Thursday, February 22, 2018

When to Get Serious About the Search for God

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In his book, “The Lost City of the Monkey God,” Douglas Preston briefly describes the rise of The United Fruit Company, the firm that had possibly the most influence – for good or bad – of any U.S. organization in Latin America.

In doing so, he briefly chronicles the life and times of Samuel Zemurray, whose fruit company was acquired by United Fruit in 1930. As part of the deal, Zemurray gained a seat on United’s board of directors and eventually gained control of the company.

According to Preston, Zemurray had become a multi-millionaire by his unrelenting interference in, and manipulation of, the government of Honduras and its economy. He raised bananas there to sell on the world market, and much of the world - especially U.S. consumers - couldn’t get enough of them.

Among Zemurray’s most outrageous acts was organizing a coup against the elected Honduran government, finding and backing a penniless ex-president for whom he organized an “invasion” of the country. For his own financial interests, he disenfranchised the voters of Honduras.

Devoted to Philanthropy
According to Preston, Zemurray devoted his later years to philanthropy, “donating lavishly to Central American causes, schools and philanthropic ventures….”

Did Zemurray’s late-in-life generosity compensate for all his earlier misdeeds? Only God knows. But one thing is clear, at least for those searching for God in the Christian tradition: It’s never too late to get serious in the search for God.

This search is a process that lasts a lifetime but we can make progress if we resist the temptation to procrastinate. We may have vague notions about wanting to get serious about God but inertia or fear may get in the way.

The inertia is understandable. Many of us routinely put off what we know we should do, and at some level, want to do. The fear is a bit trickier, I believe, starting with the fact that we often are reluctant to admit to fear. But fear of commitment is real, extensive in our society and no more applicable than in a commitment to God.

Prayer is a good place to start, even if we aren’t sure we believe or are capable of belief. We may sometimes think that we’re merely talking to ourselves or may get frustrated because we see prayer as one-way. We may question why, if God exists, he/she is silent.

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God’s silence has been a frequent topic of these blogs and there will surely be more on the subject in the future. But prayer, despite these seeming obstacles, helps us focus on God, become aware of his/her presence, and start and keep us on the road toward God. 

Personally, I’m a fan of the psalms in the Hebrew Bible. Even though they are as old as 3,000 years, they have an amazing relevance for humans of every age. They’re poems and songs that capture the deepest longings of the human heart. It’s easy to relate to their varied feelings, including doubt and frustration over God’s silence.

But I believe it’s also important to pray “from the heart” in your own words, or just silently. My deceased brother, Richard, who was a priest in Kansas City, was a practitioner and advocate of “centering prayer,” a meditative way to pray. For more information on centering prayer, go to www.centeringprayer.com.
Another useful on-line site for prayer is the Irish Jesuits’ www.sacredspace.ie.

What’s really important, I believe, is to make prayer an integral part of your daily life, and to get that done, I find that I have to set apart times for it each day, like first thing in the morning, before going to bed and at mealtimes. Communal worship, at least once a week with my parish community, is also essential for me.  

The story in the gospel of Mathew about the workers in the vineyard speaks directly, I believe, to the question of the timing of the search for God. (Some modern people get hung up on the landowner’s “fairness,” but it reflects the ethos of the time and is not the point of the story.)

Needed More Workers
A landowner needed workers for his vineyard. So early in the morning he went to the town’s marketplace - much like employers do today when looking for “braceros.” He agreed with a group of workers to pay them the usual daily wage for vineyard workers, and they went to work.

But he found he needed more help, so he went back to the marketplace four more times during the day, the last time around 5 p.m., and those workers also agreed to the usual daily wage. When it came time to pay all of them, the landowner stuck to the agreement, paying those who started at 5 p.m. the same as those who started early in the morning.

The workers who started early objected, but the landowner asked the protestors if he didn’t have the right to be generous. Then Jesus provides the story’s kicker: “So the last will be first and the first will be last.”

Religious people, in particular, should be cognizant of this passage, rejecting the urge to judge. And everyone searching for God should take heart, knowing that it’s never too late to find him/her. But for one’s own sake, the earlier, the better.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

How Church Can Be Joyful and Relevant

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My wife, Amparo, and I have been staying in the little town of Barichara, Colombia, for the past three weeks. It bills itself as “the most beautiful town in Colombia,” and I don’t doubt that’s at least close to the truth.

