Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Monday, August 14, 2006

Rites of Passage - More Relevant than Relevant

I'm sitting in a late night discussion among men of various ages at a men's conference. It's late. I'm tired. The session is one of those 'ask the pastor' things that I hate, and so I'm anticipating questions about the origin of Cain's wife and other such silliness. Instead, a man opens his heart with questions about whether to remain in his existing church because as he's growing in Christ he's finding errors in his church's doctrines. This question is directed to the group rather than to me, and the group answers. The conversation is honest, stimulating, and encouraging.

One of the mutations of the conversation led to a discussion of rites of passage for the American male. I was pondering why our Christian universities seem plagued with passivity among the male gender, even more than in the culture at large. There are probably many causes, but I'm increasingly convinced that one of the causes is the appalling lack of any rites of passage. The Indian has the vision quest. The Lutheran has their confirmation. The Catholic has their first communion. The Judaism has their rites. And then there's the Evangelicals. What do they have?

1st R rated movie - first kiss - first drink. Perhaps these don't satisfy (how could they?) and so the hungry adolescent keeps looking: first sex - first ??. Combine this with a redemption centered faith, whose focal point is on getting to heaven, and you have the makings for a completely irrelevant faith. Why is it that the modern church has dismissed that which has been a part of historic Christianity for millenia?

Perhaps it's because we who are charged with passing on the torch of the testimony have, ourselves, failed to fully embrace our calling as representatives of a whole new way of living. If I take Jesus and plaster Him onto my lifestyle as some sort of veneer, all the while continuing to maintain the same attitudes about money, power, enemies, financial security, and upward mobility as my culture, then I really do have nothing distinct to say. In such a setting, the best I can do is teach my sons that men go to church and read their Bibles. But that, of course, falls far short of the real deal - and the steady decline of so many churches is proof of the same.

We think Relevant means being culturally literate and so we publish a magazine towards that end (or so it appears to me). I think it may include that, but if that's the best we can do, I'd say Rolling Stone does it better. No - relevant means I have a vision for embodying the hope that is found in Christ, and that vision permeates virtually every area of my life. Stepping into the story God is writing, and inviting others to do the same is an incredible adventure when one sees the vision of what that story is. Articulating that, living it, and helping young men find their unique voice in that same story is a gigantic need in our culture.

What should rites of passage look like for young men, if we want them to grow up as praying, discerning citizens of an alternative kingdom? A special thanks to the men's conference men at Ravencrest Chalet for prompting this question.


At 15/8/06 08:13, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Franciscan monk, Richard Rohr, has devoted much of his thought to the questions of "Rites of Passage." He wrote an excellent article here And of course no discussion on this subject is complete without a reference to Robert Bly's Iron John, regardless of what you may think of his conclusions.

At 15/8/06 10:11, Blogger Tom said...

As a relatively new father myself, I thought this guy welcomed another new father in a good "rite of passage" way.

At 16/8/06 10:42, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rights of passage... As a father of three young adult sons, this concept has practical meaning for me. I believe the ultimate "right of passage" is wrapped up in the surrender of self; at the cross, in submission to one another, in laying down one's life for a friend. We become whole when we lose our lives for His sake. And isn't that what we are talking about? A right of passage is a step into a higher level of "being"; one of greater understanding and maturity.
So what are the "rights of passage" I see in my son's lives? When they truly embrace "not my will by Thy will be done". When they choose obedience to what they know is right rather than comfort. When they lay aside pride and truly listen. When they weep over their sinfulness. When they find joy in sacrifice. When they rejoice in the success of others, even when it magnifies their own failures.

Our Father has given us plenty of "rights of passage". The issue is whether we model them and focus on them as marks of maturity in Christ.

Bob Werner

At 18/8/06 15:16, Blogger Jim Underhill said...

This issue strikes home in two ways. First, due to the many years of personal wandering (until mid 20's) when I reached-out to a living God and asked for a real life change. That was the beginning of coming into relation with older men (in age and Christian life)who started showing a different, better way. All that was missing, was now being filled-in and a real path was laid before me with mentors, encouragers, friends lining the way. This had never happened to me and, my word, did it make the difference.

Now as a dad of 4 young women (16 to 25 years), I'm meeting and watching other young men and scratch my head. Whether Christian or not, too many guys wandering through life with no guiding hand. Too many bogus 'models' popping up via entertainment and sports, probably even in the institutional church. Then I wonder how these young men can be probably shaped to take on the yoke of leaderhip in their generation. What needs to take place, where and how?

Part of the answer is that we who have been helped along life's way, need to now (if we haven't already), begin to mentor, encourage, come along side of our friends and do what was done for us. It's a model straight out of Scripture and is a good starting point at Bethany and any where else.


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