This Sunday’s gospel story points ahead to the shadows of the Passion and Good Friday. Lent is when we notice the shadows without recoiling. That tests us, but if we don’t, we can’t aspire to our favorite self-image as a church: authentic. In recent weeks, I’ve walked us into the shadows, preaching on themes like confession and repentance while also including a prayer of confession.
It reminds me of an article on Millennials and the church. Some excerpts: “I caution against the idea that the way to get young people into church is to be hip and cool and have a pastor who wears skinny jeans,” writes Rachel Held Evans. She seeks resonance for a millennial generation that grew up with 9/11, the two wars and long years of recession: a recognition that life is dark.
Our faith has lost its official hold on America yet, amazingly, 75% of Americans still self-identify as Christian. We live in a betwixt and between era of an old order dying and a new order not yet born. So we must pay attention. After Evans and her husband left a Bible church over the issue of same-sex marriage, she writes, “I put my head in my hands and cried, startled to tears by the selfishness of my own thoughts: who’ll bring us the casseroles when we have our baby?”
“No one teaches you how to grieve the loss of your faith,” she writes. “You’re on your own for that…” The reasons Millennials are leaving church are more complex than a lack of cool. “We’ve been advertised to our entire lives. We can smell B.S. from a mile away. So if you’re just trying to sell a product, we can tell.” Are Millennials searching for what we put forward first here? That is authenticity. Authenticity not for the sake of attracting any group, but because it’s right.
“A lot of liberal, progressive people are afraid of the word sin,” she said in an interview. “To some, the idea of a flawed human nature which leads to transgressions against God might be the same category as exorcisms—part of the ‘bizarre truth of Christian identity’, as she puts it.
About confession, Evans writes. “What makes us exchange the regular pleasantries—’I’m fine! How are you?’—while mingling beneath a cross upon which hangs a beaten, nearly naked man, suffering publicly on our behalf?” Her Christianity is fully aware of darkness. “So much of what Christianity produces is rosy, when that’s not really life, and that’s not really church. We carry the weight of many, many centuries of injustice. That matters, and we can’t just ignore that.”
I know that sin, confession, and crucifixion are not very marketable, like the angels, shepherds, and bright star of Christmas. But maybe, just maybe, if we are looking toward attracting more authentic people, then telling the truth, the whole truth, like at our Maundy Thursday service, is important. Maybe even the unsavory truths of Lent have a hard-to-express paradoxical appeal.
As for seeing pews less than full in many churches, Evans says, “Death is a thing empires worry about, not a thing resurrection people worry about. As long as there’s somebody baptizing sinners, breaking the bread, drinking the wine; as long as there’s people confessing their sins, healing, walking with one another through suffering, then the church is alive, and it’s well.” Amen.