Nuzzled in a valley that suddenly drops into an even deeper one, surrounded by mountains that change hues with the clouds’ varying configurations, it has unique stone streets, colonial houses with red tile roofs, quaint shops and interesting restaurants.

The climate is near perfect. Warm afternoons generate gentle, cooling breezes late in the day and early evening. Exotic trees, plants and birds are everywhere. One bird the size of a hen, called the Guacharaca, makes a deafening morning sound, calling mates in other tall trees. It sounds like the rasping percussion instrument of the same name, but over a loud speaker at maximum volume. If you look it up on Wikipedia, you’ll see a picture of the animal and can listen to a recording of its bizarre call.

So Many Resources
As with many Latin American towns based on the Spanish model, the town has a central plaza dominated by a huge church. (Interesting how people in past generations, both in Europe and Latin America, poured so many resources into churches, which they wanted to be the most beautiful and impressive buildings in town.)

This Barichara church, whose huge main doors open onto a flora-choked park around the central plaza, is no exception. It’s made of huge blocks of rock. Its interior has shiny tiled floors and the main altar, with its statues and crucifixes, is elaborate in the Spanish style.

But the physical attributes are not its main attraction, thanks to the church’s pastor, Antonio Díaz Gómez and the way he celebrates – and that’s the operative word here – Sunday masses. He packs them in to masses that are best described in a single word: joyful.

To me, that’s the measure of a successful liturgy, that people leave feeling happy (and not because they’re LEAVING the church.). People leaving this church after Padre Antonio's 10 a.m. mass are like people leaving a moving, upbeat film. You get the impression they have heard the “good news” of the gospel, that it made sense and they’ve taken it to heart.

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The music is hand-clapping energetic. The mass prayers are understandable and expressive. But Padre Antonio's homilies are what stand out. Like Jesus, he connects with people, using examples from their everyday lives to relate to the Scripture readings.

“I’m from a family of nine children,” he told people one Sunday. “That’s where I learned the meaning of “church.” He meant, of course, that “church” doesn’t refer principally to a building, a structure or the hierarchy, but is a relationship to God and others. In other words, a family.

On a subsequent Sunday when the gospel reading was about Jesus curing the apostle Peter’s, mother-in-law, Padre Antonio told the congregation that Jesus wasn’t primarily about working miracles but about getting people to change their hearts. (And contrary to a few modern scholars who believe Jesus’ message was political, it’s obvious in every chapter of the gospels that it was profoundly spiritual: search for God and you will find him.)

I understand that many see their departure from religion as definitive. They see the mass, or the services of the tradition in which they grew up, as period pieces of which they no longer wish to be a part. But considering the stakes, wouldn’t it make sense to give it another look?

I believe seeing the church as “family” may be important in any re-consideration of its value in modern life. Much of how we feel about religion is that it’s “out-of-date,” maybe in the way we see our parents or grandparents themselves. But we don’t lose our love and respect for them.

"Modern Today, Archaic Tomorrow"
And people who are rational and mature understand that “modern” is completely relative. What’s modern today is archaic tomorrow. Who cares whether our parents, grandparents or ancestors were out-of-date? Most of us wouldn’t think of disowning them.

Religion’s core values, beliefs and practices are timeless. They apply today – though needing some creativity – just as they did yesterday and will tomorrow.

Sitting in a pew in the church in Barichara, I was struck by the composition of the congregation. There were a few tourists like us there, but the vast majority were simple people from Barichara and vicinity. There appeared to be few wealthy or well-educated people among them, reminding me of what the authors of the first letter to the Corinthians said about the early Christians: "not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth...."  

I felt privileged to be among them. It’s hard to explain, but I had the feeling that by being in their presence I was more likely to be accepted and loved by God.
















Thursday, February 8, 2018

How Can You Really “Love” God?

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As a child, I attended a parochial school, taught by nuns. We had daily religious education classes and I recall several discussions about what should motivate you to keep God’s commandments and those of the church.

There are basically two motivations, I recall a nun saying. Fear of God’s punishment, and love of God, and, of course, the latter is preferred.

But I was skeptical. I knew how you could love family members or a sweetheart (I already loved Mary Ann, my best friend’s cousin.) But God? You can’t see him, hear him, touch him or really know him so how can you love him? I wanted to go with love, but had to settle for fear, although I didn’t quite understand how the fires of hell squared with a loving God.

