Recapturing the Spring of Your Faith

Spring FlowersAs we begin the month of March, everyone in the U.S. is looking forward to the arrival of spring.  For our countrymen in the northeast and eastern seaboard, who have been pummeled by the polar vortex over and over again, spring cannot come soon enough.  Spring is an enjoyable season.  I have not known anyone who does not like spring.   The brightness of the sunshine, the budding of the trees,  the blooming of the flowers, and the chirping of birds unanimously strike a note of hope in the air.

The honeymoon is to a marriage what spring is to the weather.  Newlyweds enjoy the honeymoon, see every reason to love each other intensely, refuse to see any negative trait in the other person, and look forward to a bright future.  Years after the honeymoon, if one of the parties should cause their love to go sour, the result is always devastating.   Our Lord’s statement in Revelation 2:4 conjures up the image of this type of lost love.  He would ask the Apostle John to write to the Church at Ephesus, saying, “… Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have lost your first love…..”

Whereas in the case of married couples the fault of failed love cannot be blamed totally on one party, in the case of our relationships with the Lord, the fault is always ours, for the Lord stays faithful even when we are faithless (see 2Timothy 2:13).  But what would cause someone to lose his or her first love? Continue reading

Why Do Children Embrace or Reject the Religion of their Parents?

A few days ago the New York Times ran a review of a new book which attempts to understand why religious faith is kept or lost between generations—Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations (Oxford University Press). The book’s principle author, Vern Bengston, professor of social work at the University of Southern California, studied 350 families and 2,400 individuals from 1969 to 2008 in order see if religious beliefs were passed down through the four generations of family members that he interviewed and if so, what the determining factor was. His results are summarized in this selection from the article:

According to Professor Bengtson, parents have as much hold as ever on children’s souls. “Parent-youth similarity in religiosity has not declined over 35 years,” from 1970 to 2005, he writes. Denominational loyalty is down — kids feel free to ditch the Baptists for the Presbyterians — but younger generations are no less likely to inherit core beliefs, like biblical literalism, the importance of church attendance or, for that matter, atheism.

As to why some children follow their parents, spiritually speaking, Professor Bengtson’s research confirmed some common-sense assumptions. For example, it helps if parents model religiosity: if you talk about church but never go, children sense hypocrisy. And intermarriage doesn’t help. If you’re Jewish (or Mormon, Catholic, etc.), and want your child to share your religion, it helps to marry someone of the same faith.

But Professor Bengtson’s major conclusion is that family bonds matter. Displays of parental piety, like “teaching the right beliefs and practices” and “keeping strictly to the law,” can be for naught if the children don’t feel close to the parents. “Without emotional bonding,” these other factors are “not sufficient for transmission,” he writes.

Professor Bengtson also found that one parent matters more than the other — and it’s Dad. “But what is really interesting,” he writes, “is that, for religious transmission, having a close bond with one’s fathermatters even more than a close relationship with one’s mother.”

This study discovered that emotionally bonding with one’s father seems to be the most important determinate as to whether or not a child will embrace the religion(s) of the family into which they were born. Not whether the child was properly catechized, or rigorously taught a belief structure, or pushed to deeply explore various worldviews, or given a certain set of moral standards. These things are not necessarily bad, in the right settings they can often be very good, but according to this study they were not nearly as important for belief transfer as it was for a child to feel close to their parents and, in particular, their father.

I think that this leads us to an important point that should be intuitive but in many cases is not (for my part, I wasn’t clued in on this until I met my current pastor)–a crucial part of the Christian life involves intentionally taking steps to better under understand ourselves and then opening up our lives and emotionally connecting with those around us and with God. At first this can seem strange and even uncomfortable because we live in a world, even a church-world, which often leaves us emotionally disconnected or connected in very dysfunctional ways.

For instance, I find that it is easier to debate ideas or rationally discuss a Scripture passage than to be vulnerable and honest with those around me and to take the time and spend the focused energy to deeply understand the pains and joys of those I love. But, if I want my daughter to embrace the Christian faith that so animates my life, I had better not merely talk to her about the truth, I must deeply love her, be transparent and honest with her, incarnate the message that Jesus is Lord in all its breadth and fullness, and emotionally connect with her. Because if I merely give her my faith packaged as a mental idea, my faith will likely die with me.

Faith is Fuel for Life

A central goal of HBU is to provide “a Higher Education” as we integrate faith into our academic pursuits.  Here’s one way we describe that:

If you want to fuel your faith, you should consider our undergraduate program in Christianity or our Master of Arts in Theological Studies.

Did you know that HBU has a YouTube site where you can find this and many other videos from the university?

