“You Can’t Call God on the Telephone” and Other Christian Teachings Specifically for Children

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telephoneI have a very clear childhood memory of siting at a tiny little table in a room full of toys, coloring a picture of different types of telephones and then crossing them out while listening to someone explain that you can’t call God on the telephone. I was five years old and it was part of a Sunday School lesson on prayer. To my mind, it seemed that I was being taught a great theological truth about the nature of God and telephones. This idea was reinforced by the fact that “You can’t call God on the telephone” was a maxim that was repeated whenever prayer was the topic of a Sunday School class for the next several years. Apparently, this is considered a good way to begin discussing prayer with small children.

*sarcasm alert* Look, kids, Jesus can't hear you unless your head is bowed!

*sarcasm alert* Look, kids, Jesus can’t hear you unless your head is bowed!

That strikes me as being extremely odd. Evidently, the point was to distinguish prayer from human-to-human conversation, but why is that such an important point to make? Why do people think that it’s the first and primary thing about prayer that young children need to know? Wouldn’t it be more significant to point out that prayer actually is sort of like talking to a person, and that it’s a really special blessing to be able to talk directly to God? Besides, it’s not as if a telephone somehow blocks prayer from reaching God’s ears. If someone was to pray while holding a telephone to their face for some reason, that wouldn’t negate the prayer. But that is also an unnecessary point to specify when defining prayer for children, because the topic of prayer is not intrinsically linked to the topic of telephones. At least in my case, the discussion of telephones was a distraction from the subject of prayer, not an instructive illustration of the concepts being taught.

Cutting out pictures of butterflies is a very edifying activity.

Cutting out pictures of butterflies is a very edifying activity.

Little-kid Sunday School, at least as I remember it, relied on a lot of canned phrases and irrelevant craft projects to discuss things in vague terms that would have been better if they were just taught explicitly. We were told over and over again that “God is everywhere” and that we were supposed to “Always trust in God” without any additional explanation or discussion of those concepts. Old Testament stories were taught as if the whole point of them was how righteous certain “characters” were and how we should be just like them. Bible stories from the gospels were learned by coloring pictures of Jesus and talking in vague terms about how loving Jesus is and how He always cares for us. The epistles were completely ignored until around fifth or sixth grade, at which point those teachings were incorporated into Sunday School lessons by having each student look up a certain number of verses, all taken out of context, that related to a certain theme. That theme was sometimes moralistic (like how important it is to love everyone) and sometimes encouraging, (like how God doesn’t want bad things to happen to Christians) but it was always something fairly vague and rarely had to do with salvation and justification. Instead of learning the Ten Commandments or discussing Law and Gospel, we looked at cartoons of children engaged in various activities and pointed out which ones were misbehaving and which ones were being good. Coloring on the walls is bad, setting the dinner table is good, pulling people’s hair is bad, and helping a friend who fell down and scraped his knee is good. Maybe the occasional Sunday School lesson happened to mention Jesus’ crucifixion and the forgiveness of sins, but if it did, that was a trivial point compared to the primary purpose of telling stories illustrating goodness and badness, or reminding us that God is [insert any generic adjective with a positive connotation].

When I was little, I thought that coloring on the wall was an unforgivable sin, because Sunday School kept telling me how naughty it was.

When I was little, I thought that coloring on the wall was an unforgivable sin, because Sunday School kept telling me how naughty it was.

For teenagers and preteens, most Sunday School lessons try very hard to prepare students for the possibility that they will have to defend themselves to peers who may tease them for going to church. I remember many, many lessons that involved watching videos or looking at stories written in comic book form, showing a Christian teenager explaining to his/her friends that he/she can’t participate in a certain social event on Sunday morning because he/she had church. The friends would laugh at the protagonist, say that church wasn’t important, and (horror of horrors) call the protagonist a “religious nut.” Then the protagonist would resist peer pressure, meekly walk away from the conversation, decide that those kids are terrible people and bad influences with whom no Christian can be friends, go home, do his/her chores and homework, and read the Bible for an hour before going to bed and getting at least eight hours of sleep because that’s the right thing to do. He or she is a good and faithful Christian, everyone else is bad and should be avoided, and the lesson is over.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad with teaching kids moral values, emphasizing the greatness of God, or warning teenagers about peer pressure and anti-Christian sentiment in popular culture. But I don’t understand why most adults think that children can’t understand anything beyond empty clichés and the distinction between good and bad. It would be so easy to take a stereotypical moralistic Sunday School lesson and expand it into a meaningful Law/Gospel lesson by adding a few words to the effect that Jesus died on the cross to pay for all our sins. That’s not an intellectually challenging concept; at least one of my younger sisters was able to articulate it as soon as she was old enough to talk in sentences. It would be so easy to take a popular theme or Bible story and expand it into a meaningful message by taking the fluff out of Sunday School lessons and using that time to read entire Bible passages instead of individual verses. It would be so easy to remind Sunday School students what their church teaches in addition to what their friends are likely to think about their church. Little kids would benefit a lot from having some substance in their Sunday School lessons, and older kids would benefit even more because their lessons tend to follow an even narrower theme than little kids’ lessons do. Just because teenagers face peer pressure doesn’t mean that all they need to hear is how important it is not to give in to it.

Kids, don't give in to peer pressure or Jesus will be sad.

Kids, don’t give in to peer pressure or Jesus will be sad.

It’s true that Christians are subject to hurtful stereotypes, especially on the internet, and that Christians do sometimes experience peer pressure that will try to turn them away from the church. It is very true that Christianity is distinctly set apart from the secular world, which is why “secular” is even a word in the first place. And it makes sense to occasionally warn teenagers about the anti-Christian messages that they will often encounter. (Here, I use “anti” both in the sense of “opposed to” and in the sense of “instead of”) But despite the non-Christian values of our society and the negative view of Christians that is propagated by certain aspects of the media and held by many individuals, this culture is still a very safe and easy place to be a Christian, at least in comparison to many parts of the world. In this country, not only is it legal to be a Christian, but it’s fairly normal.  Peer pressure and anti-Christian stereotypes are issues that Christian teenagers face in this society, but it isn’t exactly the constant hardship that Sunday School lessons tell them to anticipate. For one thing, Christianity is common enough that most Christian teenagers have friends who share their faith and would never tease them or alienate them for their beliefs. Besides that, very few atheists will suddenly dump a best friend for being Christians. Sure, religion does occasionally tear relationships apart, but it’s unlikely that those kinds of issues will occur out of the blue sometime when someone teases you for going to church on one specific Sunday.

I myself have never been directly and specifically mocked by a peer for being a Christian. There have been occasions where someone has questioned my values and beliefs or has expressed surprise and confusion about my unwillingness to skip church on a whim, but (unless you count the occasional hateful anonymous internet comment) I have never been victimized on account of my religion. But there’s something else I have encountered quite a lot, something that Sunday School never told me might ever happen. People ask me genuine, sincere, curious questions about religion all the time. Atheist or agnostic friends are curious about what exactly Christianity is all about, non-Lutheran Christians wonder what exactly Lutherans believe, and occasionally, people who are completely on the same page as me want to hear what I know about a particular topic. It’s a good thing that I go to church and Bible study regularly and grew up in a Christian home, because Sunday School alone wouldn’t have prepared me to be able to give even the most basic explanation of what my religion is. As it is, I admit that there have been a number of cases in which I have responded by mumbling something random and inarticulate that may or may not have resembled actual words. But there have been quite a number of other times where I have had a very interesting theological conversation with someone who genuinely wanted to hear about my faith and who had no intention to respond with insults or mockery. Those kinds of conversations are always good experiences, and I’d like to think that the other person gets something out of them, too.

LIKE AND SHARE IF YOU LOVE JESUS!

LIKE AND SHARE IF YOU LOVE JESUS!

At any rate, I think it’s an important thing for Christians to know and be able to articulate what they believe. It seems to me that Christianity in general is following the dumbing-down trend set by Sunday School lessons. Just take a look at the ways people express their faith on the internet. It’s impossible to avoid the “share if you love Jesus” facebook posts and the inspirational “Christian” quotes that have nothing to do with Christ. When we were kids, we were taught that faith means being good, or being able to tell when other people aren’t being good, or resisting peer pressure by letting everyone know just how much we love Jesus, or making generic and vague statements about how good God is. So that’s what Christianity means in our culture now. And, based upon what I have seen and heard, the result is that some Christians and most non-Christians really are unaware of what Christianity is. People actually don’t realize that Jesus’ death and resurrection is what’s important, and that the central teaching of Christianity is that His death and resurrection gives us salvation from our sins. That’s a much more important teaching, not only for the grownups, but for people of every age group. When it comes down to it, there’s no distinction between Christian teachings for kids and Christian teachings, because kids should be allowed to know what their religion says.

