I fully expect that I will lose 50 per cent of the readers of this post when they realize the subject matter. I urge you, however, to stick it out. You will not be subjected to hell and brimstone, neither will anything be rammed down your throat, because that is not my style. I do promise, however, very real common ordinary food for soulful thinking and in the end, some good news, if you are of a mind to accept it.
My take on human nature is that the average person does not want to feel flawed and imperfect, or that they were born into sin. Any religion that preys on human frailty is, in itself, flawed and ill-conceived. Perhaps it is the subtle assumption of guilt and the need for renewal through redemption that is chasing people away from churches today. Today's generation looks for "feel good", upbeat spiritual motivation that they can understand and relate to, otherwise there is no interest. There are simply too many other-worldly ways and distractions to feed personal needs and appetites nowadays.
Don't get me wrong. I am a traditionalist! I love the scriptures. I cling to the old rugged cross and the faith of our fathers. Gospel tunes and hymns are my favorite form of music. I gravitate to musty old worship sanctuaries that agitate my allergies, give me a tickle in my throat and contribute to dry-eye syndrome. I seek amazing grace...I am also a dying breed. Along with a mere several dozen graying 60-plus faithful, I attend Sunday morning worship services in an elaborate, historic old Presbyterian church that sits on a million-dollar property in the heart of town. I have been welcomed into a small close-knit church family, all of whom I am convinced are in touch with their inward divinity in the twilight of their lives, even though they may not think of it that way.
My children, grandchildren and their friends, do not follow in my footsteps. Church for the average young person today is a place to get married (maybe), have children christened and baptized (maybe) and in the end, to be buried from (maybe). For them, there is nothing in between. Church attendance, it would seem, bores them silly.
I cannot help but think that churches today would be well-advised to place more emphasis on incarnation -- the Divine within all of us. That should not be an altogether novel concept. A religion that is in tune with the current times, building up and bringing out the goodness within people is what is relevant today. Everything else falls into place after the inherent divinity within is realized and understood.
I am all for Christian humility but not to the degree that it lends itself to a manifestation of a congregational inferiority complex due to human inability to be Christlike in all we think, say and do. I honestly believe that the seed of God is planted in everyone and that is what young people in particular should be hearing today. There is a desperate need for them to understand the importance of nurturing that seed. In fact, if churches are to survive deeper into the current century, they must focus on ministries that appeal to the young parents of today, helping them get the most out of the God-given goodness that most assuredly exists within them.
A religion journalist who I greatly admire, once said that one of the wonderful things about covering religion over the years was coming to know and see God's likeness in people of every persuasion in the world. "What's more, if I were asked for my basic sense of identity or place in the cosmos, it would be first and foremost as a human being, a dweller on planet Earth, and not as a Christian anyway," he stated. "I am a uncomfortable Christian, perhaps, but a Christian all the same. As the old country and western song has it: 'Everybody's got to be somewhere,' -- religiously speaking -- for me, it is within Christianity."
I understand what he was saying. The core truths that are in the Bible and that speak to us, are not true because they are in the Bible. They are in the Bible because they are true. They reflect the deepest wisdom of the ages. Properly understood, they are the foundation of human life itself.
Granted, there is much in the Bible that is confusing, contradictory, at times even immoral. Indeed, it has been misinterpreted, or wrongly applied to justify gross evils from war to genocide, from slavery to misogyny, from self-mutilation to hatreds of minorities. But, most of this has flowed from human stupidity in insisting upon literalistic meanings where 99 percent of it all is metaphor and imagery. Some of it quite dated, of course.
Yet it speaks to us more powerfully than any other voice in all of literature, in all of human culture or learning. It tells us the astonishing good news of who we really are, of where we originally came from, and where our ultimate destiny lies. And best of all, it does exactly the same for every single individual who becomes a member of the human family.
Let's finally take a look at what the majority of Christians will recognize as a fundamental passage for the faith. It is read every Christmas and it comes in the opening lines of John's Gospel. It says that in the beginning was the Word (Logos) and this word was with God and indeed was part of God. It explains further that this Logos was the true light that shines within every person coming into the world and adds further that the Logos "was made flesh" -- i.e. incarnate.
To win the masses, however, the church chose to apply this to just one role model -- Jesus, overlooking the fact that the heart of all religion is incarnation -- the aforementioned divine within; not just in one person above all others, but "enfleshed" in all homo sapiens, as written in the scriptures.
It bears repeating. We all come from God. We all carry the seed of the divine within and we eventually return to God. That's the "good news" that should be reinforced and welcomed by young and old alike today.
It is how we learn to embrace and to utilize our divinity along the way that really matters. In this our churches can, and must, play a vital role. A real do-or-die marketing challenge if ever there was one.