Recently a parishioner told me that she thinks people don't attend church because people don't really have a deep spiritual hunger. Her reflections (and she's a generation older than me) didn't seem to reflect what I see going on in the world, especially among the people of my peer group. As I listened to my parishioner, I couldn't help but think about the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix last week and the upcoming release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows this week. Stories like these - and all hero quest stories - seem to be tapping into a great spiritual hunger. I see people looking high and low for meaning and purpose. What I don't see, though, is the church helping in these quests. We have become so entangled in doctrinal disputes (often about what I would consider non-essentials), embroiled in clergy sexual misconduct scandals, and engaged in political conflict that the effort required of people to participate in our church communities isn't worth exerting...at least for the non-churched people I know.
As I listened to this parishioner, once again I realized that there exists between the "Boomer" generation (I hate generational nomenclature) and Xers/Millennials a great divide. One of the differences between these generations is that Boomers believe in their own agency/power to change the world and the Xers/Millennials maintain skepticism of this ability. However, it seems the younger generations hold a hope for our skepticism to be dispelled. When I look at the prevalence of television shows, movies, and books like Heroes, Lost, Kyle XY, Harry Potter, X Men, and many, many others I see a generation searching for meaning in existence and the power to change the world. We want someone to tell us that change is possible and that we have some agency to bring it about. We are trying to find that iconic and archetypal story to which we can cling and from which we can find empowerment.
As a Christian I believe that my faith is grounded in a story of the greatest import. It begins with a people with no meaning and no identity being claimed by the greatest of gods. This God leads them from oppression to freedom, charges them with a sacred duty to be a light to all nations, and calls the misfits from among them to bear again and again the word of this God. Eventually there rose a man who could embody the grace, love, and power of this God who lived among the people sowing seeds of change and nonviolent revolution. Because of his choices, his life, and his works he was killed, but the powers and principalities of this world still could not beat him. Death could not defeat him. Furthermore, my story tells me that the same power that coursed through his veins lives in mine. The same message of justice and mercy that he brought to the world needs to be brought today. The same power that raised him from the dead will raise the entire world, liberating all of creation from the powers and principalities that push down, oppress, ensnare, and disempower. This story is greater than all of the superhero stories and more empowering than all of the hero quest narratives.
Can the church regain our voice to tell this story? Can we leave behind the squabbles that hold us down? Can we re-present the gospel in a world that clearly does want a story not only to hear, but a story in which we all can participate? In essence, can the church be a place where people come in order to find purpose and meaning?
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