Friday, June 29, 2012

what momma knew and why it really does matter!

Last week my son and I joined a couple of thousand other folks on a trek to the hill country of North Carolina for the Wild Goose Festival.  It was a wonderful gathering where justice, music, spirituality and art collide in all sorts of interesting shapes and forms.  Each day there were speakers, bands, and plenty of opportunities for ad hoc conversations under the beautiful oak trees.

Phyllis Tickle
One of the most powerful and relevant lectures regarding the state of the Church and the trajectory we are on was given by Phyllis Tickle.  (I should point out that I really, really respect Mrs. Tickle and her scholarship, insight, wit and wisdom.  In my book, Phyllis is fantastic!)

The crux of the talk was that because of Constantine, who made Christianity the state religion 1700 years ago AND the Birth Control Pill the way of life currently known of as the Church is dying, at alarming rates.  She pointed out that unless we make some intentional adjustments, we will lose a great deal more than our brick and mortar buildings, we will lose (although perhaps for just a season) what it means to be a people who are shaped by the rhythm of the faith.

Rosie power!
Let me explain - Phyllis is not a feminist, as she said right up front - anyone with 7 children can not call herself a feminist, but in her opinion (along with folks like Harvey Cox and Martin Marty) the Pill allowed women to not only control how many children they bore, it also played/s an important role in allowing women to break through the glass ceiling in the work place.  Ever since World War II and the days of Rosie the Riveter, the number of women in the workforce has grown and two income families are for many reasons now the norm.

And yet, for the past 3000+ years of our Judeo-Christian heritage women were the main transmitters of the faith, through the sharing of the Biblical narrative, the stories of the Bible.  Some of this was done overtly and some more covertly, but by and large the church grew and flourished because of what momma knew and shared with her offspring.

Phyllis used this analogy: the home - aka the tent  - is the place where initial spiritual formation takes place, then there is the synagogue (or our modern day church) for community worship and the temple for the big annual celebrations.  It's how its been done for thousands of years - until now.

With two income families, as well as the increased focus on the activities of the children in the families, time to just sit and talk after school let alone time for family prayers, devotions, and weekly worship has gone to the wayside.  And frankly, I can understand how and why -who really has time to do any of this well, let alone regularly any more?

And that is Phyllis' point... what had previously been part of the rhythm of a family's life now has been set aside, because its hard to do it all!  Meals, homework, activities, sleep and if you're lucky - clean clothes come before anything else...and let's not forget about our careers - so, what is left for spiritual formation let alone Church???

On top of this, from my perspective as a pastor for the past nine years, many people have a lack of confidence in their ability to understand the Bible (again - my theory - because of a couple of decades of bad teaching on the part of 'professional' clergy), many people don't have confidence in themselves to share their faith, they don't trust that the Holy Spirit can speak to them through scripture, prayer, or other spiritual activities.


So, what are we to do now?  Well, Phyllis said its time for us to recapture the rhythm of the Christian life, and we do this by embracing the liturgical year.  Sound difficult?  Here are some concrete suggestions from Phyllis:  as we do something as simple as setting the table with purple napkins (during Advent) we can explain why and what the colors mean and then take time to talk about the incarnation of Jesus.

On January 6th we can bake a special cake, complete with a little plastic baby, to celebrate the Epiphany of Christ.

We can be more like our Catholic friends and serve fish during the six Fridays of Lent.  This  allows us to talk about the man from Nazareth named Jesus who invited the first disciples, who happened to be fishermen, to follow him along the shore of Galilee...this same Jesus who took some fish and a few loaves bread and gave thanks to God and gave it to his disciples to share with a crowd of 5,000 and it was enough to feed them all!  And guess what, this is the same Jesus who after his resurrection, prepared a meal of fish for his disciples and reminded them how much he loved them, and loves us too.

She also highly recommended daily prayer - or the daily office as a family devotional practice.  One example she mentioned was Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals, by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (both of whom were at Wild Goose).  You may access an online version here.

What she didn't mention is her own three volume set of the Daily Office called Divine Hours.  It is a lovely collection of prayers (three readings per day) with special readings during the Advent and Lenten seasons.  There are a couple of sources for on-line versions as well, search Divine Hours Phyllis Tickle.
me and baby Zayden,
my grandson

Get the picture?

I believe it is up to us, as Christ followers, as mothers and grandmothers to join with the dads and grandpas to help share these traditions and stories from the Bible with our children.  Faith is more than a moral framework, it is participating in the Way of Jesus...and that doesn't happen in isolation, it happens in community with people we know and trust and love.  That whole "love God, love one another thing," Jesus really meant it!


p.s. One last thought on this topic, while driving home from Wild Goose on Monday the airwaves were bombarded with news of Anne Marie Slaughter's article in Atlantic Magazine entitled:  Why Women Still Can't Have it All.  I appreciate what Ms. Slaughter is saying, and I agree.  Some of my male preacher friends have trouble understanding the challenges I face as a single mother and full time pastor of a church.  I'm ok with it, and the kids and I are managing well, by the grace of God, but there are many days when I would rather be a more 'traditional' family.  By traditional family I mean that there is a responsibility for men to have a spiritual leadership roll in their households - too often I fear that men abdicate spiritual things to the women, and our young men need to see faithful men of God in their daily walk.   <end of rant>


  1. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. Her suggestions strike me as brilliant adaptations of ancient practices to our day.

    I do have one quibble that my daughter would scold me for not sharing. You can be a feminist and have 7 children.

  2. Deborah, your grandson is simply adorable! And your article is excellent, even though I agree with John M: You can be a feminist with 7 children. Feminism is simply the radical idea that women are people.

    But I digress. I'd like to repost this article on UM Insight, OK with you?

    Cynthia Astle

  3. Thank you, Cynthia - and John. I should say, it was Phyllis who said you can't be a feminist and have 7 children...I think women are definitely people! I would contend that she does as well!!

    I would be honored if you repost on UM Insight.