Thursday, July 18, 2013

Deep Foundations In A Shallow World

Recently, my Grandson and I had a "talk" about God. He's a teenager, and still struggling with the concept of God, and in fact, the very need for a God. Is there a true need? I know the answer and you may know the answer, but many of today's youth are finding little need to God. They are simply opting for the agnostic route. It sounds arrogant,. Simply put; most American teens have never truly suffered anything. They've been handed a lot. School is easy. Jobs are easy. The economy is easy. Life is good. Few teenagers have ever broken a sweat for lack of air conditioning, and have never had to stoke a fire for warmth. Food is overly abundant. Not a whole lot is required of them compared to their great grandparents generation. 
So, I have to ask myself, what will it take to make this generation humble? It seems horribly arrogant to think that God, Jesus, heaven, and the Bible are mere fairy stories? That it's without a purpose? That God gave His only begotten Son for no particular reason, or worse, that it's a fable? But that is a common thought among America's teens. 

However, if you're faith has never been challenged, it's possible that a person lacks it entirely. So here we are: the land of plenty. Majority of America is kept fat and happy by personal employment, the government, churches, and charitable organizations. It wasn't that way not so long ago.

According to Census Bureau data for 2009 (the most recent year statistics are available), of the almost 50 million Americans classified as poor, 96% of the parents said their children were never hungry. Eighty-three percent of poor families reported having enough food to eat, and 82% of poor adults said they were never hungry at any time in 2009 due to a lack of food or money. And we are seeing obesity rates in children that historically have never been witnessed. Now, I'm not knocking today's children. They don't know any different and of course I want them fed! I'm simply making a comparison from a century ago when true hunger was a reality, and quite common.

Death Rates by Cause of Death, 1900–2005

(per 100,000 population)

all forms
and pneumonia
Mortality rates were very high in areas of disease, such as venereal disease, and sickness. Infant mortality was as high as 30% percent in some areas of America in the early 1900's. Penicillin wasn't even invented until 1928. That translates into: the average American teen witnessed a lot of death and sickness unless they were unusually fortunate. 
Of course I do not wish any hunger, illness or death on today's youth. I simply wish history was taught accurately, and I wish we had better teaching tools? I sometimes long for a new invention like "smellevision". Yep, if today's youth could capture the average smell of a household from 100 years ago, they'd be thanking God for soap and water, let alone their deodorant, or Juicy Couture?
 I wish they average teen could be transported in time to see a real closet of 1900? My grandparents home was built in the 1920's and had no original closets. Each person had their own "wardrobe", a tall cabinet with a door. It was probably about 6" in height, and 3 and a half feet wide. There was room for perhaps 6 changes of hanging clothes at the most, 3-4 small drawers, and if you were lucky; a mirror on the inside or outside of the door. That was IT. You had ONE pair of shoes until you outgrew them, or wore them out. Underpants? Optional depending on how affluent your family was. Typically, a teen had 1-2 pairs of pants or skirts, and 2-3 shirts or blouses. Not drawers of designer t-shirts, and jeans. Not a small room we now call a closet full or clothes that get worn a dozen times then given away. People literally wore their closes out and even then, saved the remaining fabric for bandages (band aides were not yet marketed) patching other clothing, or cut into quilt squares. Nothing went to waste.

  Today's America is so vastly different than the America 1913. Imagine where your at?  Did your town even exist? If it did, was their a train? If not your great grands where likely isolated and counted on family and close neighbors for any socializing. Days started early, because of the heat in the summer, and the need to milk the cow year-round, and to break the ice and stoke the fire in the winter, and yes, milk the cows, even in the bitter cold. All this before they went to school, IF they went to school at say, age 15? Many had to stop schooling by 13-16 to work on the family farm, or in a factory to help their parents pay the bills. By 1914, we were at war, and many young teenage males were called away to war on their 18th birthday by either choice or design, as the Federal Draft was in full swing by 1917. Poverty was very common and many young men chose to join the military to learn a skill, see the world, as well as serving their country.
I suppose the point I'm getting at is this: Our society is so affluent compared to the America of 1913, and also to other countries TODAY. My fear is; the youth no longer have a need for God? My question to you, the reader is; HOW do you teach Jesus to a society that lacks nothing? Medicine is readily available for most, food is not an issue, and today's youth have so many toys, games, and videos that those born just 20 years ago, don't even know what it's like to use their imagination! Bicycles are a novelty, not a necessity, and outdoor play is "scheduled" in play dates.
Most kids don't ever break a sweat and are more likely to strain their thumb on the playstation than any other injury. No one chops wood. No one totes water. So why would they need Jesus?

St. Augustine said: "If you plan to build a tall house of virtues, you must first lay deep foundations of humility."

How do we lead our teens to Christ when they have no humility? It's not their fault... they are arrogant because they have nothing to compare their world to. We, their parents and grandparents know to be thankful, because we've seen war, we've made do, we've seen others struggle, and we've watched technology evolve. We all remember when a digital watch was $200.00! So we appreciate the affordability and luxury of what we have. Our teens, not so much.

