Some things are a laughing matter. Others are not.

As a pastor, I want to note an interesting dynamic.  On the one hand is the failure of many Christian churches.  On the other is the failure of the culture.

The Christian church, including the New Church, has been failing for awhile.  Vibrant, engaged institutions seeking to serve simply do not witness the collapse in numbers that many churches are experiencing.  Rob Bell, in his most recent book “What We Talk About When We Talk Of God” phrased it this way…

As a pastor over the past 20 years, what I’ve seen over and over again is the people who want to live lives of meaning and peace and significance and joy – people who have a compelling sense that their spirituality is some vital yet mysterious way central to who they are – but who can’t find meaning in the dominant conceptions, perceptions, and understandings of God they’ve encountered.

Some churches in refusing to face this collapse and their responsibility in it have chosen suffocating literalism and retrenchment over dialogue.  Others have gone to the opposite extreme … a form of “health and wealth” Christianity whose giddy focus on “feel good” leaves one on a sugar high but unmoved at the level of the soul.  I am certainly guilty of both at different times in my career.

Culture – and that includes you, me, us – has likewise been failing.  Attending  a recent Justice conference filled with some of the brightest minds going in the Christian world of service, it was disheartening and eyeopening to hear the frustrations of these incredible leaders as they noted a drop of “long obedience in one direction” among those whom Eugene Cho called, “The most disappointed generation ever.”  Ouch!  These words were not spoken by curmudgeons intent on adding a grinding critique onto today’s culture but were offered by impassioned, knowledgeable, global leaders in topics such as sex trafficking and wage slavery.

A recent study published in the New York Times backs up these frustrations.  The study looked at language usage from 1500 to 2008, specifically over the last half century.  What specific words were used more?  What specific words less?

Individualism

  1. More Frequent: Personalized, self, standout, unique, I come first, I can do it myself
  2. Less Frequent: Community, collective, tribe, share, united, band together, common good
Morality
  1. Overall, usage of the top 50 general words dealing with moral virtue fell 74%
  2. Bravery, fortitude – down 66%
  3. Thankfulness, appreciation – down 49%
  4. Modesty, humbleness – down 52%
  5. Kindness, helpfulness – down 56%

To restate our building blocks are now “Come and learn how to standout, how to find your unique self in this personalized program of self fulfillment!”   We can expect, “Join with us in a life of humility, kindness, and self sacrifice as we seek to serve the common good” to, on the other hand, fall flat.

That is not really so funny is it.  It shows we as a church have great work to do.  To do that work we ourselves need to take on the same tools we seek to give others … courage, gratitude, humility, kindness, and the common good.

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