Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Falling Away

I read this article (which everyone and their brother has already blogged on, I'm sure). It's about a recent study by LifeWay Research (affiliated with Billy Graham, I think?) that shows that people in their 20s are turning away from the church. Well, yes. Yes, they are. My husband and I have this argument every now and then--because most of his friends are church-going Christians, he thinks that Christianity is actually on the rise amongst our peer group. That's like saying that, because most of our friends our age are married, people in general are marrying younger. It feels true, but it just isn't. Whenever I reply that the statistics are definitely on my side, he disputes the sampling. Admittedly, 1,023 is not a large group, but big enough, I think, to see some trends.

As I said, a lot of people have blogged about this study and how distressing it is that kids these days don't go to church of their own accord. I agree--this is *seriously* distressing. Why are young people feeling so disconnected from the church? Allow me to include my favorite quotation from the whole article: "'Too many youth groups are holding tanks with pizza. There's no life transformation taking place,' [Ed] Stetzer [of LifeWay Research] says. 'People are looking for a faith that can change them and to be a part of changing the world.'" I worry that youth pastors are too afraid of turning kids off to really challenge them about their lives. I feel that way, certainly, when the teen girls come to me all giggly and excited because they've just gotten the official "dating" signifier with the crush du jour. I don't want to snub them--I remember being their age and feeling that way--but what do I say? "Congratulations--but make sure he behaves like a gentleman," I tell them. I do my best, and I'm sure youth ministers all over the country are stuck with the same quandaries. How do you challenge the kids to examine their lives through the lens of the Bible, without scolding too harshly and driving them off?

That, however, was not the part of the survey that I found the most distressing. That honor goes to the following sentence: "Dropouts were more than twice as likely than those who continued attending church to describe church members as judgmental (51% for dropouts, 24% for those who stayed), hypocritical (44% vs. 20%) or insincere (41% vs. 19%)."

What's wrong with this picture? Well, it should be no surprise that roughly half of the church drop-outs feel that people at church are judgmental, hypocritical, or insincere. The part that blew my mind is that 19-25% of those who *stayed* at church felt the same way! That's roughly one out of every five twenty-something-year olds. As they say about the made-up stat that one in every five people is insane, "examine four friends. If they're all normal and happy, then it must be you." What I want to know is, why are these people staying? WHY? Would you spend every Sunday morning (and evening, and Wednesday evening as well, if you're Church of Christ) with people you thought were faking it? I'm sure each church has its handful of judgmental hypocrites, but are there enough to color one's perception of the whole group? Fascinating...

As to what we can do, I don't know that youth groups are really the answer. Konni told me that most people who are going to devote their lives to living as Christians have made a pretty solid decision on that by age 10 (Konni, do you have a source for that one?). So, again, what I've been saying about the Sunday school thing. Early intervention--by the time they are teens, it's probably too late.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


"I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the market place as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroads so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek ... at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died and that is what he died about. And that is where churchmen ought to be and what churchmen should be about." --Ian Thomas

I found this quote on FaithVine, and just loved it. I don't think it needs much commentary.

Incidentally, I sent an editorial to Dave at FaithVine, but maybe it was a bit too edgy...or maybe Dave has been busy with the website redesign and hasn't had time for that yet. I should probably write to him, but I'm a bit shy...because what I sent was probably too edgy.

Also, a new favorite blog: BibliOdessy--not religious, but very literary and beautiful.


Friday, August 10, 2007


JC is suggesting that we should make Sunday school more like school. He wants to give the kids quizzes and tests. I’d like for them to keep journals, with brief writing assignments every week. It would have been easy to start on promotion Sunday, when all the kids move up, but I don’t know what it will be like to start it in December. Maybe we’ll give them each a journal as a Christmas present…and then make it a back-handed gift, by requiring them to use them! 

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Flyin' West

Susan IMed me the other day: “I’m so proud of you for asking to take your New Mexico trip as personal development.”
She asked me what workshop I’m taking. It’s called “The Sacred in the Everyday.”
“I feel like this is going to be a major milestone for you—not just for your writing, but for your personal journey.” I hope she’s right.

