Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Lost without a Compass - How can a church send its own children off into the wilderness?

BB NOTE: "KAY4" - a regular patron here at the cafe, read this post about the "Confirm not Conform" liturgy used last Sunday at Christ Church Alexandria.

A church-sponsored class of students were commissioned through the taking of vows in what was labeled a "covenant" where the church is confirming their youths' "journey to discover their own faith" by exploring other religions. The congregation took a vow as well to support them as they send them off into the spiritual wilderness, even if they never come back.

Here is a true story by KAY4, military officer and Christian believer. It is a story that should be told again and again, lest any of us take for granted and turn our heads, as though we forget what faith in Jesus Christ means to a broken world:

This is a story about Frank.

Frank was a bright young officer under my command in Kosovo. We spent many long hours talking, especially late at night when all was quiet, unless their was a disturbance downtown or something. Frank was a recovering alcoholic and a man in search of answers. I worked hard with him, making steady progress until I finally reached the point where I could share the Gospel with him.

Frank was resistant to my first, clumsy attempts and so I backed off and tried an indirect approach (as Liddell-Hart would have it) and then time ran out and my tour came to an end. I left Kosovo and was transferred to the Pentagon.

I visited Frank's parent command a year later on a short visit, but he was not at his desk. Later I found out why.

Frank's depression came back, this time much worse than before. No one could approach him, apparently. Alas, on the very day I was in town, he took his own life.

I wondered for five years what happened before I finally learned that more was going on in Frank's life than I knew. Although he told me he was an atheist, he was considered by others in his unit as a 'deeply spiritual person' who read many books on philosophy and Eastern religions. He said he preferred Eastern philosophies because of the lack of judgment or placing blame. He felt Christianity was a "blame religion" and it didn't suit him.

In the months before his suicide, he read the series called, 'Conversations with God'. I'm told the third book in the series discusses suicide and emphasizes suicide as 'a personal choice' and talks about the right of the individual to make that choice. He referrs to this in his suicide note. The author also states that there is no hell waiting for one in the afterlife. Frank appeared to take comfort in that idea. He also believed in reincarnation and the idea of past and future lives.

His suicide note, I understand, contained many common themes; a wish to end pain, a desire to 'sleep', the frustration with getting up every day and trying to 'start over', etc. He said that people could not truly live until they were ready to die and that his views on life and death were different to the people around him. He thought that "choice" was, in his words, "...the most sacred gift given..." to people, that everyone had "choice" which could never be taken away, that his choice was to end his suffering. Life was "...too much of a struggle and I want to rest, to find eternal sleep. The world was a riddle to me and I was a riddle among it."

You can see why my stomach turned when I read what went on in Alexandria. Can people really be 'setting up' their children for a voyage with no compass, no heading, and no rudder?

Do people expect youngsters to 'fish around' for something that looks attractive but in reality is deadly? And what of the vows made at the children's baptism? Do they not take it seriously?

One 'Frank' in my life was one too many.


BB NOTE: As we saw earlier, this is a far more serious, far more serious development then any piece of litigation the church might think up. By not only condoning, but actually confirming their intention to send their own children out into a spiritual wilderness - a wilderness where the church itself affirms the fact that their own children may never come back and then has the audacity to take a public vow that this is a good thing - is no church at all.


Anonymous said...

The revelation that Jesus is Lord is the foundation, the rock on which The Church is built.

It is imparted to others by revelation, the gift of God. The revelaiton affirmed by the testimonies and lives of believers, through the assent and yielding of the will, through repentance, reconciliation, restoration in which we experience God's love and power, healing and deliverance, joy and peace, in baptism, in the true priesthood and loving healing fellowship of believers; in serving and giving, in the Eucharist...and in the written word, preaching, prayer (silent and audible) being humble, honest, seeking with whole heart, giving oneself wholly to God, Father, Son, Holy Spirit...learning to trust, believe, have confidence in God's love (IJohn4:18) which Pope Benedict wrote in his first encyclical (Deus Caritas Est) is the pivotal decision/belief of the Faith of Jesus Christ.

We must believe God's heart is good, that He loves us, that He is trustworthy to allow the often painful redemption process to go on. Facing the truth that 'nothing good resides in me' as Paul did, that apart from Him we can do nothing, as Jesus said (John 15:5) requires courage and perseverance and the help of the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth.