Waste of Time?
I’ve struggled with those questions much of my life. Some would say, “What a waste of time!” But I believe the struggle has been worth it because love has won out.

Still, for many people searching for God, the question remains: How can you really love God?

For me, there are at least three keys.

One is what I believe to be the primordial longing for God that is expressed in the beliefs of primitive peoples around the world. It is voiced exquisitely in Psalm 42 of the Hebrew Bible.

As the deer longs for streams of water,
So my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, the living God.
When can I enter and see the face of God?
My tears have been my bread day and night,
As they ask me every day, “Where is your God?”

Another way to say this is that humans are “programmed” to seek God. Social scientists may argue this, but I believe it’s evident throughout history and throughout the world.

Audrey Assad
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The second key is a sense of gratitude. Many people today show gratitude toward “the universe,” ascribing to it attributes formally ascribed to God. Personally, I look upon the universe as God’s creation and apart from God’s presence, it’s cold and impersonal, not an entity toward which I can feel any gratitude.

No, I side with the author of the Psalm 42. My gratitude is for the God to whom I owe all that I am and have. And I can relate to the song released by singer and composer, Audrey Assad, in 2010, whose lyrics are:

You live in a million places
Your fingerprints can be seen on a million faces
There is a trace of you in every Alleluia
Every song that I sing

And for love of you, I’m a sky on fire
And because of you, I come alive
It’s your sacred heart within me beating
Your voice within me singing out.

The third key to love of God is, I believe, love of others. The first letter of John in the Christian Bible puts it nicely. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” So, love of God expresses itself in love of others.

But What Does It Mean?
But what does loving God mean practically, in my daily life? Czech theologian and sociologist Tomas Halik, puts it elegantly in his book, “I Want You to Be: On the God of Love.”

“…To love God and experience his love means saying all the time a mature and faithful yes to life – including everything I suffer and everything that remains a mystery and is a source of constant amazement. It entails knowing about the depths of life even at moments when I am so absorbed by what is happening on its surface that I am scarcely aware of its depths.

“It means to give up playing the lord and master of life, of my own life and the lives of others – and to do so with understanding, joy, and freedom. To love God means being profoundly grateful for the miracle of life and expressing that gratitude through my life, assenting to my fate, even when it eludes my plans and expectations.”










Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Awesomeness of God (Yawn)

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Our daughter, Maureen, who lives in Colorado and is a great admirer of the Rocky Mountains, recently reminded me of the trips from Iowa to Colorado our family took when she and her brother, Sean, were children.

We went there frequently to visit my sister, Carolyn, whom our kids consider a second mother and whom they were always eager to see.

Traveling west on a clear day, you can see the Rockies from almost 50 miles out. Being a flatlander, the sight always moved me, and I would say to the kids, “Look, you can see the mountains!”

“Yeah,” they would say. “How long before we get to Carolyn’s?”

It occurs to me that their reaction is somewhat like that of many of us, believers and non-believers, to God. Believers are so used to the idea of God, his/her awesomeness easily escapes us. Non-believers don’t see anything to be awe-struck about. Yawns all around.

An Obstacle to the Search
But failure by people searching for God – believers or not - to recognize God’s awesomeness is an obstacle in the search, in my view. We should be able to relate to the author of Psalm 8 who wrote,

“O Lord, our Lord, how awesome is your name through all the earth!
…When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers,
The moon and stars that you set in place –
What is man that you are mindful of him?
And the son of man that you care for him?”

Some may counter that this might have been the appropriate response in pre-scientific times, but not for modern people who believe in evolution and the scientific method. Wikipedia defines the scientific method, by the way, as “a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry is commonly based on empirical or measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.”

Modern people would have a point if the scientific method were the only way of acquiring or testing knowledge. Obviously, religious truths are not measurable and not subject to science’s principles of reasoning. That doesn’t mean that they don’t exist or are unreasonable. “The heart has reasons which reason cannot know,” said Blaise Pascal, the 17th century mathematician, physicist and theologian. But that’s another blog.

Blaise Pascal
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For some, awareness of God’s awesomeness comes like a bolt of lightning, a sudden awakening. For others, it dawns on them over a long period. Some may have to wait a lifetime. The important thing is continuing the search for such awareness.