Now, I admit that I did my best to make sense of  The Bible and the need for Christ for my Grandson, most likely because I've always believed in God? I don't recall a time when I didn't? My parents were agnostic growing up, but my Grandmothers were adamant about God, and drug me to church. Wow am I thankful! But, no matter how thankful I am, I need to know:  "how do I answer today's youth when they suggest The Bible isn't real, and heaven is just a fable?" How do we present the need for a God? Or do we just give them the facts, and pray?

One thing I know; faith is developed out of need. And basically TWO PRAYERS I've repetitively prayed: "HELP ME, HELP ME, HELP ME!!" And; "THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!" I know my grandchildren will get there. That sometime in their life, something will challenge them to the point of prayer, even if it's in a God whom they are unsure of?

I'd like to hear thoughts on leading youth to God, and how to develop their foundation in Christ? Raising Godly youth from the cradle is optimum, but what about those who have not been taught?

Your thoughts are precious to me. Feel free to comment.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

All Labels Aside- Why Be Anabaptist?

Recently, I've been rather challenged to remain among The Anabaptists. I know I am not plain... I am not ultra conservative, nor am I so radical that I want to live in a colony.

I love the group I worship with, I certainly do. I agree with "most" of their doctrine, as I do agree with the most basic of Anabaptist theology. I certainly do not feel called to worship in any other church.. I feel connected and loved where I'm at

But that's pretty much where the rubber meets the road. You see, I'm not sure we can say for certain HOW God feels on a lot of issues? I can tell you how He feels about the issues surrounding the 10 Commandments, but then more questions arise when you put it to the test. Take Murder for example? Of course we are not to murder anyone. Right? What about war? What about the police? What about self defense for your family??? Yes, I know most Anabaptists are conscientious objectors and will not go to war literally. But would they protect their children from harm? What about voting? Some say it's a sin to be involved, and some participate.

"Some" Anabaptists seem to have a fairly firm opinion on how God feels about everything from divorce and remarriage, to alcohol, war, and even foster care? Yep, some people think they've got it nailed down. And all of it is by building a case, just as an attorney would with scripture. They take several scriptures, from different places in the Bible and link them altogether to form a defense for the subject they are trying to defend or prove. ... Unless you visit another church, which may have different views on the previously mentioned subject, with a nailed-tight scriptural opinion based on some other view of how the subject should be translated. It's a lot to digest! 

I'll speak about what I've witnessed personally: Mennonites tend to reason much of the individual church theology, which can vary from church to church, district to district, committee to committee. Everyone has an argument and are willing to split what they at one moment call *the body of Christ* over it, and start an entirely NEW body of Christ a few miles away. Now, is this wrong? No, not if it's to end cult like control that can't be reasoned with. But the whole theology is to love each other so humbly... I'm perplexed WHY the most humble can't humble themselves with each other? I suppose they are asking themselves the same question? I'm not here to judge... I'm just trying to wrap my mind around it all, and I've been doing this for over 17 years. But in the end, it's the people that keep me coming back, because after all; people are people regardless of their labels. The Mennonites seem to have a certain simplicity not only in their dress and habits, but also in their love of family. It's just not all that complicated to them and that is very appealing to me.

 I've never known love and friendship like I've known among the Mennonites. I am not one of them... I am grafted in. Jesus had some thoughts on grafting in the ones who love Him and I believe while they have their flaws, as any human, the Mennonites I know personally have one character trait that really sets them apart and keeps pulling back to them; They LOVE with their whole heart. And as  someone not raised in the Anabaptist faith.., I see things from a peculiar perspective. I've been Baptist, Non-Denominational, and attended a Lutheran Church (a.k.a. "Catholic Light"), for a reasonable amount of time. I spent many a weekend with my Grandmothers at their Pentecostal Assemblies...As a child I would secretly visit The Methodists and The Church of God to see how they compare to The Southern Baptist Church my parents assumed I was at? Yes, I know this was deceitful now, but as a kid, it seemed more like civil disobedience? I was a bit mischievous then. Guess I still am?

After all these years of attending various denominations, I find a sense of ease in the simplicity of The Mennonites, and I am also challenged to practice their belief in non-resistance. This doesn't always happen in a flawless, un-bumpy path. It is often a trail of regret that leads me to rethink my actions. I have always had a big mouth. Those who know me are smiling and nodding. And it's difficult for me to stand back, be quiet, stay reserved, and let God do things in His time. I'm more inclined to pop-off, lean in, raise an eyebrow, and stare someone down when challenged. But I see in the lives of my Mennonite sisters, that none of that is necessary. Most of the time, I am simply in the way, like a tree in the road. They have taught me to be patient, quiet, tender, and obedient. Not that it always happens that way, trust me, I'm still me. Still, my friends have been there, and prayed with me and for me as I work against myself day to day. I'm always envious that they were raised to be gentle. I was raised by wolves in comparison!

 I think I've found my niche among the Mennonites, and I'm content to just be among them, and feel  no pressure to be a cookie cutter version of them. I'm staying put. I just do my best to love God, take their interpretations to heart, and respect their culture, just as I have every domination. And all this travelling around various denominations paid off and created something neutral and unique: It gave me a beautiful perspective to love all denominations for whatever in them shines the brightest. For me, my Mennonite friends shine like diamonds in the sun. I have stopped worrying about what facet shines for what reason?  I'm just thankful they shine.