Doubt, Faith, and the Heart

As the youngest of three, I was often the child in the car with mom, waiting for older brothers to finish appointments or extracurricular activities, and as she and I waited we listened to “Unshackled” on WMBI, Chicago.  This radio drama was devoted to stories of dramatic conversions.  Christians retold their journeys out of alcohol or substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, and broken homes.  As a kid in a sheltered Christian home, these stories fascinated me.  And they also established a paradigm of conversion in my mind.

But it’s a paradigm that has had to change.  While some Christians have a “Damascus Road” kind of conversion, many more have the kind St. Augustine describes in Confessions. In Book VI of the Confessions, St. Augustine laments his willing unbelief in Catholic Christianity even though he had already refuted the teachings of Mani. He describes a change that is a gradual letting go of old beliefs followed by an uneasy trust in a new account of reality. St. Augustine sought out a knowledge of God as certain as 7 + 3 = 10, but St. Ambrose instead offered allegorical teaching and holy mysteries.  As a result of St. Ambrose’s teaching, St. Augustine began to prefer the teachings of the Church before his conversion.  Further, Faustus, the Manichean bishop, could not satisfy St. Augustine’s probing questions. St. Augustine’s doubt concerning Manichaeism led him to a new kind of knowledge, not of the variety of 7 + 3 = 10, yet capable of providing rest for his restless desires.  As I reflect on Book VI, I realize that St. Augustine’s metanoia (change of mind) is analogous to the heartbreak and rebirth of romantic love.  This analogy is useful in exploring the experience of doubt and faith, which is as much a matter of the heart as of the mind. Continue reading

The “Line of Separation”

I’m not often quoted.  Seldom have I said anything original that is worth being repeated, but a few years ago I made a statement which some people have picked up on.  Let me explain.voting-booth

For the past ten years I have co-hosted a radio show on secular stations.  We have had several names for the show.  The current version is called “A Show of Faith.”  The show airs weekly Sunday nights from 7.00 to 9.00 pm on 1070 KNTH in Houston.  We stream it live over the Internet at http://www.1070knth.com/.

I said I co-host the show because my partners in crime are a priest and a rabbi.  I know.  It sounds like a joke.  “A priest, a minister, and a rabbi walk into a radio station . . . “  But it is not a joke.  We’ve been on the air ten years on three different stations in America’s 4th largest city.  The mission of the show (remember, it is on a secular station) is to talk about events in the news from the perspective of our religions.  We will also have representatives of other faiths: Islam, Bahai, Hinduism, etc.  A secondary mission is to demonstrate that it is possible to be “friends across faiths.”  The rabbi and the priest are two very good friends of mine.  We “agree to disagree and don’t become disagreeable.”

I relate all of this because of the context.  Often, when we talk about events in the news, politics come up.  Now that the election is over, Congress is in hearings, and the President prepares for his annual “State of the Union,” we think about how people ought to engage in the politic process.  Talk radio, the 24 hours new cycle, and Internet news brings events and politics into our world at the speed of light.

There are people who want to keep religion out of the public square. They want to relegate faith to the margins arguing that faith is really a private matter and should not enter in to our public life.  The statement I made, however, was a challenge to this.  Here is what I wrote:

“The `line of separation` does not run neatly through a man’s soul.”

While many want to separate church and state–so much so that there is never any contact between them—I don’t think it is completely possible or even desirable.  Let me say it this way.  We may be able to pass rules and create policies which keep any one religion from dominating our public life, but I don’t think that it is possible to compartmentalize our lives to the extent that faith does not inform our citizenship.  When American citizens step into the voting booth, they take their faiths with them.  When they vote, they vote values which have been formed by their faiths.  When citizens hold public office (from president to dog-catcher), they govern and make decisions based in large measure on the values they have been taught through their faiths.  In a complex world there may be competing values, but in the end mature citizens must cast a vote or make a decision.  “The line of separation between church and state” does not run neatly through a man’s soul.

It is incumbent upon all of us to draw strength and direction from our faith traditions in order to think about what is a  “good life” and a  “good society.” There are competing visions in the arena of ideas, and we need to be players  not just spectators. We dare not let those who wish to silence our voices succeed.  As a university, we have a strategic role to play in shaping the citizens that make us this great country.

Nancy Pearcey on Faith and Critical Thinking

We often think of apologetics as primarily oriented toward non-believers, but in fact it is vitally important within the church as well.

In this piece, Nancy Pearcey makes the case that critical thinking, far from being inimical to faith, actually helps to save it.

A study in Britain found that non-religious parents have a near 100 percent chance of passing on their views to their children, whereas religious parents have only about a 50/50 chance of passing on their views. Clearly, teaching young people to engage critically with secular worldviews is no longer an option.  It is a necessary survival skill. 

Read her whole article here, at The Pearcey Report.

%d bloggers like this: