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Choosing to walk the Pilgrim Way
Do you wish to be baptized? I do.
As sociologists and other observers of culture note, there are many religious trends occurring simultaneously throughout the American culture. I have listened to the leaders of the Episcopal Church think seriously about these trends within our missionary context in the United States. One of the important books influencing our thoughts as leaders is a book entitled: Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. It was originally published in 2005. The book’s premise is based upon some 3,000 interviewers with teenagers; and highlights commonalities emerging in this new generation of spiritual pilgrims. Perhaps it is because I have not been a teenager in a long time, or perhaps because the thinking explored in the book is so different than my own, I have found the reading of the book and the discussions fascinating.
The authors claim that there are five concepts that make up this generation’s faith foundation. These are concepts or ideas communicated throughout the 3,000 interviews. They are ideas that are assumed in large part by the group interviewed, and they go largely unchallenged in their circles of friends. The authors of the book have chosen to call this set of beliefs moralistic therapeutic deism.
These young people do believe that a God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life and earth. They believe that God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other as taught in the Bible and by most world religions. They believe that the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. They think that God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve problems. They also believe that good people go to heaven when they die.
These are not a bad set of beliefs to live by. In fact, if the whole world lived by these basic beliefs the world might actually be a better place. As fascinating as this unchallenged “rule of life” is, I would say that we as Episcopalians have a different way of seeing the world and our place in it. When we are asked if we wish to be baptized, or when we reaffirm our baptism, we step forward and say to the world that we believe differently. There are some things we hold in common with all religious belief. There are some things we hold in common with other Christian believers. When we rise up and step forward and affirm the faith of the Church and reaffirm our own faith, we challenge ourselves by claiming to be particular and unique people in our community.
The baptismal covenant which we make with God says we believe in a God who created and ordered the world but ordered it for a particular purpose which is for beauty and relationship. We believe in a God who watches over human life and a God who interacts with all life on earth with a particular interaction with the human community. We believe in a God who desires that people to be good, nice, and fair to each other and a God who says we have a responsibility to take care of those who are poor, hungry, alone or in need. We believe that Jesus Christ is the living resurrected example of how humanity is to treat one another and that we are to set as our goal the living of life which is most like Jesus’ own. We believe it is a good thing to be happy and to feel good about one’s self but we do not believe that this is the central goal in life. Our faith teaches us that God asks us to sacrifice for others. We believe our God invites us not to seek our own desires as primary and central attitudes of living our life but to make the center of our life the God we believe in and those who God most identifies himself – the weak and poor. We believe that living lives as consumers can create disordered lives that are out of proportion with the wider needs of the world around us. We believe in a God who is with us in our problems and with us when things are going well. We believe in a God who is a “friend” (John 15:15) and a God who is a companion along the way (Luke 24). The God we proclaim is present with us in all our doings. We do believe in the kingdom of heaven, but we believe that we are to be about bringing into reality the kingdom of God today. Episcopalians do not spend a lot of time concerned with heaven; we spend most of our time working to make heaven real in this world. We remind ourselves that Jesus’ work was teaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God and curing every disease and every sickness among the people, and that he said,” Follow me.” (Luke 4:12-23)
When we as Episcopalians step forward and choose to make our confession of faith, we remove ourselves from a general belief in a general God who participates generally in our life. We choose specifically to walk the pilgrim way with God and to live out a particular revelation found uniquely in the Episcopal Church.