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In Which I Continue To Rant About Bad Theology On the Internet

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The picture used in the article being discussed

The picture used in the article being discussed

A few days ago, I happened to see this online article: 10 Political Things You Can’t Do While Following Jesus, by Mark Sandlin. After wondering whether it was meant to be some kind of satire and looking for signs of sarcasm, I have had to come to the conclusion that it was written in all seriousness. It just sounds silly because it misrepresents Jesus so badly. What bothers me about it is that I’ve heard these exact same arguments from so many people on so many occasions. I understand that the people who say and write these kinds of things are doing so out of good intentions, genuine interest in other people’s well-being, and the belief that they are doing what the Bible tells them to do. But the Bible isn’t a handbook on social justice, and if you read it that way, you’re missing out on a lot. Furthermore, many of these arguments just aren’t supported by the Bible anyway. I’m writing this blog post in the format of a direct response, but I’m not so much criticizing that particular article as explaining why I’m frustrated by the common mindset behind it. Here are Sandlin’s ten “things you can’t do while following Jesus” and my response to them.

10) Force your religious beliefs and practices on others

If the point here is that it’s impossible for government to enforce faith, of course that’s true. And if the point is that it’s immoral for the government to try to enforce faith, I agree to some extent. A theocracy based upon Biblical doctrine is a nice idea, but that’s not the kind of government we have, and we wouldn’t be doing any good if we tried to turn this country into a theocracy. But I don’t think that’s what this article is saying, given the fact that it continues, “One of the strengths of the faith Jesus taught was its meekness. The faith he taught valued free will over compulsion- because that’s how love works.” Really? Jesus was so humble that He didn’t care if people believed what He said? And Jesus said that free will is the same thing as love? Where does the Bible say that? I’m finding verses that say things like, “…but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God”, (John 3: 18) and “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) Contrary to what Sandlin says, Jesus talks about freedom less frequently than He talks about belief, and when He does discuss freedom, he says things like, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32) I have a feeling that’s not what Sandlin means when he uses the term “free will”. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can or should try to force people to become Christians. The Bible also says that “this [faith] is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8) and that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) I am not by any means advocating for a campaign to turn this country into a theocracy. But there is no Biblical basis for the postmodern belief that religious differences don’t matter or that we shouldn’t want people who we love to come to faith.

9) Advocate for war

Jesus: An Artist's Rendition

Jesus: An Artist’s Rendition

Interestingly enough, the first actual Bible quotation cited in this article is quoted in order to disagree with it. Sandlin quotes Matthew 10:34 (although he doesn’t actually give the reference in the article), which says, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He even acknowledges that there are a couple other verses that say the same thing, but discounts them because “they don’t hold a candle to the more than fifty-some verses where Jesus speaks about peace and peacemaking.” He doesn’t offer any such verses, so I got out a concordance and looked them up. I counted, and Jesus used the word “peace” or a form thereof 24 times in the four gospels in the King James Version. In many of these cases, it is part of the phrases “hold thy peace”, “peace be with you,” or “go in peace.” In the parable being told in Luke 11:21, the word is “safe” in most translations, and it refers to possessions, not people. Luke 14:32 also is part of a parable, and “peace” is not what the parable is discussing, as is made clear six verses earlier. Then there is the aforementioned Matthew 10:34 and the corresponding verse in Luke, and a couple verses in Matthew and Luke in which Jesus tells his apostles to bring their peace to a house that is worthy, but not to a house that is not worthy. That leaves five verses that Sandlin could have quoted. I have a feeling that Matthew 5:9 (“Blessed are the peacemakers…”) is what he had in mind here. (Incidentally, the beatitudes tend to be misused; one ought to remember that a person who is “blessed” is someone who has received a gift, not someone who has earned a reward.)The others are Mark 9:50, (which ends “…and be at peace with one another”) Luke 19:42, (“Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!”) John 14:27, (“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you”) and John 16:33. (“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”) There’s a big difference between “In me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation” and “In the world you will have peace because of me.” Jesus said the first one; He never said the latter one, and Matthew 10:34 (“I did not come to bring peace, but the sword”) is not, as Sandlin implies, in contradiction with the rest of the Bible. Of course, war is a bad thing and should be avoided. But it happens, (Matthew 24: 6 and 7) and when it’s necessary, Christians are not compelled by their faith to oppose it.

8) Favor the rich over the poor

This one is absolutely true, and in fact Sandlin could have used Bible verses to back this one up, particularly from the Proverbs (14:21, 19:17, 31:9) and then there’s the Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55, which doesn’t actually include the word “poor”, but it does say “those of humble estate.” And Jesus Himself occasionally talks about giving to the poor.  I’m a little puzzled as to why the author of this article didn’t choose to quote the Bible. I rather suspect, though, that he’s hinting his disapproval at some particular law or practice in our culture, and I’m not even sure what that is, unless, of course, he’s arguing for a communist or socialist society. In that case, it’s obvious why he can’t find verses to go with that idea. Jesus wasn’t a political figure and he didn’t have a lot to say about politics except “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21) which isn’t exactly a radical or controversial statement. Jesus is saying that we’re supposed to respect and obey the government, which applies to any kind of political system and has nothing to do with who is rich and who is poor.

7) Cut funding that hurts the least of these

Who ever said anything about government funding? The government in Judea under the Roman Empire did not, as far as I know, have any kind of welfare system at all, and there is no place in the Bible where Jesus has much to say about that lack. If He had had a choice, perhaps Jesus would have been in favor of a welfare system, but we don’t know because the Bible doesn’t
specifically say. It obviously wasn’t an important enough issue to have a place in Scripture. There’s a reason for that; the Bible is about what Jesus did for us, not about how Jesus thinks the government should treat us. Here, Sandlin finally gets around to quoting something from the Bible to support his argument: “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do it to me.” He doesn’t give the reference, though. I can’t actually find it, but I think that this verse was taken out of context; I seem to recall that Jesus was talking about children, not poor people. If I’m incorrect about that, I do apologize, but either way, this verse isn’t about government welfare and budget cuts.

6) Let people go hungry

Pictured: Not Jesus

Pictured: Not Jesus

Ooh, now we get a Gandhi quote! Seriously, did he not have his Bible accessible when he was writing this article? Or did he look, and realized that there’s no Bible verse that says, “And Jesus said, ‘When anyone is unable to provide food for his or her self, it is the government’s job to provide food for them.’”? Sorry for the sarcasm, but it’s just absurd to quote Gandhi in an article about what “Jesus-followers” should do. Of course Jesus didn’t want people to starve; in fact, He performed miracles on a couple of occasions in order to feed His followers. But there was nothing political in that act of providence, and He never said anything to indicate that we are required to view it as a precedent for government policies.

5) Withhold healthcare from people

When did Jesus discuss healthcare specifically? Sandlin makes this point on the basis that Jesus healed people. Yes, He did, that’s true. The author goes on to acknowledge that we cannot work the miracles that Jesus could, but says that modern health care is pretty close to a miracle. That statement is dangerous; it sounds an awful lot like he’s trying to put modern medicine and/or government funding in the place of Jesus. There’s a word for something that tries to take the place of Jesus; that word is “antichrist”, and it’s generally considered by Christians (or “Jesus-followers,” if you will) to be a bad thing. Again, I’m not denying that Jesus was in favor of taking care of people, but how do you start from that premise and suddenly insist that this means that Jesus expected the government to pay for healthcare?

4) Limit the rights of a select group of people

Okay… what “select group of people” are we talking about, and what “rights”? I agree with this statement as presented, but I’m pretty sure that it’s a subtle way to refer to some specific issue, and I’m not even sure which one. But anyway, Jesus didn’t talk a whole lot about “rights”, and an awful lot of the things that twenty-first century Americans label as “rights” aren’t discussed in the Bible. The phrase “certain unalienable human rights” comes from the Declaration of Independence, which is a very nice document and one that we, as Americans, should respect. But we ought to recognize the difference between biblical doctrine and American ideology, even where they don’t conflict and we agree with both. And even the Declaration of Independence says that these rights are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, which is so vague that you can’t use it to really make a case for many of the political agendas that I think the author may be subtly referencing. I want to reiterate once again that I’m not completely disagreeing with the goodness of the principle, or saying that it’s totally incorrect. But this principle in and of itself is not biblical and cannot be used to support the kinds of arguments that I think are being implied here.

3) Turn away immigrants

Again, where does this come from? Sandlin lists travelers in the Old Testament and points out that “Christian heritage runs through Judaism. We are an immigrant people. Even our religion began somewhere else.” I understand the point, but where does Jesus say that a government is compelled to never deny immigration? Examples do not make a principle. If Sandlin is speaking against racial discrimination, he could build a better case by quoting any of the several verses in the Epistles that talks about Jews and Gentiles, but even then, this in no way indicates that the government doesn’t have the right to turn away an immigrant when those in authority believe that there is good reason. The current immigration issues in our country are problematic, and I personally don’t know what needs to be done, or whether a “liberal” or “conservative” approach is better.  Certainly we shouldn’t make it illegal for people to move, but that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be any restrictions, or that we shouldn’t do anything to prevent people from sneaking across borders without the approval of both governments. It’s not an issue with only two sides; there are many different things that our political leaders need to take into consideration. The Bible doesn’t give an answer on this issue. It doesn’t specifically discuss the political aspects of immigration.

2) Devalue education

Sandlin says this based on the use of the word “wisdom” in the Proverbs, which isn’t really a valid point because “wisdom” is not synonymous with “education”.  Perhaps that’s splitting hairs a little, but once again, what does this have to do with government funding? The author’s assertion is making the assumptions that a) education is the responsibility of the government and that b) more funding automatically means better education. Both of these are debatable, and neither of these is something that Jesus talked about.

1) Support capital punishment- execution

Christ on the CrossThis is the worst part of this list, and what makes it even more horrible is the fact that it comes in at number one. It isn’t the sentiment itself that I mind so much. Although the Bible doesn’t say anything against capital punishment, in theory there wouldn’t be anything wrong with a country deciding not to use that particular authority. But the argument that Sandlin gives has nothing to do with the authority of the government or with the Bible. It starts by saying, “Jesus died by execution. He was an innocent man.” For just a moment, it looks like there’s finally something in this article that sounds like Christianity. Here we finally have a mention of Jesus’ death on the cross, and even a hint that the purpose of his death was sacrificial. But that’s not where this article is going. It goes on to say that it’s unloving to kill, and ends, “It’s time to stop the government-sanctioned killing.” Is this article really telling us that the message we’re supposed to get from Jesus’ death is that capital punishment is bad? Instead of seeing what Jesus has done for us, we’re supposed to see a reason to criticize our own government? Instead of receiving forgiveness of sins and salvation, we’re supposed to receive motivation to push for the abolishment of a law we think is “unloving”? This isn’t just ignoring the cross; it’s using the image of the cross to cover up the purpose of the cross!

I know that there are Christians on both sides of any social or political issue who see Christianity as a reason for their position, and I know that both Republican Christians and Democrat Christians often have a tendency to mix religion and politics. Sometimes, that isn’t even such a bad thing, because it’s true that religious morals should cause us to do good things in our lives, including the areas where politics are concerned. But when we use faith to inform our political and moral values, and when we use the teachings of Jesus to explain these values, we need to make sure we’re actually agreeing with those teachings, not just manipulating them and mixing them with clichés and Gandhi quotes in order to say whatever will justify our political beliefs. And, even more importantly, something is wrong when we think that Christianity is just about politics. It’s horrible and frightening when people can talk about their “Christian” faith without mentioning Christ and his crucifixion and the forgiveness of sins. It’s even worse that law and gospel have gotten so lost that people can actually talk about the crucifixion without seeing salvation and grace there. Jesus came to die for your sins, people! If Jesus’ teachings inform your political opinions, that’s a good thing, but don’t let your political opinions redefine Jesus!

Why Young People Leave the Church

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I was going to use some random pictures from Google of pretty churches, but I decided It would be better to use pictures I've taken myself. So here's a picture of my family's church in Arkansas.

I was going to use some random pictures from Google of pretty churches, but I decided It would be better to use pictures I’ve taken myself. So here’s a blurry and low-quality picture of my family’s church in Arkansas.