I have asked myself over and over in the last 5 years, 'why do so few Episcopalians believe Jesus Christ is Lord and THE Way, Truth, Life?'

Is it the pride, insulation of their prosperity, education, diversions and comforts of their lives?

Are they wrongly dependending upon the power of the liturgy and sacrements and the ordained clergy to save them, instead of a whole-hearted surrender to Christ, to the Cross, Blood, Resurrection, to the transformation and sanctification by obedience to the will and word of God?

Belief in the powers of their own natural reasoning, strength and abilities?

The lack of revelation, faith, spiritual understanding and wisdom of their leaders?

Or is it a combination of the above, along with a cloud of darkness, distraction, temptation, deception, fostered by the enemy of God and humanity to blind and destroy God's beloved holy creation?

Anam Cara said...

Contrast that pastor's attitude with the note from my pastor I got this week sent to church membership:

Dear Friends,

Due to a lack of response to the Teen retreat, I am sadly having to cancel that portion of Saturday's events. Vespers with missionary ***** and family movie night is still on.

Please prayerfully consider what type of teen ministry you would be willing to participate in at (name of church) in the future. We cannot afford to do nothing for our teens who are battling for their spiritual lives everyday in a confused and hurting world. You would not leave it up to your kids to determine how to best medicate themselves in time of illness or to define their own school curriculum, so please do not leave it up to them to decide what church activities they will be involved in. Take the initiative and make it happen. That is your God-given calling and commandment.

God bless you!

Fr. ******

Anonymous said...

We are/were truly two mutually exclusive faiths under one denomination.

Parents often believe their children do not listen to them. Unfortunately, in this case, nothing could be further from the truth...

Anglican Beach Party said...

I liked the passing reference to Basil Liddell Hart ... my brother is interested in military strategy and mentioned him all the time when we were growing up.

I had a similar "Frank" experience in my first year of teaching high school math. One of my favourite kids was a sort of "lost" boy, very polite, but I think who was still searching around. I never got to share the Gospel with him as explicitly as I would have liked.

Around the time of his graduation (he was a Senior) he was killed in an alcohol-related car accident. That has haunted me ever since.

Anonymous said...

While I'm sorry to know about Frank and the path his life went, I think it's more than a stretch that supporting teenagers to explore their faith is the equivalent to this. Perhaps you'd prefer brainwashing kids? Is that more fair to God? I think not. It's my belief that God wants our faith and love, but not one that comes from ignorance. I am a Christian today because my parents encouraged me to explore faith and spirituality rather than just simply following my parents' path. I've been interested in reading about Christ Church offering this to its teenagers and being honest about it. I'm actually planning to visit it as a result!

Unknown said...


So are you saying that all the Christian Sunday Schools and the Christian Youth Groups across this nation who are teaching and training up children and youth to know the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that they may share the Good News and know the transformational love of Christ and the assurance of sins forgiven and eternal life is brainwashing?

So instead, are you saying that it is better to send our children out into the vast spiritual wilderness - the Church itself sending children and teenagers out into a spiritual waste land as though anything out there equals the amazing grace found in Jesus?

Is that what you are saying?

Are you saying that anything other than that is "brainwashing?" Is that what you are saying?


Anonymous said...

More than a stretch? I’m sorry, but I have to disagree.

I think that one of the contributing factors to Frank’s demise was precisely the fact that he did not know Christ. That he blocked the Truth because he found it too hard. Remember, he saw Christianity as judgmental, in his words, a “blame religion.” Frank refused to acknowledge sin, the very existence of the concept of sin and what follows, that we are all sinners before God. Frank could acknowledge the existence of a “supreme being” but he assessed its nature as something contrary to the actual nature of God. Had he the smallest inkling of the true nature of God and the actual fulfillment of His love for us through Christ, Frank would have listened, even if just for a few minutes – out of politeness - to the Gospel. He would have seen that there is a path out of darkness. We could have helped him.

Not all of us are intellectually capable of discerning the Truth for ourselves. We need a guide. Many of us who have been Christians for years still need guidance. Yes, Christianity is hard! The truth is hard! Life is hard! Yet we still gather together week by week either in large or small groups, not just to worship and love the Lord, but to hear the Gospel, to learn and to grow. And the “we” I speak of are adults! Grown men and women who, hopefully, after 20+ years on earth have learned how to “learn”, to analyse, to discern, to make those tough decisions.

