I really like Wednesday nights. On Wednesday nights I attend a Small Christian Community, held in the home of one of the members of the group.
This group was presented to me as a Bible study/prayer experience for people of all levels of spiritual development. Knowing very little about the Bible at the time, I was overjoyed to be joining such a group! Weekly exploration of the Sunday readings seemed a good place to start!
As it turns out, the “Bible study” isnt exactly the meaty, academic experience I was looking for, but rather, personal interpretation of the weekly Scripture and how it applies to each person’s individual life. A worthwhile endeavor if a little off the mark of what I sought.
So the reason I love going to this Wednesday gathering actually has NOTHING to do with Scripture study at all! It has EVERYTHING to do with frame of reference! Let me explain…
As mentioned many times before, I was born in 1983. I have zero frame of reference for a pre-Vatican II Church. The Church I was raised in focused almost exclusively on the love and tolerance of God. The concepts that all are loved equally by an everlastingly patient Father, and that forgiveness is ours for the asking were really the main focals points of my CCD education (which I will affectionately refer to as Cut Color and Draw, as those were our primary objectives each class!).
I did not learn a single bible story in CCD. Not a single one. In fact, I vividly remember the first time I heard several classic Bible tales, such as Jonah and the Whale, or Daniel in the lions’ den. I was a teeneage volunteer at a vacation Bible camp when I first heard both stories! (In fact I can still sing you the little song if you’d be interested in hearing it :)). Seem unbelievable that a Christian child could be raised without this information? Not so unbelievable at all…
My CCD class focused on only the intangible concepts of Christianity– love and tolerance, the open availability of forgiveness (but strangely never the sacrament of confession!), etc. We also covered such important topics as recycling, presidential elections, being nice to our siblings, pollution and oil spills, and various other current events having little or no tie back to Biblical teachings. I was 14 the first time I opened a Bible. (nota bene– I did have one children’s book of stories, put out by Precious Moments, which focused on message although not acutal Bible stories– it was given to me by my gradfather for First Communion). So what does this “Catholic Education” get you?
It gets you a generation of Confirmed Catholics who are members of the club but weren’t ever taught the secret handshakes! A generation of people who identify as Catholic, but have NO concept of what that even really means in the greater realm of Christian religions– what about their own faith makes them unique amongst Christians (the answer to that question, in case you were wondering, is the Eucharist).
And that is the BEST case scenario! Some of them abandoned their “faith” at age 18– the minute Mom stopped dragging them to church. I bet many of them didnt even know why they were GOING to Mass every week! I just learned about 6 months ago that Mass is a recreation of the last supper! I know you’re either brushing me off as just “not paying attnetion” the last 27 years, or laughing at me outright for my naivete.
But here’s the thing– how am I supposed to know that if someone doesn’t teach me when I am a child? And growing up without knowing COMPLETELY diminishes the Sacrament of Eucharist. You have no idea what you’re even doing, why you need to prepare for it, etc!
So I was trying to explain this last night, to a room full of people aged 65 and up. They flat out did not beleive me. Apparently they think my parents were either woefully negligent in the religion department (which is not ENTIRELY untrue), or that I’m just an idiot who didn’t understand what was happening those long Sunday mornings in CCD.
Until a Sister who attends our group cleared her throat and said….
“well…actually…I taught CCD in the 70s and 80s and yeah, shes right. We sort of let the pendulum swing way too far in the other direction. What those kids learned wasn’t meaty enough to bite into, even from a teaching perspective, and yeah, there wasn’t really any Biblical reference happening.”
HOLY VALIDATION BATMAN!!!!!!!
I hear people talk about their religious upbringing all the time. A friend of ours frequently refers to the phrase “Sister says”, meaning, if he heard it at school and he heard it from a nun, then it was definately true! No questioning allowed! They talk about Catholic kids and Public School Kids (protetants) and the differences in how they were raised and what t hey were allowed to do. They speak of a time when they never would have DARED set foot in a Protestant church.
And I have no frame of reference. I attended a Baptist vacation bible camp one year with a friend– my parents couldnt have cared less, after all, it was a church right? I grew up in a time of ‘confession is optional’ and my mother thought the slightly over-zealous youth group leader was “religious fanatic whackjob”. I grew up with a watered down, Bible-less Catholicism. AND I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE!!!
So in the course of the conversation, we were discussing how the Church evolved from Fire and Brimstone–Hell is Real And You Might Be Going There to God is Love–It’s All Good. Many people felt it happened in an instant– new religious ed courses came in and that was that. One woman (whom I dearly DEARLY love) said “Well I like it better this way”.
How telling! Don’t we ALL like it better this way, with a focus on love and goodness and salvation and positive things?! I can understand why such a dramatic shift was able to occur– of COURSE we like it better this way!
But is that a complete picture of God and His words? Is “anything goes, God loves us all the same ” really an accurate portrayal of what we must do to enter heaven? I too like the joyful message of the Church I grew up in– but many people my own age have left religion entirely. I will unscientifically postulate that they’ve left religion because the water-thin Christianity slipped right through their fingers, leaving nothing firm enough to cling to! And since those of us in our 30’s have no frame of reference for the Fire and Brimstone season of the Church, we’ve been fed a skim milk version of our own faith! We missed the first course of the meal entirely!
People of older generations appreciate the temperance that the focus on love and tolerance and all that good stuff has brought to their Church and their religious lives. I understand that as best as I can. But we’re coming at it from completely different places– they already ate the meat and potatoes– they ate the base of the meal before I was even born! By the time I showed up, all we were serving was dessert.
I think we might do well to make sure that we serve the next generation of Catholics something a bit more substantial than the Strawberry Shortcake Catholicism my brothers and I were raised on. We might just do well to serve some meat again– and be sure that it’s seasoned with just a pinch of fire and brimstone!
Tell the whole story, even and especially the unpleasant parts! When you give people something to chew over, you fill them up. And it’s important to remember- a full stomach doesn’t go snacking elsewhere!