Thursday, April 26, 2007

aging, sickness, and death

For the last couple of months my Sunday school class has been about world religions. The two girls that come are sisters and one in particular is in a questioning and exploring phase (or lifestyle, perhaps) and I thought it might be helpful for her to have a more structured introduction to the religions she's been pondering and in some cases professing. We are using Houston Smith's book World Religions as our main guide. We started with Hinduism and have moved now into Buddhism. Sunday's class brought along with the story of Siddhartha (the man who later became "Buddha" = "the awakened one") and how he was a prince who was shelter from all things *negative* in the world. His father wanted him to take on the throne when he died and so he made the royal life as appealing as possible, so much so, story goes, that when he walked into town, all the streets were cleared of vagrants, elderly, and the sick. Well, on one occasion, the street wasn't cleared and Siddhartha came upon an old man who was withered and wrinkled and weak. The next time he went out he saw a person ravaged by disease and the third time, a corpse. It was his encounters with the *frailty* or whatever you might term it (I am having difficulty tying an appropriate adjective that both embraces these necessary stages of life and yet also acknowledges how painful they can be, and at the same time does not play into the american cultural obsession with youth...), anyway, his encounters caused him to renounce his priviledged and sheltered life and he went toward a life of ascetism, which almost caused him to die, and then he finally sought "The Middle Way". All of that is a long introduction to the musings to come (but it is important because it laid the foundation for my thoughts).

So, the actual musing came Tuesday night when I was at a United Methodist Men's dinner and concert. As I sat there, (again the youngest person in the room) and looked at all the white heads, I thought of them and the missing youth and young adult (and even in large part baby boomer) heads from that room. I know this is a constant and ongoing discussion in the church as to why the church has "failed" our young people and how we might do things differently so that they might be active Christian disciples. But Tuesday night I was struck by the thought that maybe they (the young people) don't want to be here (with the old people) not just because the service isn't lively enough, or it's not whatever enough, but because being in church with old people means having to confront our weaknesses--age, illness, and death. In a culture that promotes our invincibility, our strength, our youth, and our legacy, it is no wonder that sitting in a room with a bunch of "old people" who embody (at least at first glance) all the things we seek to avoid is less than appealing. For instance, when I googled "old" for images, this was listed as
"Too old?"

Maybe our search for answers regarding young folks in the church has been incomplete and we need to confront the reality that we fear death, illness, and aging--oddly enough, trials Jesus offers care for and salvation from (death, not illness or aging necessarily). Funny, we might just try preaching the gospel.

1 comment:

John Meunier said...

Probably a little of both.

Keith McIlwain has a good post about confusing worship with an inspiration session.

What is the nature of the God hunger in young people and how do we feed it? Maybe it isn't what they think they want.