I frequently read or hear things about how few “young people” there are in churches, and how the youth of this generation doesn’t care about religion and is falling away from the faith. The definition of “young people” will vary depending upon the context; it could refer to a specific narrow demographic group, usually high-school aged kids, or it could just be the opposite of “elderly” in a binary system where everyone is either young or elderly. It doesn’t really matter; regardless of how you define youth, it is statistically true, at least in many congregations and denominations, that there are a lot of elderly people and few young people. At least in this society, it is accurate to say that young people as a demographic group are falling away from the church. Sometimes people comment and complain about this in order to criticize young people for leaving the church and sometimes they’re criticizing the church for losing young people.  In either case, it’s understood that something must be done to bring young people back into the church.

People offer lots of reasons for why young people might have a tendency to leave the church, and most of these reasons imply possible solutions. For example, it is often said that young people don’t like liturgy, and that a contemporary worship style encourages teenagers and young adults to attend worship and to develop an emotional affinity for church. I had thought this was actually a very recent idea, but I once saw a non-denominational hymnal from the 1920s that claimed that young people are so emotional that they can only be drawn to religion by singing hymns that are very emotionally charged. Hence, I-Love-Jesus theology becomes preferred over Jesus-Died-For-Me theology. This is a problem, and I highly doubt that it has any success in drawing young people into the church.

Then there are some people who say that young people leave the church because church is boring or irrelevant. I think this may be a more valid argument because I actually have heard former Christians or Christmas-and-Easter-only churchgoers say that church is boring. It would seem that this actually ties very closely to the reason in the previous paragraph, because the proposed solution is often the same: dispense with the liturgy, change the musical style, and present a more modern and socially relevant image to the world. Let youth group activities take precedence over worship, use pop culture references to keep things interesting, and make sure that the clergy come across as being cool and fun people. The problem with this is that it turns church into a social group and a genre of entertainment. If the desired young people start coming to church for the fun and the society, they will only stay for the fun and the society. People can get tired of a favorite band or a favorite genre of movies after loving it for a few years, and people can drift away from a set of friends over time. In the same way, people can get bored of a fun and culturally relevant church just as easily (and in fact, much more easily) as they can get bored of a liturgical and confessional church. You can’t combat a person’s tendency to get bored by catering to their changing tastes. But boredom becomes irrelevant when the topic at hand is understood to be important. Someone can stop liking their favorite food, but they can never get tired of eating. Someone can stop liking their favorite TV show, but that won’t drive them away from television itself. Someone can get bored with their favorite hymn or stop being fascinated by their favorite Bible verse, but they won’t get bored of religion if they realize that religion is more than whatever personally relevant message they are currently getting out of it. A clear law and gospel message is always relevant, and if that’s what people are hearing, people aren’t likely to get bored and aren’t likely to let temporary boredom drive them away from the church.

101_9768Another commonly offered explanation for why young people might not like to go to church is that religion is too full of rules and accusations, and that most of these Christian values are hypocritical anyway. If we want to bring young people into the church, we should therefore tone down the morality and emphasize God’s love. In other words, we need less law and more gospel. That would certainly be true in a congregation that was too legalistic in the first place, but it doesn’t work to remove all references to sin. If you do that, you’re throwing out every aspect of theology, because things like forgiveness and grace and salvation lose all of their meaning when sin isn’t acknowledged. The result of this is a church that portrays God as nothing more than a benevolent guiding spirit who loves us. That is certainly appealing, but in the long run, it’s much less appealing than the message of a God who loves us so much that he sent his only Son to live a sinless life and die to pay for all of our sins so that we might have eternal life. That story has some gruesome and disturbing chapters, but it’s a story with a much happier ending, and besides, it’s true.

Personally, I think it’s pretty obvious what’s really driving young people away from the church. It isn’t that church is too boring, too old-fashioned, or not cheerful enough. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The problem is that this society doesn’t acknowledge the fact that children are intelligent and easily interested. Our culture caters to children’s short attention spans, propensity to become bored, and undeveloped thought processes when those are traits that children don’t actually have. I think we actually encourage kids to become bored quickly by letting them know that we’re afraid they’ll become bored, and we discourage them from being curious and intellectual by letting them know that we’re afraid they won’t understand things. Therefore, everything is dumbed down for kids, and that includes religion. For example, when I was a little kid in Sunday school, I frequently was made to sing a certain fun, interesting, and easy-to-remember song that went like this:

