Friday, October 16, 2009

When Do We Stop Paying Attention To What We Know

Every year our confirmands are required to write a brief, two page report on an assigned topic (Such as "What is Baptism and What does it have to do with my faith?"). I have purposely avoided "What does this mean to me?" questions that might justify a loose canon of opinions. And every year I am amazed at what I read. A couple of years ago I had a kid place quotes from Pope John Paul II speaking on absolution (and they were great quotes). We publish those reports in the newsletter and at the Confirmation Banquet they read them to their peers, parents, godparents and grandparents. People come up to me at the banquet and in the Church expressing surprise at how great these reports are.

This year the eight being confirmed (on Reformation Sunday - October 25) have done another bang up job. Oh, sure, I edit a bit to make sure verbs and subjects agree, to get rid of any clauses trying to pass as sentences, to cut and paste a little bit so that their themes follow more logically, and, yes, remove a bit of heresy every now and then. But wow. They get it. They write with help of catechism, Bible, hymnal, Internet, parents, etc. but they put it together -- I can tell when parents added things here and there. The illustrations are personal and age appropriate and it tells me that the two and one half years of catechism have born some fruit.

What I want to know is how these kids (14 most of them) can get it with such clarity and then grow up to marry someone whose faith is completely foreign to Lutheranism and their own faith and then be content to join a non-sacramental church. How does that happen. They come from solid families, they are well catechized, and they are regular in the Lord's house. All of these things should help keep them true to their pledges of fidelity.

I had thought about this a lot and then it turns out one of those confirmed some years ago has had some family problems and, I am sorry to say, will be going through a divorce. In my conversations with this person (who has returned to their church) the issues included faith. It is not the first time but most of these happen in other geographic locales after they have finished college and moved away so maybe I do not know about them. When faith becomes a wedge between a husband and wife, it can be a very heavy burden to bear.
As a Pastor I deal with it when a child is born and the question of baptism comes up. Apparently many of these couples are dealing with such differences all along -- crystallized by a child but there long before. It points out again how sharing a faith and a church background impact the strength of a couple's relationship and their life together as husband and wife.

Living here in the Bible belt I found out quickly that the Southern Baptists have one of the highest rates of divorce among the churches located here. Lutherans and Roman Catholics are near the bottom. I am making nothing of this in particular but suggest that sharing a faith and a church home is a plus to people entering into what is often a difficult relationship in the best of circumstances -- I say this because of the pressures placed upon couples from the world around them and the other stresses faced by changes in the fabric of our culture (things that I did not have to face or my parents, but my children will).

We talk about faith all the time in my household -- not as a Pastor dictating but as people who believe passionately and who have opinions about subjects where faith's impact leads to conclusions. My children all are regular in God's house and, even though they grew up as PKs they have grown through the negatives to insist that the faith and worship is an active part of their everyday lives -- indeed their identity as people. I am not taking credit for this. I believe it flows from the liturgy, from catechesis, from the faith of their parents and grandparents, and from the open and freewheeling discussions on religion and faith we have so very often.

So I am writing to encourage parents. Bring your children up in the faith. Pray with them from an early age. Discuss things with them about the faith -- and listen to their opinions and engage them as Christian people. Let them see your faith at work. Encourage them when dating to consider faith as a component of their marriage and to address early on differences in religious convictions and upbringing. My point is not to demand but to equip them. There are enough things out there to pull them away from the faith and from a life of worship in God's House and to raise barriers between them as husbands and wives. Let's work very hard to make sure that faith is part of the glue that binds them together as individuals and couples and not one more pressure pulling against them.

As I began, these youth are amazing. I enjoy talking to them about the faith and engaging them on the difficult issues facing us as a people and as a country. I have had catechism students ask me about everything from tattoos and piercings to masturbation and oral sex. (Things I would have never talked to my Pastor about in a million years!) I have had catechism students challenge me to defend my faith in the face of scientific and cultural attacks on Biblical credibility. I have heard painful confessions from them and been privileged to speak God's Word of absolution to them over and over again. I have listened to them relate the struggles in their homes and schools and spoken with them about the healing balm of God's presence, peace, and grace.

I would not given up teaching catechism -- even though sometimes they drive me crazy. Now if I had a better handle on how to keep this going 4-12 years down the road... well, that is why it is not just me... or just parents... but the community of faith...

Now may He who began this good work within you, bring it to completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ... that is the prayer I pray as I will watch them confirmed in the faith... and by the way, at Grace we use those words between the absolution and the sharing of peace... to remember that confession and absolution are one of those great gifts from God to make this prayer into reality...

1 comment:

Kaleb said...

I can tell you exactly what's wrong, at least in my experience. All parishes that are any good at all teach the Small Catechism. Some parishes go Law-crazy and spend a great deal of time moralizing and teaching the kids reasons and strategies for staying out of sin. But there is one thing that none of them are doing, but they should be....

*No one* seems to be teaching kids, in any kind of organized way, the dangers of heretical churches. The result is that unless they're fortunate enough to learn this at home, they're going to start out with a view that all these other churches are just other groups of Christians, really no different from us except they believe a little differently. That's the best-case scenario.

The worst-case scenario, which seems to be a real problem based on the LCMS's loss of membership, is that they fall prey to decision theology and end up believing Lutherans aren't really Christian at all.

If we don't prepare kids for contact with heretical denominations, we can hardly expect them to handle it properly.