I remember often looking around on a Sunday morning in the non-denominational church and marveling at how many of the congregants were young. The majority were between 20-45 years old. I sadly noted that there were few gray heads in the crowd. Then I quickly reminded myself that the older generation probably couldn't handle the loud worship music and chalked it up as the main reason why they weren't there.
During the years I spent in non-denominational churches, I had a growing concern about the lack of older adults in our churches. There was a niggling thought that the reason they weren't there may not have had anything to do with the music, but perhaps more so with the overall approach toward church. Did they know something I didn't? I missed seeing older adults because I know in a healthy community, they are a vital part of its well-being. Within the early church, St. Paul, in his letters to Timothy and Titus, extolled the virtues of the younger learning from their elders. Our faith is passed from generation to generation. What happens when that transaction is prevented or worse, intentionally avoided?
When I left the Catholic Church at age twenty, do you know what I immediately did? I prayed for "spiritual mothers." I look back on it now and shake my head at the irony. I left the one place that was rich with spiritual mothers and then searched for them in a desert.
My upbringing has much to do with it. My holidays as a child were mostly spent surrounded by great-uncles and aunts who sat around, played cards and cracked nuts while philosophizing about life and society. I was in awe of them. Relegated to "The Children's Table," I longingly would look to "The Adult Table" and dream of the day I was no longer considered a child and could partake of their fascinating conversations. There were rites of passages in those days, ones that I think are important. The acknowledgement of a child no longer being a child but an adult is one I think has been lost amid our rabid idolization of youth. Nowadays, many parents who want to be seen as "cool" have erased that barrier between child and adult and think they're doing their kids a favor. They're not. In fact, all they are doing is extending the perception of adolescence, along with all of its self-serving behaviors.
I witnessed this in the early 80's and throughout the 90's. Young people, by nature, are entranced by experience. It is seductive and deceptive. It is easy for a young person to believe that the truth is something to be felt rather than understood. This opens the door to relativism as a young person rationalizes their emotions as proof that something is either true or not. This is the dangerous ground that the devil walked upon with Eve. "Did God really say...?" He tempted Eve with what she was feeling, which was an attraction to the tree's fruit and the desire to feel independent. She deliberately ignored the truth of what God had commanded for her and Adam; that they were not to eat the tree's fruit lest they die. Instead, she believed someone else, which in this case, was the Father of All Lies, and thought she was doing the right thing by disobeying God. And the human race paid a heavy price for it.
It has become a common strategy of the enemy once again as he whispers to many Christians, "Did God really say...?" And young people, already indoctrinated by a secular humanistic education, are ripe for responding, "Well, I'm not sure. Wanting to eat that fruit just feels so right."
Non-denominational churches are famous for appealing to the emotions. They are very good at focusing on experience and feeling. This, I believe, is why they are full of young people. There are no expectations for them to move beyond the feeling into a more mature examination of their faith. One of the non-denominational churches I attended tried to make everything into a party. It seemed as though if a ministry wasn't presented as being FunFunFun!!, then no one would do it. Sermons likewise, were full of one-liners and witty quips to keep everyone laughing. Again, emotionalism was pandered to and if anyone had concerns, they were considered too uptight or rigid. (Once it was said that if someone thought the worship music was too loud, then they were too old. A great way to make older people feel wanted.)
A vibrant church needs both the youth and the old. During my twenties and thirties, I had the impression that mainline denominational churches were full of "old people" because old people didn't have an appreciation for what was fresh, new, and different. Now I'm wondering if older people simply were beyond the fads that often pervade a non-denominational church. Youth love fads because fads are usually about them. Whatever is "hot" is often the result of youth's inability to be satisfied with one thing - whether it's fashion or politics. Why should religion be excluded?
I mentioned in my other blog post that what I believe enrages the progressive is Catholicism's rock-solid foundation and its refusal to bend to societal whims. I believe this is also why the Catholic Church appeals to adults. You need to be mature to realize that faith shouldn't be on your terms and religion isn't created to meet your needs. In fact, Christianity's purpose is to separate ourselves from our own "fleshly" desires (where the world revolves around me) and transform me into the likeness of Christ (where I revolve around Him). This goal of Christianity is in direct opposition to what we see happening in many churches across our nation. This goal, is against the spirit of the world.
You can easily see the spirit of the world in churches. They are the ones that cater to the "self-awareness" industry. Instead of teaching self-sacrifice, they teach self-fulfillment. Instead of worship being vertical, it's horizontal; focusing on the "we" instead of the "He."Adults usually know better because they've grown beyond self interests. They especially know that within their faith, they're to think of others rather than themselves and serve rather than be served. It is a maturity that used to happen naturally as the old taught the young, according to Scripture.
But now we live in an upside-down world where fortysomething men are found obsessively playing video games and women compete with their daughters for being desirable. It's not uncommon to see a mother sporting low-rise jeans, right next to her adolescent daughter wearing the same. (Because we all need to see more flesh from middle-aged women, right?) This lends itself to the commoditization of women's sexuality but that is for another post. However, I will say I'm appalled by the increase of women who have pursued young boys, whether it's teachers having affairs with students twelve years their junior or fortysomething women with twentysomething men. There is something wrong with a society that can't appreciate maturity.
I'm a bit of an oddball. Ever since I was a young child, I looked up to adults and couldn't wait until I was older. Because then, I surmised as a teenager, I'd be taken seriously. My thoughts and ideas wouldn't be brushed aside but instead considered. I looked at adults as being wise and knowing. I liked hanging out with elderly people because in my opinion, they had the best stories. There were things I could learn from them and learning is my lifeblood. Wisdom is God's gift to the mature.
When I returned to the Catholic Church in 2008, I was struck by how rich she was in mature faith. Most of the Catholics I met were not ones to be swayed by fads and trends. They simply attended Mass, kept their eyes and ears open to what the Magisterium said, and applied themselves to living out their faith in their daily life. I noticed that even many of the twentysomethings acted more mature and were grounded. I found it all very telling as I started to sift through my observations and experiences within the non-denominational church.
The Catholic Church is tough and often seen as "unfair" by the world. Interesting, isn't it, that this is frequently the teenager's accusation toward a parent who is trying to instill discipline. The Catholic Church isn't about pleasing the world or trying to look cool. It is a faith that requires we put away childish things and accept the responsibilities of being an adult; which doesn't include protests and rallies that demand our own way. It doesn't include bashing the Magisterium because it is "outdated" and needs to emulate the world. And it doesn't include whining or temper tantrums when one doesn't get their own way.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we all need to grow up. The more I think about this topic, the more I see the Catholic Church helping us do just that. Because when it comes to passing on a faith that will withstand the evils of this world, we need to understand that such a faith does not come from catering to our own needs, but by sacrificing them. This is the kind of faith the martyrs had. This is the kind of faith that built the Church throughout the ages. And this, is the kind of faith that will see us through the trials and tribulations that have been promised to us by Christ.