I don’t know if I posted this here, and I’ve been reading lots of Anthony Trollope lately, so here’s the exposition: When I was seven (told you, Trollope…), I heard Colleen Anderson singing on the radio. I thought she must be very famous—I didn’t really know the difference between West Virginia Public Radio and the top 40. I wrote her a letter, which she still (last time I saw her) carries in her wallet and shows to people as her “first fan letter.” We’ve kept track of each other over the years, and probably met in person about four times. We have some friends in common, so every now and then I’ll see her at a party or arts event.

Anyway, Colleen is teaching at a writing festival at Ghost Ranch, which is (or is near..?) Georgia O’Keefe’s old house. She emailed me this winter, while JC and I were visiting Katie in Nashville, to offer me a tuition scholarship to attend a workshop there. Colleen is teaching a songwriting workshop, which I’m not planning to take, but she’ll be there and we will spend more time actually in the same place than we ever have. Colleen also was talking about doing some writing together in the afternoons while I’m there (workshops are in the morning, afternoons are for hiking and homework).

I’m SOOO excited. I’ve never been to New Mexico. I’ve not really been camping much this year, and I’m going to camp out there. I need a vacation like nobody’s business. I also need to take a time and recharge my writing spirit. It’s feeling pretty bedraggled lately.

Oh, and about the “personal development” thing. I asked my manager (William) in February if I could take this, or part of it, as a personal development opportunity, in the budgetary sense. He said he’d look into it, and ask his manager (Ellen). Well, then in late February, I had about the worst performance review of my life, and after that, he never said anything about Ghost Ranch to me, and I didn’t feel like I could talk to him about it. So, in late July, it happened that I was having a casual conversation with Ellen, and I said, “Did William talk to you about my New Mexico trip?” He hadn’t, but I told her about it, and on the spot, she told me I could take three of the five days I would need as personal development, rather than vacation, and the department would pay for my plane ticket. As the big red button says, “Wow, that was easy!”

So, anyway, shady motivations aside, I’m going to New Mexico without blowing my budget. Sweet, right?

I need to be writing, something other than [redacted due to an unusually strict confidentiality agreement with my employer]. I was talking with a friend, who had hosted a photo shoot at his house. “It was really silly,” he said. “They were shooting lines of text like, ‘[censored].’ But you don’t write that stuff, right? You write, like, marketing materials and stuff, don’t you?”
“No. I write [what he said].” The fact is, I spend most of my days, when I am writing (which isn’t so often as I would like), crafting subject-verb-object sentences. The specifications are very tight, it’s like writing haiku in some ways. However…it is still just one SVO sentence after another, and you can bet your dollars to your donuts that the O is probably “apple.” As William said, when he read my first nationally published piece last summer, “You don’t need to be writing, ‘The boy is under the airplane.’ You need to be writing writing.”

It’s the nicest compliment I’ve ever gotten from him, and I won’t forget it, because I feel like he is entirely correct. I love my job, most days, and I love the people I work with every day. Still, I want to be doing something that is more helping-people-y (though I can think of a few ways, if only I could convince the bra$$ that it was in their be$t intere$t, to really change lives, just doing what I do right now). Bryce, who homeschools his younger kids, and used to homeschool the older ones, told me about a curriculum program called Five in a Row, which consists of five activities to go along with each book in a large library of classic children’s literature. Madeline, for goodness sake! Without thinking, I blurted—in the office where I work, in front of three other employees and the Chief Technical Officer—“Are they hiring?” Oops. It’s just … My heart really wants to be in my true love, literature, especially children’s lit. Admittedly, FIAR caters to homeschooling families. We’re not talking about kids who are struggling to get by in the public school system, only to go home to parents who throw a TV dinner and a box of Cheezits at them, without ever turning away from their soap operas. Those are the kids I want to help. Those are the kids I worked with during my AmeriCorps days. I want to give them the classics.

I wonder if I could make something like FIAR, but for Sunday school, especially for young kids. What does The Giving Tree say about God? How about Horton Hatches the Egg? (or, for that matter, Horton Hears a Who…he’s got the whole world, on a clover…)

I might need to do this. Unless it already exists. Does it?

So, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but maybe I’m getting there. Of course, if Sesame Street would hire me, I’d have that one figured out in a heartbeat.  Sigh. I love you, Jim Henson.

I must say, I’m ever grateful to my younger self for being so sure, so completely unwavering, until about a year before I got my master’s degree. Who WAS that young woman? How can I possibly thank her enough (and how can I get her back?)? I might not have a clue, but at least I’m making good money and having a good time and building my resume while I figure it out, as opposed to my brother, who is 21, has switched majors at least four times, already will have to take an extra year of school, and definitely doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up. I feel sorry for him, just because he’s in the same place that I am, only I have a career that’s good enough for now, and he’s hemorrhaging money.

I realize this isn’t much about Sunday school, and I’m sorry for that. I just … I don’t know. The impulse that made me all excited when I heard about FIAR is the same one that makes me excited to teach Sunday school. I want to say to these kids, “Look! These stories are just for you, and they were made by a God Who loves YOU and who wants you to understand that. God loves you even though your parents don’t talk to each other, and He loves you even though He knows that you are mean to your little sister, and He just LOVES you.”

Literature is a gift, and we have such a literary religion.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Teen Girls--Get a Grip!

Alfred called me on the way back from camp. Hanna had told her dad, who went to camp with them, that she didn’t feel like she had any friends among the teen girl group. Alfred had hoped something good would happen to the group at camp, but apparently it hadn’t. He asked me to “call them out” on their lack of friendliness—but I think that probably would make the situation worse. He also asked me to think of something that would “make them work together.” I got the feeling he was thinking of a low ropes course or something.

Not knowing that Alfred had talked to me, Sarah also came over to discuss the same thing. Her perspective was kind of interesting, and frankly, surprising, because she likes Hanna, a lot. “I talked to one of the other mothers involved,” she told me, “and she says that Hanna’s friendship skills are kind of lacking. She makes cutting remarks and she doesn’t seem to know how to be a friend.”

I told Sarah I would work on this, and I told Alfred I would pray about it. The fact is, though, I don’t know what to do. I really didn’t have many friends in high school—and I was such a driven, strange child, I hardly noticed. I spent just about all my time, other than when I was with JC and his sisters, in rehearsal. Choir and plays kept me quite busy. I wasn’t really friends with the people in choir, nor those who did theatre with me. The theatre kids were leading a very different lifestyle than I wanted to (sex in the sound booth was not an uncommon occurrence). I saw my relationships with them as friendly-professional. I don’t know if I had any real, close friends until college. Even the people I had been close to in middle school, and am close to now, distanced themselves during high school. Or maybe I distanced myself. It’s hard to reconstruct.

I never solved the teen girl friendship problem. My solution was to grow up. Thus, I feel doubly helpless in the face of this thorny mess. I care a lot about Hanna, and her life situation (parents with an embarrassingly messy and public divorce) is very similar to my own at her age—though luckily, I only had one brother to look after, instead of two, much-younger, siblings.

The girls are, beginning next month, going to be running class themselves, and maybe that will help. I feel like one problem the teens at my church face is that the adults do everything for them. The youth minister plans all the trips and tells them where to be and when for pizza parties and bowling. They never call each other and just say, “Hey, let’s hang out!” They’re very used to having a grown-up arrange that. I’m hoping that, by encouraging them to work together to put on this class every month, they will get over their interpersonal issues. I’ve been meaning to email Kassi about this. She’s about the most socially savvy person I know—and she’s 19, meaning maybe she can help this make sense to me.


I haven’t updated in forever! Bad blogger! Bad bad!

There really hasn’t been much going on, at least in terms of stuff relative to this blog, and that is likely to continue. More on that to follow.

