Some of the weird, angering, funny things that have happened to me religiously have led me to ask the question, “Why do people even have a church?” It seems I am not the only one asking this question. A relatively recent survey found that Millenials are leaving the church at rate greater than their similarly situated generations in the past. 26% of Millennials claim no religious affiliation. This is six percent more than my generation at that time and 13% more than the generation before mine.
Even before my daughter was born, one of my favorite things to do was to come home at the end of the day and read her a Bible story. Now I will admit it was probably a little strange to start that tradition before my daughter was born, but story time was and continues to be one of the more nonnegotiable parts of my day. I found a Bible story app on my phone and we have been telling her the common Bible stories that Christian children come to know when they’re young.
Every now and again I become fascinated with what feel to me to be the elements of religious experience that are taken for granted. When these moods come, I try to get to the bottom of why religious experience (and I guess particularly of the Adventist variety) expresses itself in the way that it does. In short – I ask “Why?” a lot.
Prior to 1990, the Supreme Court’s standard in determining whether a law violated a citizen’s free exercise of religion was intimately tied to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. An Adventist, Adele Sherbert, sued to receive unemployment benefits after she was fired from her job because she refused to work on the Sabbath. In the case that now bears her name, Sherbert v.
There seems to be a cognitive disconnect in the Adventist Church. Maybe it exists in other churches too. I think most denominations would agree that the process of sanctification (or whatever word the denomination has for gaining knowledge of Christ and how He wants us to live) is an individual process. We don’t get saved in groups. Each of us will be judged by the Father individually, with Christ as our Advocate. But if this is true it leads to a question.
Jesus was growing in popularity. His list of accomplishments and feats was already the stuff of legend. He had already turned water into wine and cleansed the temple. He clandestinely explained new birth to a Pharisee and caused a commotion through one woman in Samaria. He had already healed the son of a nobleman and a man at Bethesda’s gate. He fed 5000 and walked on water. By the time we read John 8, Jesus has amassed a huge following, and in so doing has become a problem for the Pharisees.
As I have stated in this space before, so much of the Christmas season is not related to Christmas at all. (This year’s foolish distraction? What Starbucksdoes or does not put on their cups.) As the Christmas holiday approaches this year, my mind is stuck on questions of ontology and causal determinism. To put it more simply – the importance of Christmas seems to me to not be found in the study of the when and the how.
As I have stated in this space before, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. In my home, extravagant Christmas celebrations faded as I grew older, but Thanksgiving is the one holiday where my family is the most disappointed when we can’t all come together and thank God for his blessings of the past year. However there is a special feeling to Thanksgiving this year, as it is the first that I celebrate as a parent. Both my wife and I still feel the surreal nature of being parents to a new life while at the same time feeling like our daughter has been around forever.
Some time ago I was sitting in what quite possibly was the most boring church service I have ever been in. (No, I won’t tell you where I was.) There couldn’t have been more than 50 people in the sanctuary, and I’m being generous. We sang no less than 5 hymns. All hymns were sung in a dry, slow manner. The sermon seemed uninspired, barely prepared, and was presented with no sense of conviction. It felt like we were in church for three hours. We were in church for about 70 minutes.
Over the past month, the story of Kim Davis has taken up a fair amount of the news cycle. The story of the Rowan County clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and spent time in jail for contempt of court dominated the headlines for more than a week. For those who study and comment on religious liberty in this country, Kim Davis seems like the perfect storm.