I place myself in the second category, by the way, among those in whom the awesomeness of God has revealed itself over a long period – much like Maureen’s delay in her appreciation of the awesomeness of the Rocky Mountains.

But without a sense of God’s awesomeness, most religions – including Judaism and Christianity – make little sense. That includes much of what we know about prayer.

A lifelong Catholic, I’ve never quite understood or appreciated the songs and prayers of praise that are typical of evangelical Christians. I rightly believed that God doesn’t need our praise, but failed to understand that once you get a sense of God’s awesomeness, you can’t help yourself. Praise is the only appropriate response, and I have a new appreciation for the “Holy, holy, holy” of the Catholic mass.

One problem may be that “praise” has become one of those “churchy” words that is not part of our daily vocabulary. We rarely talk about “praising an employee’s work” or “praising a great baseball play.”

How Awesome our Beliefs
Besides our failure to be in awe of God, we believers often fail to appreciate how awesome – and in the eyes of non-believers how absurd – are our beliefs. Jesus changed water into wine, walked on water and, get this, rose from the dead? 

When we evaluate our faith lives with our “scientific” minds we allow our doubts to cloud our view of God and religion. We can be skeptics and allow for doubt while recognizing that the source of our faith knowledge isn’t dependent on the scientific method.

Then we can come to recognize God’s awesomeness and pray with the author of Psalm 66:

Acclaim God, all the earth,
Sing psalms to the glory of his name,
Glorify him with your praises,
Say to God, 'How awesome you are!

 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Children of Another God?

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I was recently on a week-long eco-tourist expedition to the Amazonia region of Colombia, on the border with Venezuela.

I saw and did lots of interesting things and among them was extended contact with indigenous communities. I listened to a couple of legendary stories, one of which is widely known in the communities around the small city of Inírida in the department, or state, of Guainia.

The city is surrounded by wide, fast-flowing rivers, thick jungle and broad savannas. For most of the year, the only way in or out is by plane or boat. The rivers are full of fish which are continuously chased by frequently breeching river dolphins.

The stories I heard had striking similarities to those in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, and I was struck by the similarity in their moral messages as well, as in the story of Princess Inídira.

"Little Mirror"
According to the legend of the Puinave people, Inídira, whose name means “Little Mirror of the Sun,” was very beautiful and sang as beautifully. Lots of men attempted to win her hand but used lies and fraud to do so. She wasn’t interested in any of them. Her only love was for the little mountains of Mavecure – three, almost vertical monoliths of granite along the Inídira river, about 30 miles from the city of Inídira. The mounds are estimated to be about 3,500 million years old. We struggled to climb one of them.

But back to the story. Along came a prince named Yoy from the kingdom of Vichada, now the name of one of 32 Colombian departments. Yoy, finding himself rejected by the princess like all the other suitors, decided to drink a concoction made from puzana, a plant used to conjure up love.

When the prince gave some of the drink to Inídira, she “went crazy, running off in all directions.” The hills of Mavecure gave her refuge and hid her. Subsequently, she was changed into the Flor de Inídira, the Inídira flower, for which the city and the river are named. And the dozens of water falls that rage off the Mavecure hills when it rains are the princess’ tears. In the end, because of his enduring, selfless love, Yoy won over the princess, who presumably again took human form.

La Flor de Inidira
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In a visit to one indigenous community, we were shown huge boulders containing inscriptions and drawings believed to be thousands of years old, placed there by the community’s ancient ancestors. The indigenous guide told us that he believed in the religion of his ancestors and its supreme being. He rejected the faith of his parents and grandparents who, along with the whole community, had been evangelized in the 1940s by evangelicals from New York.

The evangelicals, he said, had insisted that his ancestors reject the legends and gods of their people. Since he refuses to do so, he is a persona-non-grata in his community. My heart went out to him because, I’ve been told, rejection by one’s community is among the worse things possible for these and other members of indigenous communities.

But who’s to say that the God worshipped by his ancestors and by him is not the same who is worshipped by the Christian evangelicals, or by other Christians, Jews and Muslims? Doesn’t God reveal him/herself in different ways in different cultures and ages?

I’m reminded of the story of Paul in the Acts of the Apostles in the Christian Bible. In Athens, he preached in synagogues and in the marketplace and was troubled by the sight of the many idols worshipped by Athenians. A group of philosophers hauled him off to the Areopagus, a sort of court that was also a place for debate.

Strange Ideas
“May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?” the philosophers asked. “You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” The author of Acts adds this aside: “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” Sound familiar?

Anyway, in his answer, Paul noted that Athenians were “very religious,” mentioning that he had noticed among the idols an altar “to an unknown god.” It was this God, he said, that he wanted to explain.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands,” said Paul. “And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.” God wants people to “seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.”

Paul didn’t reject the Athenians or their beliefs, nor did he try to force his God upon them, knowing that God had already planted the seeds of faith in them.

That should be kept in mind when people searching for God, especially believers, are faced with the seemingly contradictory beliefs of others.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Searching for a Sense of Purpose

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Tiffany Haddish was “the breakout star of last summer's raucous hit movie, Girl's Trip, and last month became the first African-American woman stand-up comedian to host Saturday Night Live,” according to a recent article on the National Public Radio (NPR) web site. In an interview, she recalled times of struggle.

"Life happened for me," she said. "But I just kept pushing 'cause I know what I'm supposed to do here on this earth."

Imagine what “this earth” would be like if more people had a sense of purpose. I haven’t read the 
“The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?” by Rick Warren – which Amazon calls the 
“best-selling non-fiction hardback in history” – but I like the title. It asks a question everyone should ask, but few do. The question is intimidating.

But it must be asked because it has so much to do with our search for God. Among those searching for God in the Christian tradition, we should, perhaps, be as amazed that God became a human being to “redeem” us as that he/she did so even though we appear irredeemable.

We have made progress, of course. With notable exceptions, we don’t crucify people anymore. We don’t burn people at the stake as during the Inquisition or in places like Salem, MA (though we still persecute people for religious reasons). It’s been over 70 years since the last world war (though there have been lots of less horrific wars since). As far as we know, no leaders of the evil stature of Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot are around today.

Stories of Compassion
And there are lots of stories of contemporary compassion. Every natural disaster brings out people willing to make great sacrifices for their suffering fellow human beings. It’s obvious that we still drink of the milk of human kindness.

There’s plenty to lament, however. We may not crucify people, but we still allow our governments to kill people for crimes committed in states with differing criteria for capital punishment, all of whose justice systems are uniformly imperfect. We may not have leaders the likes of Hitler, but we elect people who fall far short of the God-like qualities that inspire us to be better human beings.

We also fail in care for the earth, our common home, ignoring obvious warning signs of serious harm. As a society, we are even less concerned about our fellow human beings who need our help: the mentally ill, the addicted, the poor. As for prisoners, the general attitude seems to be that the less we know about them and conditions in our prisons, the better. “Let them rot,” is a common attitude.

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We tolerate extreme inequality, sometimes justifying it by a stand against “class warfare.” The unjust distribution of the world’s wealth and services exists because we allow it, and health care is one of the prime examples of this inequality.

According to a recent online NPR article, health-care costs are taking a disastrous toll on the world’s most vulnerable. The article cites a joint report in the journal Lancet Global Health by the World Bank and the World Health Organization that “estimates that each year more than 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty in order to pay for health services — meaning that after covering their health bills, their income amounts to less than $1.90 a day.

“Another 800 million people are spending at least 10 percent of their household budget on health care. And 3.5 billion people — accounting for more than half of the world's population — are simply forced to go without most essential services.

“The kind of care they are missing out on is life-saving but also often extremely basic, says Tim Evans, senior director of health, nutrition and population at the World Bank Group.
Common Childhood Infections
"Nearly 20 million infants don't receive the immunizations they need to protect them from diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis," he says. "These are very common childhood infections that can be completely prevented through low-cost vaccination. Similarly, he adds, "more than a billion people live with uncontrolled high blood pressure — meaning they have no access to treatment."
Many of these people live in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South Asia, but many others live here in the U.S.

We are quick to blame God when children die or famine and epidemics occur, but most of these tragedies happen because we allow the conditions that cause them.
The search for God, in my view, is the search for purpose. But it's not principally intellectual. It’s a matter of developing a relationship with God and others, and that requires a willingness to participate in the betterment of the human race. People searching for God must all be Tiffany Haddishes, people who keep on pushing because we “know what (we’re) supposed to do here on this earth."