Things have finally moved forward with the curriculum situation at church, however. We had an “emergency” education committee meeting on Sunday evening, at which we discussed the DiscipleLand Core Bible Curriculum, Bible Study Guide, and 21st Century Christian.

Ralph had some interesting revelations regarding a few of the curricula. He told us that he had received a call from someone at 21st Century, that they were doing a customer satisfaction survey. He told them that he had actually had some complaints about the material recently. They said they were revamping it and wanted to send him a box of materials, absolutely free. He said that, when he looked at it, he just saw more of the same. I have to admit, the fact that they called him specifically makes me wonder…do they read my blog? 21st Century, are you out there? If they do, they’re obviously not reading very carefully, as what they sent to Ralph basically was the same kid’s menu garbage, maybe with shmancier graphics. I love those internet web crawlers that find hits about [company name]. We have one for Rosetta Stone, of course. I’m betting Hiram College (my alma mater) has one of those too, as I had a hit from that little village of 1300 people after I mentioned the school in a post. Hello, Hiram!

Anyway, then the discussion moved on to the DiscipleLand Core Bible Curriculum. Cathy wasn’t present at the meeting, but Ralph told us that he had mentioned it to her, and she said, “I know that stuff, it’s not biblical, and I won’t teach it.” Ralph said he had looked at the stuff, and had perused their website, but didn’t know what she was talking about. He went back to it, and found their “What We Believe” statement—and it didn’t mention baptism. Now, we Restoration types are pretty big on the whole baptism thing. So Ralph called them. The representative he spoke with told him that they leave it open so that the churches can teach whatever is relevant to their particular belief structure. “If they sprinkle, they can talk about sprinkling. If they dunk, they can talk about dunking. If they do babies…” etc. Ralph then asked which lessons specifically pertain to baptism. “It’s not in there,” the rep said.

This little anecdote confirms some suspicions I had about DiscipleLand, which is that they are trying to cast their nets to catch the widest market, principles being beside the point.
I mentioned my confusion at their other curriculum line, which was all fluff. I suspected then, and firmly believe now, that they are trying to get money from the churches that see Sunday school as education and those that see it as glorified babysitting. In addition, they want money from those who sprinkle, dunk, baptize infants, grown-ups, in-between. Their flaw was when they were too greedy—they wanted money from the people who don’t baptize at all (or who view it as largely irrelevant), so they left it out entirely. There is no moment for a competent teacher to elaborate on a basic framework lesson on baptism, sharing the practices and doctrine of his specific church. Instead, they skip it all together.

No curriculum (even one that has games that require a Bible to complete!) is worth losing a teacher as talented as Cathy. No one in the meeting even had to say that. The material was suddenly off the table, as if it had never been.

That left 21st Century and BSG. Pat presented BSG to the group and spoke highly of it, but remarked that it would require a lot of work from the teachers. Several people—not just me and JC—bristled at the notion that teachers would rather read from handouts than teach. Leah, a homeschooling mom with four kids, remarked that she had used BSG with her sons at home, when they were little. The family had worked through the first two Units (of four), and really enjoyed it. Leah is a great mom and a great teacher, so her opinion carried weight. The decision that ultimately went through was that we would continue with the 21st Century material for the fall quarter (as it starts in only two weeks!), and then in the winter, begin with BSG. This would give the teachers time to familiarize themselves with the material and prepare.

I worked things out with Janelle, who is currently teaching the 3rd and 4th graders. She’s going to teach them for the fall, and then I’ll take them for the winter, with the new curriculum. After that, we’ll rotate quarters, until one of us gets bored or has a baby or wants to try another age level. I need to talk to Josh—we told him we would be his teachers for the fall. I hope the little guy takes it ok. I love that kid to pieces. I am definitely going to make sure to tell him how much it meant to me—how it was the best gift ever—when he told us that he wanted us to be his teachers in the fall. Do all adults worry about whether children like them, or is it just me?

Because of this, posting for the fall will still be kind of slow. I’m hoping to renew my interview series, asking people about their own religious education experiences. That will certainly give me some fodder.