Lively Christian lyrics, joyously ringing bells and an exuberant display of faith — it was a moving concert given by a children’s group during a recent church service.
Most of these children later stated they attend church to be with God and their favorite Bible story is the Nativity. Their emotional performance was rewarded with applause and even a few tears.
Reflecting on their presentation, I wondered — how did the children’s level of belief differ from the adults watching them? Risking oversimplification, as children we are taught to believe that God lives above the clouds in “heaven,” a kind of “Superman.” And if we pray and believe strongly enough, He will intervene on our behalf in times of need and crises. If our prayers are not answered in the positive, then God’s “will” was done and He then becomes our consoler. God is thus limited to being a magic genie or a security blanket. Through conversations with numerous adult church- goers, I strongly suspect that their faith differs little from those children who performed that Sunday. Such a static faith trivializes God and ourselves.
If our understanding of God hasn’t evolved beyond that of our childhood as we’ve aged through our 20s, 40s, 60s and beyond, then we have given very little thought to the matter missing many opportunities for growth along the way.
A good path for those who want to experience the awe, excitement and wonder of one’s faith or spirituality, would be to ask hard, honest questions of it. Curiosity and inquisitiveness should be encouraged by the church. Unfortunately, when asked, many clergy will ignore years of seminary training to give an answer they think the church member wants to hear or at the level he thinks the member can comprehend. That’s simply not honest.
When Jesus taught, he didn’t present simple, direct and fixed answers to questions but most frequently spoke in parables, innuendo and open-ended statements from which individuals could search their experience, lives and souls for answers.
In Matthew 13:13, Jesus states how difficult it was for his apostles, those who were with him daily, to comprehend his teachings. The disciples no doubt had many energetic, varied and conflicting opinions on the words spoken by Jesus. It’s been deemed poor etiquette to talk about religion with friends, but maybe we should do more of it (always with respect). What does the church down the road teach? What do my Hindu neighbors believe? What troubling question is the person in the pew next to me reluctant to ask?
In my career with Mill Creek MetroParks, I was fortunate enough to have worked with a great staff and volunteers to provide an Easter egg hunt for 25 years or so. Author/pastor Jack Good uses this type of experience as an analogy. To paraphrase Pastor Good, children wait for the start of the hunt tense with excitement. Many ethnicities mix. Rich stand next to poor. Fast children are shoulder to shoulder with the slow. Timid next to brave. But when the search for eggs begins, all such potential human barriers are gone and the thrill of the search transcends every human division. To that, I agree: It is the search that brings excitement. It is in the search that we are all equal. As we grow older, the journey toward an honest faith should continue and we should not settle for simplistic and/or childlike answers.
A casual attitude toward faith will provide little reward. Like life and other faiths, Christianity is a journey and not a destination. If we push beyond the beginning of the path, asking questions and giving thought, we’ll grow throughout our journey and may just find the way to personal rebirth and transformation.
And that, Jesus taught, can change the world.
Tom Bresko, retired from Mill Creek Metro Parks, is a Christian on a spiritual pilgrimage.