Archive for July, 2007

Can the Generation Gap be Bridged?

Monday, July 30th, 2007

Can the generation gap be bridged?

By Christian Piatt
The Pueblo Chieftain

This week I attended the biennial General Assembly for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Fort Worth, Texas. This is a big mouthful of words that means a bunch of Disciples get together every two years from around the country to kibbutz.

It’s always fun, a lot of work, and though it goes by quickly, I always leave drained.

At this assembly I presented two different workshops. The first one was about the theology in the media in a cramped first-floor room, packed to the walls with nerdy pop-culture theologians and other onlookers eager to understand what kids these days do when outside the four walls of church.

The second day, my wife, Amy, and I presented together about young adult spirituality, using MySpace as an analogy for contemporary social systems. The room was three times the size of the first one, and it too was near capacity with a wide range of folks. There were youth and young adults of the church looking for some sense of validation and connection. Also scattered throughout the venue were pastors of established churches looking for ways to put a hip face on their ministries. Still others were attracted purely by a sense of the alien, as unfamiliar with MySpace itself as they were with the unique spiritual needs and longings of the people using it.

Most of the questions we fielded were general in nature, mostly about our research methods, the personal experiences we’ve had as a couple involved in ministry together, and our take on how young adults’ spirituality is unique, if at all. However, there were a couple of choice questions that helped us realize how great the chasm really is between us and some of the older members of the crowd.

One gentleman asked a question about MySpace that was so completely off track that I didn’t even know where to begin to answer. Fortunately, Amy jumped in to save me. Another man asked about the difference between MySpace, the largest social networking site in the world with nearly 200 million users, and a personal website.

Though the concept of MySpace as a social tool was only a metaphor, it momentarily became a clinic on the Internet, digital communications and other basic computer how-to’s. We even had a couple of people leave when they realized we weren’t there to help them build a MySpace page to recruit droves of young adults into their congregations.

There is no sure-fire formula, 40-day plan or hi-tech gimmick to attract young people to church. This, however, doesn’t stop people from desperately looking for one.

There is no shortcut to deep, trust-filled relationship, a sense of caring community and real belonging, which is what we younger folks long for from church more than anything. But, ultimately, there are a disturbing number of church leaders whose primary motivation for recruiting us to their churches is to keep their congregations from dying.

We’re more than a warm body and a few bucks in the plate. Yes, we probably will think of ways to change things if we join your church, so don’t invite us unless you’re really open to new ideas.

We also will not be impressed simply by slick presentations, hip verbiage in a brochure or a dynamic website. If you’re considering adding these few superficialities to a church that, beneath the surface, has no desire to have new life breathed into it, save your money and energy. If you really want to know us, what we want and believe, sit down over coffee – not in your church – slow down and ask us about our own stories.

If we’re hesitant to share, it’s mostly because we’ve developed a razor-sharp cynicism about a world, church included, that always wants something. Give it time, be patient, and you’ll soon come to realize that beneath our dyed hair, tattoos and piercings, we’re not much different than you. What’s more, whether you believe it or not, we still look to you for a glimmer of what God might be in the world.

Relationship is a bigger investment than a Myspace page, but if you want us, you’ll have to come find us. We’re still waiting.

MySpace book discount on Amazon

Monday, July 30th, 2007

For the moment, Amazon has extended their pre-order discount of 32% off the list price of my new book, “MySpace to Sacred Space: God for a New Generation.” If you have not yet ordered your copy, or if you know someone who might appreciate this information, please go to, click on the MySpace book link on the front page, and order a copy – or ten if you like!

Thanks, and enjoy.

Finding the price for the sins of the church

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

Finding the price for sins of the church

Pope Benedict recently declared the sovereignty of his particular faith over all others.

Meanwhile, at the same time, a $660 million settlement is being paid out in Los Angeles for more than 500 cases of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests.

In the Catholic tradition, contrition is only one step toward forgiveness of sins. One must also do penance for these transgressions. In certain cases throughout history, this literally was done through “payment” of money. Generally, however, indulgence, or the full forgiveness imparted by the priest, is achieved through mandated prayers and partaking of the sacraments, through confession, principally.

Indulgences are offered at the discretion of presiding religious officials, and necessary penance is determined by the number and severity of sins committed by an individual.

Mortal sins are more severe in nature, and by definition they sever the connection between God and the offender. These sins involve acts such as adultery, lying, murder and sexual abuse. To be considered a mortal sin, the act in question must have been done consciously, willfully and with full understanding of the severity and consequences of such behavior.

In all cases, these sins can be forgiven, but given the varying gravity of mortal sins, there are cases in which the unrepentant sinner may be excommunicated. Grace, it would seem, just isn’t big enough for some sins.

One perspective on sinfulness has its roots in Reform Judaism, wherein it is not believed there is actually an entity that embodies evil – like the devil – outside ourselves. Rather, the potential for both good and evil resides within us, and that it is through our own free will that we make the choice in each situation whether to act out of good or evil. In this mindset, “the devil made me do it,” doesn’t cut it. We must face our own evil head-on.

Some may believe that priests are particular targets in a greater spiritual war, wherein the Evil One draws a bead on the heads of those who otherwise would lead humanity toward hope and salvation. Others would contend that positions of religious leadership provide a potentially toxic combination of relatively unchecked power and implicit trust: the perfect breeding ground for human lust for sex, power and the like.

These sins of abuse certainly are mortal in nature. It speaks to the potential for human evil, even in the most sacred and vulnerable of places. Though the public at large is not asked to forgive the priests, the payment of more than $600 million suggests a contrite, if not corporately guilty, church.

The cardinal-archbishop offered apologies to those “offended” by the acts of abuse. I can think of stronger words, ones that might have fit better, but at least he offered an apology. The settlement was agreed to by the church, which suggests both sides somehow came to terms that they felt were appropriately representative of the penance due on the church’s side, and the salvific effect desired for those who were violated.

This symbolic civil act, however big, doesn’t really offer the closure many had hoped for. The settlement could have been 100 times more, and we would still have to face the same fact: Even church representatives commit grave acts of sin.

Is there a monetary price to be paid for sin? Once the tables are turned and we suddenly find ourselves on the receiving end, does our perspective change? If, instead of apologizing for any offense the church may have caused, the bishop would have said, “Bless us, Father, for we have sinned,” would we have the heart or will to offer a hand of grace?

Those involved in these cases of abuse have been done irreparable harm. What has been committed can never be undone.

But what statement is made in accepting an offer to settle? What price can we ever claim as fair or just, and even in opening our hand to accept the penance, are we even the slightest bit closer to forgiveness?

Further, is the church any closer to the change required to help us all heal and trust again?

Time flies, but the world still needs us

Sunday, July 15th, 2007

Time flies, but the world still needs us

Life moves quickly.

I was talking to someone recently about how often it seems we will begin a week with the idea that we have plenty of time to catch up on all the things left neglected from the prior week, only to find that, by the weekend, yet another week has escaped us, evaporating hardly before we knew what happened.

There is no time of the year when this happens more than during the summer. Meanwhile February, the shortest month of all, creeps along like, well, molasses in February.

It’s also easy at times, with so much demanding our time, energy and attention, to lose perspective on the world that goes about its daily business, regardless of whether or not we pay attention.

So for those of us who fall victim to such myopia, I thought I’d offer a handful of facts about what happens both nationally and globally, every day of the year.

On any given day, approximately 170,000 new babies are born. With more than 70,000 daily deaths, this means our world is growing at a rate of nearly 100,000 people every single day.

More than 600 people immigrate to the United States illegally in that same amount of time, and our prisons expand by 135 inmates as well. More than 1,100 couples will get divorced in America alone today, and 34 species will become extinct forever.

Before you eat dinner tonight, almost 14,000 people will learn that they have cancer and 5,500 will contract HIV, though many will not know it for years.

More than 58,000 people will have an abortion, and nearly 100 women will die in the process.

More than 38 million barrels of oil will be produced, generating $2.3 billion in wealth. The Earth will get warmer by a few millionths of a degree, and 16,400 acres of forest will disappear. Well over 45,000 new cars will be produced, as well as 100,000 new computers and 137,000 bicycles.

Nearly 4,000 people will die from AIDS-related illness today, though more than twice as many will fall victim to terminal cancer. Tuberculosis will claim almost 2,000 lives, and diarrhea will take nearly 2,400 more. Automobiles will be involved in 1,500 fatalities, and 1,100 lost souls will commit suicide.

Our national debt will grow by about $1.3 billion today, placing a long-term burden of more than $4 a day, plus interest, on every man, woman and child. Before you wake up tomorrow, more than 19 million more metric tons of carbon dioxide will be released into our atmosphere, simply through burning fossil fuels.

I was annoyed recently when my dishwasher broke. I get irritated when a fast food restaurant gets my order wrong, or when I get snagged in traffic. Sometimes my son can be a complete brat, and my wife and I argue about things such as who will clean out the litter box this week. Sound familiar? And does any of this energy we seem to pour into such daily tasks, worries and preoccupations seem a little less important, given some of these statistics?

Some of us would love nothing more than to “save the world,” whatever that means. Considering such overwhelming need, death, disease, catastrophe and climactic crisis can overwhelm us to the point of paralysis – if we let it.

Neither self-obsession with our own daily minutiae nor superman-like commitment to putting the world to bed all nice and tidy gets us anywhere. However, with awareness comes a sense of obligation. With obligation comes a push for action, on some scale, no matter how small.

Part of a faith community’s responsibility is to raise awareness on local, national and global levels. But further, it must charge us with a call to action, providing us along the way with the support and tools we need to make the changes we have come to believe are important.

You’re not going to save the world from itself. But if you think and pray even a little bit about the needs right around you and the gifts you have at your disposal to meet them, God most certainly will put you to work, so be ready.

Does God love America best?

Saturday, July 7th, 2007

Does God love America best?

It’s no secret that I’m a diehard basketball fan. Unfortunately, my favorite team plays 700 miles away in Dallas. I’ve been known to fly down to Dallas for particularly “important” games, demonstrating the infinite tolerance of my wife.

A couple of years ago, I was at a game with a friend, and prior to tip-off, they announced the singing of the national anthem as they always do.

“Please rise as we honor God and America with the singing of our national anthem,” said the announcer. When I pointed out to my friend that there are no words in the anthem referring to God, he accused me of being cynical.


My generation has the stigma of being unpatriotic, at least within the context of what has been considered patriotism in the past. We don’t have the same general affinity for flags and patriotic songs as generations before us have. Most of our parents lived through Vietnam, the most culturally divisive war in American history since the Civil War, and the repercussions helped shape our view of our government and our global standing as a nation.

There are a few points of resistance with which I know many of my peers can relate. One has to do with the McCarthy-like strategy of suggesting you’re either “fer us or agin’ us.” If you don’t support the idea of preemptive strikes in Iraq, or the greater war on terror, then you’re not patriotic.

This sort of gauntlet, once it’s thrown down, can do nothing other than cause schism. You feel forced to pick sides, and if you differ with those drawing the line in the sand, it places you on the outside of the patriotic circle.

Another point is the ongoing Pledge of Allegiance debate. Some insist that people should not be forced to pledge faithfulness to a nation “under God,” while others contend this position is a direct attack on America itself. Never mind that the phrase “under God” was added to the pledge just over a generation ago.

And, the idea that ours is a Christian nation is a fallacy. In fact, most of our founding fathers were either deists or agnostics who championed the principle of practicing the religion of one’s choice. However, they also asserted the freedom from the mantle of organized religion all together, if one so chooses.

Finally, the matter of patriotism commingling with religion is particularly disturbing to many younger folks. In a time when America was more religiously and culturally segregated, it was easy enough to think everyone believed and looked the way we did. Now, in a much more pluralistic society, the notion of “status quo” is increasingly abstract in every walk of life.

Some see this as a threat to valued traditions, while others look at such critical questioning and thought as an opportunity. For someone who grew up singing patriotic songs in church, and looking at an American flag next to the cross, such symbolism seems perfectly natural. For those of us raised to inspect all leadership and traditions with a critical eye, such things cause us a moment of pause.

There are those who actually believe that America is the home of God’s new chosen people. Most thinking people will agree this is absurd, but this notion is not promoted any more often or passionately than it is from some pulpits on Sunday mornings. For others, the flag and patriotic songs feel right in church, and they have never questioned their place there.

There are those of us, however, who were raised around as many Jews and Muslims as Christians, and living with neighbors, most of whom didn’t look like us. Anything that even suggests a “God loves us more” attitude smacks of elitism, exclusivity and a sense of arrogance, rather than a love of country.

I thank God for being born in this country, and for the many privileges it affords me. I am grateful to those who have preserved the principles of freedom and democracy upon which it was founded.

But the next time you encounter someone who doesn’t express their patriotism in the same way you’re used to, ask questions first and really listen to where they’re coming from, rather than assuming their behavior is patently un-American.