Jan 15, 2009

The "None" Factor vs. "Dynamic Orthodoxy"

I'm in the great Pacific North West where I led a workshop today for the Archdiocesan Youth and Young Adult Office on the difference between Millennials and Generation X and then suggested some ministerial options to the group.

An interesting group indeed from all walks of life and all with great perspectives. They also face very similar issues and generational divides that we see across the United States pretty clearly, I think. In particular though, they face what I fear is a growing sense of disenfranchisement with religion that they call "the none factor." Which means, when asked "What religion are you?" A significant portion of the population here replies "none." Non-affiliation is one of the bigger if not the biggest denominations here in Seattle. So they've got their work cut out for themselves.

In today's workshop people raised quite a few issues that I thought were valid and interesting. One woman who said that she had a pretty intense conversion experience talked a lot about young people who had a strong adherence to their Catholic faith, a significant minority group in the USA as a whole which I write about extensively in Googling God (in fact, I'm one of the few people in the church who writes about this demographic that even considers their experience to be significant--others merely dismiss them as fanatics at worsts and a passing fancy at best).

It's interesting to contrast these two groups. The first group, the people who seemingly have no use for religion at all, see religion as either a crutch for simple-minded people or something cult-like and dangerous. Some also don't have much of a problem with religion, but don't really engage with it either. They find other ways of making-meaning in their own lives outside of the religious perspectives. Still others, think that the world is simply a random chaos and there is no need for meaning-making on our behalf at all.

The second group, the people who not only adhere to their Catholic faith, but also have been attracted to what has come to be known as "dynamic orthodoxy" are what I would best describe as an adherence to "extreme catholicism" (not to be taken in the negative here--think "extreme sports" to give you a more vivid definition). These people are almost the polar opposite of the first group. They love their faith, they are "on fire" for their faith and they seemingly are bursting at the seams to share that faith with those around them. All good things--yes?

Perhaps not. The latter group can be highly judgmental and exclusionary. In fact, their approach to new members sometimes even outsides them from the group itself. More people head running for the doors than enter and find welcome at times. For some there is even a tendency towards fundamentalism, a literal interpretation of either the bible or a very rigid interpretation of the Catechism. Sometimes they're even hard to have a conversation with because they are entrenched in their own dogmatism that they don't see beyond their narrow viewpoint.

Still, the flip side is that these young people indeed can change a parish or a campus or even a large diocese with their vigor and enthusiasm. They love the church, they gush over the sacraments and have a strong desire for the Eucharist, they have deep intense experiences of emotive prayer, they connect with the divine in all the other areas of their life. Again, all good things to be sure and an enthusiasm that need not be tempered.

So where does that leave us as ministers?

How comfortable can we become with either group and how comfortable can we be when theses two groups come together? My sense is that we need to teach those who wish to share their faith some ways to better and more appropriately invite new people into the Catholic experience without the judgmental attitude. And vice-versa, the non-adherents have to leave their biases about Catholics at the door as well and enter in to see what really makes Catholics tick. What is it about the Eucharist that these young people are enthralled by? What is it that makes people do social justice work gladly and with a smile on their face and a willingness to say that they did all of it for Jesus?

That's powerful. That's evangelizing--but I fear many never get there. Instead they become defensive or haughty about their faith. And that in turn becomes a way to horde Christ for yourself and merely make religion into a commodity that doesn't change lives but rather becomes an exercise in self-aggrandizement (look at how good I am, or we are when referring to a group).

Today let us pray that young adult ministers can help people integrate their faith experiences with appropriate models of self-disclosure. And that all of those who see how Jesus is changing people's lives for the better can be inspired to see further.

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Googling God

Googling God
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