Study Shows Why Americans Drift From Religion

shift1From the Executive Summary:

Americans change religious affiliation early and often. In total, about half of American adults have changed religious affiliation at least once during their lives. Most people who change their religion leave their childhood faith before age 24, and many of those who change religion do so more than once. These are among the key findings of a new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. The survey documents the fluidity of religious affiliation in the U.S. and describes in detail the patterns and reasons for change.

The reasons people give for changing their religion – or leaving religion altogether – differ widely depending on the origin and destination of the convert. The group that has grown the most in recent years due to religious change is the unaffiliated population. Two-thirds of former Catholics who have become unaffiliated and half of former Protestants who have become unaffiliated say they left their childhood faith because they stopped believing in its teachings, and roughly four-in-ten say they became unaffiliated because they do not believe in God or the teachings of most religions. Additionally, many people who left a religion to become unaffiliated say they did so in part because they think of religious people as hypocritical or judgmental, because religious organizations focus too much on rules or because religious leaders are too focused on power and money. Far fewer say they became unaffiliated because they believe that modern science proves that religion is just superstition.

My own experience in talking with people who are unaffiliated with a community of faith leads me to believe that many encounter interpretations of Christian doctrine they can no longer own or accept.  Where the original sources of the Christian faith–sacred Scripture, lived tradition, human reason–are not allowed to engage in creative dialogue with the insights and sensibilities of the emerging culture of the twenty-first century, there is a huge credibility gap.  People will always search for community and moral grounding, but in today’s world, that search must be met with radical welcome and a willingness to grapple creatively with the most difficult questions of life and faith in the world as it is today.

By the way, I’m personally glad that “dissatisfaction with the clergy at congregation” wasn’t number one on the survey!

Read it all here.  Pew Forum Full Report here.

A Lexicon of Life

At Holy Comforter’s recent men’s retreat, our guest, Fr. Gideon Pollach, commended to us the value of the “Awareness Examen” out of the Ignatian tradition.  The central value of this ancient spiritual practice is that it offers an intentional way of discerning the presence of God in and through our concrete daily life.  A simple outline of the Examen from St. Iganatius Parish in Boston can be found here.

Recently, the practice of this prayer has helped me to notice the power of words—my own and those of others I encounter through the day.  It is astonishing to me how easily underlying emotions and perceptions color our language and contribute to or sabotage our ability to lead and serve others.  Impetuous email, triangulation, body language—these are just a few of the passive ways that words can wreak havoc in our relationships with others.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21).

The “Awareness Examen” offers one way to recognize the emotions and perceptions embedded in the words we speak and hear throughout the day.  With greater self-awareness, we can choose to focus on words that cultivate hope and healing rather than suspicion and enmity.  Fr. Gideon reminded our men that we are called to lives of holiness—lives that reflect the goodness and integrity of those committed to the loving reign of God.  The impulses that pull us way from our deepest and truest selves are far from easy to overcome.  Spiritual practice seems unavoidable.

So how do we change our language?  Try working the “Awareness Examen” into your weekly routine, if not daily, once or twice a week.  In addition, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, focus less on what people around you do or don’t do and more on what they suffer.  The more responsibility we take for our own emotional and spiritual health, the less we will focus on the faults and imperfections of others.  “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3).

Again, the challenge is to notice and become mindful of the power of words.  They matter.  In this season of Easter, we are invited to practice a new lexicon, a lexicon of life not death.

Rowan Williams – Lectures in Holy Week

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams gave a series of Holy Week Lectures ‘Growing in Prayer: what the saints tell us about the spiritual journey‘ over 3 consecutive evenings at April 6, 7, & 8.  Listen or download the lectures here:

Rowan Williams Reflects on Easter

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, reflects on the celebration of Easter:

“At Easter we celebrate just not the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, as if that were an interesting fact that happened many centuries ago.  We celebrate the fact that in words from the Bible, because he is alive, we are alive.  We know that we are held in God’s hands.  That our lives are held firmly and lovingly forever by the mercy of God.  We know we have a future in his love and that nothing can take that away.”

The Great Week

palm-sundayPalm Sunday/Passion Sunday,  is a strange day.  At Holy Comforter, we process through a long Narthex to the symbolic Jerusalem of the Sanctuary as our children wave palms for passing pilgrims hailing Jesus as their true and rightful king.

Just as quickly, we are confronted with Mark’s Passion Narrative, a Narrative that Borg and Crossan remind us has everything to do with the confrontation of Jesus’ passion for God’s reign of justice and Caesar’s passion for the domination and power of Rome.  With breathtaking speed the exuberance of the parade turns to tragedy and we soon find ourselves at the foot of the Cross—in the presence of a man who gave everything for God, for the truth, for the sins of the world, for you and me.  That’s the power of the passion of Jesus–it exposes our human capacity for both self-giving love and violent betrayal with immense depth and complexity.

We are being invited to walk differently this week–to walk as if this were the holiest week of our lives.  We walk in the steps of Jesus’ suffering and bring ourselves as best we can to that place where we can be still and take in the mystery of a man, dare we say it, of a God whose love for you and for me transcends the worst that we can possibly do.

The power of  participating in the liturgies of this week, especially the three Great Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Day of Resurrection, is that we recover our conviction that  God suffers from the inside of the human journey as one of us.  There is on Maundy Thursday, the experience of companionship, breaking bread together and seeing one another as brothers and sisters who share in the Agape feast of Christ.  There is the humility and care of serving one another in the washing of feet.  There is on Good Friday the mystery of undying love made tangible on the hard wood of the cross for the sake of the world.  And beyond suffering and death there is Easter–the transforming evidence that the worst that can happen to us in this life is never the last thing that can happen.  Jesus takes our human nature through the experience we call death and shows us beyond it, in ways we might never have dreamed, there is resurrection life here and now.  It is this story, this inbreaking reality, that Holy Week proclaims.