“Father Abraham had many sons/ Many sons had Father Abraham/ I am one of them, and so are you/ So let’s all praise the Lord! RIGHT HAND! Father Abraham had many sons/ Many sons had Father Abraham/ I am one of them, and so are you/ So let’s all praise the Lord! RIGHT HAND, LEFT HAND! Father Abraham had many sons/ Many sons had Father Abraham/ I am one of them, and so are you/ So let’s all praise the Lord! RIGHT HAND, LEFT HAND, RIGHT FOOT! Father Abraham had many sons/ Many sons had Father Abraham/ I am one of them, and so are you/ So let’s all praise the Lord! RIGHT HAND, LEFT HAND, RIGHT FOOT, LEFT FOOT! Father Abraham had many sons/ Many sons had Father Abraham/ I am one of them, and so are you/ So let’s all praise the Lord! RIGHT HAND, LEFT HAND, RIGHT FOOT, LEFT FOOT, HEAD! Father Abraham had many sons/ Many sons had Father Abraham/ I am one of them, and so are you/ So let’s all praise the Lord!”

If you’re still reading at this point, I’m betting that you skipped most of the words of that song, or at least skimmed over it pretty quickly. I got pretty annoyed and impatient just typing it out. I was going to cut it off in the middle, but I decided not to do that because my annoyance and any reader’s disinterest in those lyrics is exactly the point I’m trying to make. In contrast, here is a song that Martin Luther wrote for children in 1531:

“Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word/ Curb those who fain by craft and sword/ Would wrest the Kingdom from Thy Son/ And set at naught all He hath done./ Lord Jesus Christ, Thy pow’r make known/ For Thou art Lord of lords alone/ Defend thy Christendom that we/ May evermore sing praise to Thee./ O Comforter of priceless worth/ Send peace and unity on earth/ Support us in our final strife/ And lead us out of death to life.”

Do you notice a slight difference between these two songs? For example, do you notice that the first one is repetitive, boring, and demeaning to the intelligence of anyone who is told that they’re supposed to like it because of the fact that they’re a child? And do you notice that the second one is more interesting, more meaningful, and doesn’t drive you berserk with its utter inanity before you’re even halfway through the second verse? Do you notice that the first song would make you want to rip out your own vocal chords if you were forced to sing it on a regular basis while the second song is something that would actually be enjoyable to sing frequently? Also, it’s worth noting that it has a tune that is more interesting and aesthetically pleasing (by virtue of the fact that it has a range of more than three notes) while still being quite simple and easy to sing. As a young person and as a former small child, I feel qualified to say that young people don’t appreciate having their intelligence insulted by stupid and annoying ditties and that young people have good enough attention spans and enough emotional maturity to be capable of understanding that church isn’t supposed to be a form of entertainment. If young people are being driven away from the church, maybe a good solution would be to stop forcing young people to sing “Father Abraham.”

I’m too lazy to give this a title

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This morning, I saw a thingy that said, “Is God your steering wheel or your spare tire?” That question kind of bothered me, I think mainly because I’ve had so many car problems lately that the idea of putting any trust in either steering wheels or spare tires is pretty scary. I understand what the question is asking, and maybe I’m carrying the metaphor a lot farther than the question intended, but I still didn’t like it. So I found a pen and a blank page in a notebook and copied the question, and underneath it I wrote, “Neither. God is the driver. And I am the passenger who sits there doing nothing and maybe even dozing off, but who can still have complete confidence that I will arrive safely at the destination.” In retrospect, I like my answer.

During church this morning, I had a killer headache and a distracting buzzing in my brain, and I admit that I wasn’t as focused on the service as I should have been. I also admit that this wasn’t exactly the first time ever in my entire life that I was in some way distracted during church. But the thing is, it didn’t really matter that much, because I was there where God’s Word is, and the point of church is God’s Word, not my brain. Maybe I couldn’t think clearly this morning, but I could still get something out of being in an environment where phrases like “forgiveness of sins” and “gifts of God” and “salvation through Christ” surrounded me and seeped into my brain through my ears, even if my mind didn’t really feel like doing anything with them at the moment.

‘Tis good to be Lutheran. ‘Tis good to be Christian. ‘Tis good to know that salvation comes by grace through faith, and this is not my own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works. (paraphrase of Ephesians 2:8-9)