Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Those who leave and those who don't

All four of my grandparents were religious loyal Catholics, as were all their children. All four of my wife’s grandparents were also Catholic as were all their children. All my and my wife’s cousins and brothers and sisters Catholic (about 30 of us). Our sons were active in Catholic Boy Scouts, attended Catholic grade and high schools (and even colleges) and we were very active in the parish.
Next generation of children, nieces and nephews, numbering in excess of 100–zero practicing Catholics.
This stinging scorecard is a response to a short, poignant essay by Rod Dreher in The American Conservative, something titled "Kids in the Collapse of Catholic Culture," but you can read similar sentiments elsewhere too. Here, for instance, in another touching essay referred to in Dryher's sad essay, or here in a similar piece by Martin Marty in Sightings.

All lament the passing of a wealth of practices that once made up ordinary religious life, including church-going.  All painfully document what is no more and open up the pain of rearing children who choose values unlike those most precious to their parents.

I grew up with what some claimed was a theological insurance policy called "covenant theology," the firm belief that God's promises to Abraham extended to our children. That's why we baptized them as tiny infants, after all. Covenant theology was the foundation of the Christian education my parents treasured so deeply they alienated those who didn't hold a similar views, even members of the family. Christian schools were for "covenant children," the children of believers. They weren't missions, after all; they were schools.

Covenant theology insisted that children born to professed believers would never lose that branded faith.

Unless they were "covenant breakers," of course, the fine print in the contract. There were those who didn't share their parents' faith, of course. Why not?--because those sinners chose to walk away, the one really obvious way in which God let his sovereignty slip and allowed us free will: we could opt out of the covenant but we did so at our risk.

I'm no theologian, and what I know of the infinite ways of God is that they are forever his and not mine to know or understand or certainly to use as weapons. I don't know much about Roman Catholic culture either, certainly the dedicated kind Sidney Callahan describes in her sad description of Callahan family life.

But I recognize pain when I see it, and I'm sure every last faith community suffers similarly. I have a Book of the Mormon given to me by students who left a note explaining how they hoped my reading would inspire me to become part of their fellowship. Not long ago, on Facebook, when I reminded one of them of her well-meant gift, she said she'd left the LDS.

My father used to lament the collapse of Christian culture. "Where are the men like Johnny Luteyn?" I remember him saying, as if the lack of verifiable saints created a spiritual wasteland in Oostburg, Wisconsin. I'd never knew Johnny Luteyn, but even then I told myself that my father was walking, talking proof that faith wasn't dead in the neighborhood.

That half of those men and women who've graduated from Dordt College are not Christian Reformed, the fellowship that created the institution, might well be shocking to some, sad to others, especially when one considers that for at least half of its history, almost the only students to enroll were CRC. But that doesn't mean there is an end to faith.

There are more "nones" today than there was yesterday, and they're of all colors and shapes and sizes--CRC and Roman Catholic. But I'm sticking with covenant theology and its worn arguments, the faith of our fathers and mothers. It's where I'm investing my faith.

Times change, and so do we. What doesn't is our need of a Savior.

Nor does he change, that redeemer, born in a backyard stable, someone's little town barn, a shed with a manger, a couple sheep and an ox or two. Maybe cats.

That ramshackle hovel in Bethlehem should be a monument, shouldn't it? Probably centuries ago already, its rotting slats were already used for firewood.

But the baby is still with us, and we with Him. Praise the Lord.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes. God with us. Emmanuel, my favorite Christmas word.