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How to transmit the faith?

For more commentary on this week's readings, see the Reflections on the Lectionary page, which includes Apple's current Living by the Word column as well as past magazine and blog content. For full-text access to all articles, subscribe to the Century.

My youngest child hasn’t missed a church choir rehearsal in five years. But when the ten-year-old went too rehearsal one day recently, she was one of only two people to show up. It was a hard evening for the interim music director—it’s hard to be a resilient leader when your numbers are dwindling.

It’s troubling for those of us who have good memories of childhood in a congregational setting. How are we transmitting the faith now, amid all of the shifts in the current culture? When I was young—in an era when Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar and Free to be You and Me were my favorite records—the church and all her people, including my family, were forming me in faith through scripture and song. “Shook up? Look up! This is your day to be glad, lucky lad, what a day to be had!” I sang those words from “Barbecue for Ben” in a sanctuary filled with friends and the church family, and they remain seared in my memory and imagination. Those experiences inform the ways I pastor.

When I come to the story of the Prodigal Son, I still see the burnt orange carpet on the sanctuary stage, the harvest gold chairs and the grey cement block walls. I hear the director’s voice crying out, “Goodness children, this is good news—can’t you add a little excitement to this story? This child was lost—but now he is found! Help me to believe!” Our congregation used music as a way to teach and to fellowship, to nurture and form the body of Christ.

These days of technological tsunamis leave me bewildered. Days when we carry devices that connect us over long distances yet keep us at arm’s reach. How are our brains being re-shaped, and how does this change ministry? What does it mean to be the church, to seek to shape a life of faith, to transmit the faith? 

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Transmitting the Faith

Perhaps transmitting the faith is more synaptical than electronic. That is, intimate connections that produce faith in the gaps that the other dendrites hungrily snap up to form a semantic path to understanding. Rather than beaming afar to scattered souls who are too bound up in the tsunami of the current shape of the culture. Dendrite to dendrite is the only sure connection that dislodges the thought from its former path.

The book of Revelation, for me addresses these tsunamis with it continuous call to overcome the cultural onslaughts that tempt us through power aligned against us and power aligned with us. The beast rising from the sea supports the powers that are aligned against us, which gives rise to the beast from the land supporting the powers that are aligned with us (Rev. 13).The powers aligned for us are the seductive one's that affirm our lusts and appeal to our own survival.

We are called to resist all these powers, not through mirroring their tactics, but by discerning the origin and intent that direct their teleos. Being who we are called to be is the antidote to succumbing to fear of the anti-aligned and pro-aligned powers. As Jesus told his followers who sought to be filled once again with the miraculous, but earthly, bread: "This is the work of God, that you trust, rely, yes, cling to the one whom God has sent" (John 6:29).

The power of God is neither aligned for us nor against but calls us out of such alignment to receive power to engage in the life offered in Christ Jesus.

Transmitting the Faith

Perhaps transmitting the faith is more synaptical than electronic. That is, intimate connections that produce faith in the gaps that the other dendrites hungrily snap up to form a semantic path to understanding, rather than beaming afar to scattered souls who are too bound up in the tsunami of the current shape of the culture to be able to diffrentiate messages. Dendrite to dendrite is the only sure connection that dislodges the thought from its former path.

The book of Revelation, for me addresses these tsunamis with its continuous call to overcome the cultural onslaughts that tempt us through power aligned against us and power aligned with us. The beast rising from the sea supports the powers that are aligned against us, which gives rise to the beast from the land supporting the powers that are aligned with us (Rev. 13).The powers aligned for us are the seductive one's that affirm our lusts and appeal to our own survival.

We are called to resist all these powers, not through mirroring their tactics, but by discerning the origin and intent that direct their teleos. Being who we are called to be is the antidote to succumbing to fear of the anti-aligned and seduction of  the pro-aligned powers. As Jesus told his followers who sought to be filled once again with the miraculous, but earthly, bread: "This is the work of God, that you trust, rely, yes, cling to the one whom God has sent" (John 6:29).

The power of God is neither aligned for us nor against but calls us out of such alignment to receive power to engage in the life offered in Christ Jesus. Thus, our survival is supported in the will of the Creator.

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