Recently I posted a video about the devastating effect media messages about beauty can have on all of us, but particularly our youth. Part of the challenge, as I suggested then, is that our kids are so media-saturated - far more than they are media-savvy - that it's difficult to provide a filter. Which means that we need to counter the voices of the culture that regularly seek to make them feel inadequate with messages about their inherent worth and dignity.
And this, when you think of it for even a few seconds, is something that should come naturally to us. We proclaim, after all, that we and all people are children of God, named in the waters of Baptism as holy and righteous and blessed and beautiful in the sight of the Lord.
But do we communicate this? Of course in the absolution or preaching we announce it, but do we take time to talk about the implications of our theology for our daily lives? In this instance, do we remind our youth of how much God loves them and how much we love them? More than that, do we gather their parents and elders to talk about how we can support our youth in a complex, internet-dominated age?
And while we're on it, do we talk about other things that are incredibly important to our everyday lives and about which we should have something to say? Do we talk about meaning and purpose in light of vocation, and then make room for conversation about how many people don't feel called to their work, or don't have work they enjoy, and or don't have work at all, and how hard that can be? Do we talk about how challenging it can be to have family members suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's, reminding each other that God remembers us even when we cannot remember God and allowing for conversation about how important that affirmation can seem sometimes and how empty it can feel at others? And what about the challenges of being married and raising a family in a helter-skelter world that is absent any sense of Sabbath? Or being single in a world where more and more people are single even as most congregations are set up for the (less and less) typical "married-with-children" types?
In short, beyond the hit-and-miss conversations around coffee hour, do we talk about any of the things that really matter to us in church? And if we don't, what do we talk about? Budgets, who's going to teach Sunday school, carpet color, what?
Further, if we're not talking about those things that most matter to us in light of our faith at church, what are the odds that we're thinking about these things from the perspective of faith at home? And why, over time, would we expect anyone to keep coming to a place that seems so often totally removed from our everyday lives and concerns.
As director of the Vibrant Congregations Project at Luther Seminary, I was struck by one of the findings of our research that indicated through both survey and interview how deeply people want to be able to connect their faith and their daily life. In particular, they want their faith to be relevant, even useful to them. They want to understand how their faith applies to their everyday lives. Not in the sense of having the preacher tell them how to vote, but rather in the sense of wanting to know how these stories from the Bible shed light on what it means to live full and meaningful lives in a very busy, very confusing culture where lots of other people and groups would be glad to answer these questions for us.
It's not that I don't think we want to talk about this in church. It's just that we do. It's rarely, that is, that I rarely hear in sermons - my own included - let alone in worship much about what touches on my daily life. The needs of the church - yes; the needs of the world - yes, again. But the questions I wrestle with about being a good parent, or shielding my kids from negative cultural messages, or having hard but respectful conversations with others, or thinking through the ethical decisions we face at work, or the problem of bullying at school... not so much. Again, it's not that I'm looking for congregational leaders to answer my questions. We are the experts on our own lives. It's more that I want congregational leaders to make space for these conversations so that we can take up what's important to us and discuss it in light of our shared faith.
I know we're trying to do this. But I'm not sure we know how. So if you have suggestions about things you seen or heard or done at your congregation to help us make that elusive Sunday-Monday connect, I'd love to hear.