What parent, knowing what is right and good, would deny their child the benefit of their experience? Would I, knowing that it is dangerous to play with fireworks, hand my son some bottle rockets and a box of matches and walk away? Or, in educational terms, would I send him out into the world without ever telling him that illegal drugs can kill, cigarettes cause cancer, and oh, by the way, just because you have checks in your check-book it does not mean you have money in your bank account? Naturally I teach him about right and wrong, safety, good health, and proper manners.

And I teach him about God. My son goes to Sunday School so that he can learn about God with his peers from older kids and adults who have been blessed with an ability to work with young people. Between the parent – clergy – Sunday School team, my son will be well equipped to walk out into the world by himself, but not alone. Christ will be with him. And because he is an intelligent, bright young man, he will want to learn more. He will grow in his faith. He will question, examine, anayse, discern – but if I don’t equip him with the basic knowledge and understanding of faith, if I don’t give him the tools with which to learn, he will leave my house for the big world unable to make up his own mind. He’ll go where the current takes him, to a destination that depends on what crowd of people he falls in with. I wouldn’t leave his education in math, science, English and history up to chance, why should I leave his spiritual education up to chance?

In the baptismal vows, parents promise to raise our children in “…Christian faith and life.” Are we parents guilty of brainwashing? If a parent tells its child not to play with matches, to share the toys with others at day care, to behave in school, is that brainwashing? Or should I let him “explore for himself” the type of manners he wishes to have? Am I violating his human rights by teaching him to be a team-player, to be respectful but ethically uncompromising ? Is not the education of the spirit as important as the education of the mind?

Do vows mean anything anymore? At my son’s baptism, I promised God I would by my “…prayers and witness help [my] child to grow into the full stature of Christ.” The full stature of Christ! That’s a far cry from a journey to an unknown end – a faith that might not end up looking like my own. I understand that he’s probably going to like modern music while I’m still reaching for Hymns Ancient and Modern, but we stand together under the Cross, grateful for the redeeming love of Christ knowing full well that, on our own accord, we deserve it not.

Do I now walk away from that vow and let my son “find his own path” because it’s “modern” or because I’m afraid I might “brainwash” him? I would no more walk away from that oath than from the oath I took to “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” What would people say if I walked away from my post because I was afraid I might unduly influence someone or perhaps because I might not agree with the policy that drove the military operation I was assigned to perform? I would never walk away from my duties as an officer. I would never walk away from my troops. I will never walk away from my son.
I cannot “force” my son to believe anything he chooses not to believe. But I am ethically and morally obligated to provide him the best preparation for life that I can. And I do it because I love him. I have seen what life apart from Christ is like, not only in my life but in the lives of others like Frank. In the smoldering ruins of villages. In the killing fields I hope you never have to tread. And I’ve seen what the healing power of Christ can do in the lives of those searching for answers. Answers to problems as visible and urgent as addiction and violence or as subtle and hidden as the slow disintegration of a marriage.

You don’t have to travel to the current war zone or to Srebrenica and Podujevo to find emptiness and death. It lies just outside your doorstep, down the street. It’s piped into your home via television every night. If anything, the death of secularism is more dangerous. At least in Iraq, you know someone is trying to kill you. In the safe, secure and secular West, the enemy is subtle, dressed to please, alluring, superficially good and all the while, just as deadly as any armed insurgent. Death may not come as a result of an IED, it may not be as quick as a sudden explosion, but it comes all the same whether it comes in the form of drugs, alcohol, materialism, promiscuity, or a nylon rope with 13 turns in the noose, suspended from the kitchen ceiling. Death of the body awaits us all, but death of the soul?

Frank’s physical death was a great loss. He had a promising career ahead of him. But “Frank” is dead. All that he was, his soul, himself, is gone – period. And that is the greater tragedy. Would I willingly let anyone go down that path had I the choice? Frank said he “chose” suicide. But if he had known Christ and the redeeming power of His love, would Frank have chosen suicide? Even if things looked very grim and Frank was very depressed, had he known Christ, wouldn’t there have been a way for us to help? Wouldn’t that have been the common ground where we could have stood together, a point of departure on a path to healing? I certainly believe so. KAY4