the idea of "your way, right away."

The calendar is not so much deaf as it is indifferent. The calendar simply tells the stories of God and of Jesus; that's a good thing. The schedule helps us remember parts of the story we might otherwise not, which helps us keep a holistic perspective. No-one following the church calendar could long believe in the nonsense of prosperity gospel, not as they read the whole of the Gospels.

We can't just read the calendar and expect to grow and transform. No more than we can just discuss the current events of our community and expect to grow and transform. No either/or's - always both/and's. A big messy pile of faith.

Jeff said...

The purpose of this blog is not to pan any tradition or to say anything is wrong with the variety of church expressions. Who is to say that there is only one valid way to follow Jesus?

But there are disturbing stats which I have pointed out: 1. Kids are walking away from the church in alarming numbers 2. We suck at reaching to adults outside the church. 3. The church is growing everywhere but in America. 4. Tens of millions of people in America claim to be Christians but will not walk into another church.

These stats are real and not disputable.

What we are called to do (Agora and I) is to try and find ways to change or even reverse those stats.

Everyone inside the church is disturbingly content to sit in their pews and comfortably enjoy their version(s) of Christianity. Nothing intrinsically wrong with that. Unless you are called to reach people on the outside.

This blog is our story about years of research and experience in trying to do that, not to debate which version or expression has let us down the most.

luke said...

I guess I'm indifferent to the stats, and I'm defensive to the idea that the church calendar falls short of some metric of effectiveness to change people. How much have we actually tried it?

Jeff said...

Your indifference to the stats prove my point. Those stats haunt me day and night and have since the beginning of this adventure. Your indifference also explains our disconnect.

What would be the point of Agora following the calendar also? You are already experiencing it, right? Or are you saying that you would like to experience the calendar through the eyes of our community. Those are two different things.

Also, which calendar should we use? Roman, Anglican, Lutheran, Evangelical Lutheran, Methodist, or Orthodox? Should we celebrate Christmas on January 6th?

Let me be clear about something. I am not questioning the validity of the calendar to affect change in people's lives. I have no doubt of its deep meaning in your life and in the lives of millions. What I object to is its exclusivity. It is not the only valid expression of "True Christianity." If it was, I (and Agora) would be Catholic (or Anglican or whatever...).

What is interesting is that this week I met with two ladies who were life-long, devoted Catholics who, instead of being changed and more deeply committed, have been hurt, burned, and disappointed. So much so that their kids are Atheists and they are without hope. Those are the people to whom I am called.

luke said...

Oh there's plenty of us who have been hurt, burned, and disappointed INSIDE the catholic church - that's just how relationships go. ;)

I would LOVE to "experience the calendar through the eyes of our community" - that's what I want. I don't believe there's any exclusive authority to any particular calendar. The calendar doesn't create true Christianity any more than the Bible does. (!) But the calendar, like the Bible, capture and convey the best Christian stories we know.

I would love to come to Agora the Sunday after Easter to celebrate "Mercy Sunday" - tell the story of Jesus seeing his disciples for the first time after they abandoned him and saying, "Peace be with you." What does that say to us at Agora?

And the calendar is full of stories like that.

Jeff said...

And, what would you say to the Catholic lady whose kids are now Atheists?

luke said...

Not much - I'd start by listening to her. I'd be pretty surprised if she said her kids became atheists because of the church calendar.

Jeff said...

Again, the point is not the calendar. As I said, the calendar is neutral--neither good nor bad, righteous nor unrighteous. What we are discussing is the liturgy, and the unchurched of the next generation's ability to relate to the church.

I'm with Jesus in Mark 2:17, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

luke said...

I thought the original post said the calendar fails to reach people. Asking how liturgy relates to generation iY I'm sure is a huge series of posts. The Catholic church struggles with liturgy and reform all the time, especially since Vatican II.

Martin Laird says, "Even in the most dismal of liturgies (and these are in no short supply) Christ is and has always been the only presider." The calendar, the mass, and all Christian liturgies should revolve around Christ. We should contemplate the reasons behind liturgies while we explore our own expressions. For example, Liz said she never knew why the congregation at Mass struck their chest during Eucharist, and only later learned - at Agora - the traditional roots in the Publican prayer.

I'm doing a clumsy job relating liturgy to people, because I'm just *talking* about the reasons behind liturgy. But yes - we should live the liturgy to others with our lives - not in a blog comment thread.

Whitney said...

You two make my brain hurt!! ;) Now I'm tired...good thing you love each other (and Jesus) so much!! lol Thanks for the entertainment and interesting reading!!