Here’s the thought for the day, as you ponder the headlines out of Maine. This famous quote is taken from “The Press and Foreign Policy” by Bernard C. Cohen:
” … (The) press is significantly more than a purveyor of information and opinion. It may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think ABOUT. And it follows from this that the world looks different to different people, depending not only on their personal interests, but also on the map that is drawn for them by the writers, editors, and publishers of the papers they read.”
Although it is risky to judge a man's religion by his name, I might suggest that Bernard C. Cohen is Jewish (at least in heritage). Although his words addressed to politics and foreign policy were not meant to apply to matters of faith, I might suggest that his an eloquent voice for the value of knowing the catechism, the Scriptures, the liturgy and the hymns of the faith.
The Church may not be successful much of the time in telling its people what to think, but through the catechism, Scripture, liturgy, and hymnody we tell people what to think ABOUT. And their world, though it looks different based upon their own differences, is lived out upon a common map of the catechism, Scripture, liturgy, and hymns. There is my paraphrase of Mr. Cohen's insightful words.
When God gives to parents the gift of a child, no book accompanies that gift to lay out instructions for every situation or to predict where that life will lead. We know from Scripture that if you train up a child in the way he should go, he will not depart from it... But how do you do that? As a parent of now three twenty-somethings, I do not speak as an expert. My kids have all had their ups and downs, their successes and their failures (like us all and like all kids). But each of them is an active Christian, attending worship, knowing the faith and claiming it as their own. What did I do? Don't have a clue -- except that I did what my parents did for me (and my wife's parents did for her). We raised them to know from a young age the catechism, Scripture, liturgy and hymns.
I still do not know where their lives will lead them and as a parent I fear for them (the nature of love that does not diminish as they grow older and we do, too). I do not know what they will think of the world and all the changes their lifetimes will see. I do not know what they will think of all the choices that life will lay before them. I do not know what challenges they will face for themselves or their own families. But I do know that the lens of the faith has been firmly planted in them so that how they think, what they think about, and, to a great degree, the framework of their thinking has been shaped by the catechism, Scripture, the liturgy, and the hymnody of the Church. Long after I am gone, it will still be with them.
Those of us who speak about catechesis (gotta love the sound of that word), of being in the Word of God, of knowing and being part of the liturgy in its weekly and season rhythm and pulse, and of knowing the treasure of hymnody passed down to us (as well as learning some new of our own age) -- well, we are often accused of trying to keep alive another era or time -- as if we were fearful of our own time. Some might frame it as a culture war more so than worship war (meaning high culture vs pop culture). Others insist that we have chosen maintenance over outreach. I would like to offer another perspective upon all of this.
The catechism, Scripture, liturgy, and hymnody of the Church give to the Christian the lens through which he or she sees the world and a framework through which decisions, judgments, and choices are made. The Church cannot tell us what to think but the Church can tell us what to think about by building into us the language of the Church (of the catechism, Scripture, liturgy, and hymnody), the perspective of the Church and the values of the Kingdom. When we forsake the catechism and Scripture, liturgy and hymnody, for trend and fad (albeit a Christian one), we subtly detach ourselves from the very framework in which the faith was passed to us, is kept in us, and passes through us to others. When we become unhitched from all of this that is our Christian heritage, we lose the very structure that enables us to see and think of all that is around us from the vantage point of the Christian faith.
Through the catechism, Scripture, liturgy, and hymnody we map out the world for the Christian who must live in it and journey through it. We give to the Christian those landmarks that enable them to find their way, knowing what to look for. I have one of those GPS systems (Great!!) in my car but I cannot drive depended upon that quaint English voice to tell me to turn here or there. The GPS helps me most by setting me free to see for myself the landmarks so that I can drive without the voice telling me what to do. The Church gives to the Christian what they need to see the landmarks, to know what the good and gracious will of the Lord is, to know where the Lord may be found (in Word and Sacrament) so that they may seek the Lord while He may be found, to know how to pray, to know the Bible's Big Story (that is the Jesus Christ and Him crucified and the salvation ours through His atonement)... When we abandon these, we lose the landmarks that equip us to find our way through to the end that God has prepared for us.
Ignorance of Scripture, the loss of a common language of the catechism, the disappearance of the liturgy with its ordinary, and the abandonment of the historic treasure of hymns passed down to us -- all of these have an intended consequence of leaving us alone before the world, without a map ingrained upon our hearts and minds to help us define what we see and make our way to the journey's end... At least that is how I see it...