A speaker is talking to staff members about leadership and character. “The academy has been isolated and has drifted away from standard air force practice," he says. "If you see anything that doesn’t jibe with standard practice, please question it.” He is no doubt referring to indecent behavior by drunken cadets or incidents of sexual assault. The most recent controversy, however, has nothing to do with violence or drunkenness among cadets. It's about religion.
As some friends and I ate a picnic lunch, we fell into a rambling conversation about politics, real estate values in an earthquake zone and the virtues of sauvignon blanc over chardonnay. Then I mentioned offhandedly that perhaps I viewed something or other the way I did because I was a Christian. This revelation did not strike me as a big deal. After all, they had been talking about Buddhist meditation, Sufi parables and personal spiritual rituals.
Evangelical Christianity is generally loquacious; Minnesota Swedes seldom are. My Swedish evangelical paternal grandparents talked little about their deeply held faith, and then only in sober tones. They would have benefited from reading Thomas Long’s groundbreaking book, the fifth volume in the Practices of Faith series.
A rabbi noted recently that when Jews and Christians view Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ, they tend to see two different stories—and neither seems to appreciate or understand the reactions of the other. A perceptive observer of Christianity, the rabbi pointed out that Christians don’t all see the same story either.
On a summer evening in our town, Carnival came to Main Street. Biker convoys parked their gleaming Harleys outside the Internet café and flocks of teens from the suburbs rivaled the Harleys with their personal adornments of metal trimmings, tattooed limbs and orange and purple–streaked hair. To us locals all this hubbub was normal; we see it every year at Carnival time.
When I was in kindergarten, one of my favorite activities was “What’s in the box?” The teacher cut a hand-sized hole in a box and placed a mystery object inside. You could reach in the box, smell the box, shake the box—everything but open it. Each one of us would take a turn guessing the right answer. “It’s kind of fuzzy.” “Is it a teddy bear?”
Only 15 percent of American congregations have grown by even one person in the last five years, according to the Parish Paper newsletter. There are no doubt many demographic explanations for why congregations’ memberships decline or plateau, but it’s also true that some congregations don’t know how to grow or don’t really want to grow.