Worship, Youth, and Hypocrisy

(Note: I am celebrating my 20th anniversary this week with a trip with my husband. As you can imagine, a work-at-home mother of 4 trying to pull off an anniversary trip means a LOT of logistical planning, so this week I’m sharing, unedited, a post originally published on my personal blog. The time references may not be contemporary, but the issues are definitely still with us.)

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Image by Francesco 65, via Flickr

There’s a blog post making the rounds right now about the dismal record of churches, both mega- and traditional, to retain their youth into adulthood. The author and all the commenters have their pet theories about why this is–the age-old argument between “worship isn’t relevant” (i.e. it’s too traditional) and “the worship is too contemporary” (i.e. it’s too contemporary) seem to be the focus of discussion.

Although I’m a liturgist, and I have impassioned opinions on the question of musical style in worship, I actually don’t believe the style of worship has all that much to do with this question at all.

We are losing the youth–and everyone else who’s leaving organized religion–because they think it’s a bunch of B.S. A conspiracy made to pacify the ignorant and keep the masses in line. And why do they think this?

Because we call ourselves Christians, and we don’t act like Christ. We say we believe, but then refuse to act like believing changes everything. We talk big and then we talk trash about others. We act as if the aesthetics and the personal preferences are what it’s all about.

In simple language, we’re losing people because we’re hypocrites. Even, and sometimes especially, those of us who are the most involved in our churches.

In every Catholic discussion, Vatican II seems to be the lightning rod. Someone always says that whatever problem we were facing was caused by V2 because it didn’t exist before that, and if only we went back to the way things were fifty years ago, all our problems would go away. As if somehow people were intrinsically holier then, instead of simply doing what was culturally expected. Fifty years ago, people went to church whether or not they really wanted to, not because they were better Catholics, but because that’s what everyone did.

These days, church is not what everyone does, so people don’t do it. And that’s not a change caused by Vatican II. That happened in the context of a larger world. All matters of faith are lived in and influenced by the context of the larger world, and that is as it should be. We aren’t “of” the world, but we do live “in” it. We can’t possibly hope to leaven the world if we stand apart and wag our finger at it. You have to dive in.

I know that’s scary. Each of us has a vision for the way the world should be, and it’s pretty cut and dried. But the world isn’t black and white. It’s a complex, interwoven mess. You tug on one string and every other one is affected. There are no simple solutions to any of the issues we face.

The world is messy, and the more you get down in the muck, the more you realize your pat answers don’t–can’t–stand unassailable in the face of the real world. You find yourself forced to reconsider, to shift your dearly-held philosophies to make room for circumstances that don’t fit neatly into the box you’ve made.

Nobody likes having to do that. But if you just keep confirming yourself in your own rightness, it pretty soon becomes self-righteousness, and self-delusion. And then your faith, strong as you think it is, ends up ringing very false to others. They might not know why, but they’ll sense the underlying conflict.

And then they figure, if this is what faith is, I don’t want any part of it.

We can’t ever stop seeking deeper truth. And that search is exercise for the soul. Like physical exercise, it hurts, because it begins with breaking down the boundaries of the muscle in order to make room for expansion.

But at its basic level, that spiritual exercise begins because we go out and we do something with our faith. It’s in the doing that we experience the things that challenge our presumptions and assumptions. Don’t tell me all the reasons it can’t be done. Do something about it. You may not succeed, you may fall flat on your face, but do something.

This is what Pope Francis keeps saying over and over. Sure, worship is important, but worship is not the most important thing; worship is the spiritual food for doing the real work of Christianity. Do something.

If all of us who call ourselves Christians heeded his call, it would be a game changer.

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