Thursday, January 4, 2018

Faith: What to Keep, What to Discard

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This blog is published every Thursday. But for the first time in five years, I won’t be publishing Skeptical Faith next Thursday, Jan. 11. I’ll be on a week-long expedition to an ecologically rich area on the border between Colombia and Venezuela. I hope to publish again on Jan. 18.


As a graduate student in Journalism/Mass Communications in the late 1970s, I surveyed Catholic students about their religious beliefs and practices.
I partnered with the Catholic student parish and fortunately, with a professor in the Sociology Department who was the university’s expert on polling. In the process, I learned a lot about sampling, most of which I’ve forgotten. But I was much more interested in how students would respond.

In general, the results were encouraging for the parish. The students were fairly orthodox in their beliefs and by today’s standards, conservative in their practices and behaviors. Most attended Mass regularly. Most were drug-free. Most agreed with the statement, “While I have doubts, I feel that I do believe in God,” and most believed that they would remain Catholic.

But in the category of behaviors, you could already see some slippage from traditional Catholic positions. Many respondents, for instance, said that pre-marital sexual relations, pornography, abortion and divorce were acceptable “under certain circumstances.”

Very Different
I would like to see the results of the same survey in a similar population today. I’m sure they would be very different.

Some religious conservatives may hope they would not be. And some religious liberals would hope that much of current “doctrine” would disappear. But don’t you sometimes get the feeling that these differences, sometimes bitterly fought over, are simply a matter of tribalism? I’m a liberal, so I defend anything that appears liberal. I’m a conservative, so I’m against anything that liberals favor.

But no matter what liberals and conservatives think or want, religion has evolved and will continue to do so. For religious leaders, the key is figuring out what to keep and what to discard. For Christians, the question is how to maintain the essence of Jesus’ message but not cling to non-essentials.

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Religions must evolve because we do. And the failure to understand this, in my view, results in the failure of today’s religion to speak to contemporary people, especially new generations of adults.

“Even though today’s Christians believe ‘the same thing’ as in past centuries,” writes Tomas Halik, the Czech theologian and philosopher whom I often quote, “they believe it differently; even when they say the same words, they understand them differently; even when they perform the same rituals in the same surroundings, those surroundings and those rituals play a different role in their lives than they did in the lives of their ancestors.”

But making decisions about what should be kept and what should be discarded shouldn’t be left to “public opinion.” For believers, approval of society can’t be the criterion. Let’s take the traditional precept against sex outside marriage, which is widely and routinely ignored in western society.

Did this huge and rapid change happen because our great thinkers got together and decided that, based on intense biblical study and traditions in the ancient church, sex outside marriage is perfectly aligned with the teachings of Jesus? I don’t think so. It happened because, in large part through the influence of the media, young people started ignoring the precept while abandoning traditional religion. And the church failed to respond.

And, of course, nothing has a more intense attraction for humans than sex. A poorly understood precept that is poorly explained, when any explanation is attempted, doesn’t stand a chance. So the sexual revolution occurred without the church taking a shot.

So what do churches do now? Uh, just keep ignoring it until the great disconnect between the church’s official position and actual practice goes away? How could that do anything to help people see the value in the Christian view of love and sex?

Horse Out of the Barn?
I think there’s a view among church people that “the horse is well out of the barn” and it would be close to impossible to round it up. But it’s not too late for churches to develop a theology of sex, something that is based on the gospels and early church tradition (how ancient Christians interpreted Jesus’ teachings) and something that would be a true aid to modern people.

A simple prohibition would be akin to shutting the barn door, pretending that the horse is still in the barn. What is needed is a theology of sex that focuses on what constitutes romantic love with the aim of salvaging it from the meaninglessness of the “hook up” culture and its subsequent self-loathing.

And it’s not enough that such a theology be developed and discussed among theologians or confined to the pages of religious publications. Pastors and parish staffers must start addressing the subjects that people are actually dealing with today. To me, nothing is worse than silence.

Sexual practices are only one example, of course, of how believers must continually adapt their beliefs to everyday life, and vice versa. You can’t expect the beliefs and practices of the university students of the 1970s to be the same as today, but you can expect that for Christians, they be based on the teachings of Jesus and faithfully and loyally followed.