Recently I put together this letter, which I intend to give my son before he leaves home when he is grown. With this week's Anne Rice news, it seems timely to post it here also.
Dear (name edited):
When you were little you asked a ton of questions. When I'd get worn out, I'd tell you, "I know the world needs explaining -- but not all today."
But now you're getting older. You have to have questions - but you don't ask them so much anymore. I wonder if you sense that there are no good answers to some of them.
Today I wish I could explain the Christian faith to you. Not just that but the state of Christianity also. There are so many divisions, so many arguments. There are so many accusations and counter-accusations between the different groups. So many different groups.
I'm going to name a general rule here about the things that divide us: nearly everyone believes something that just isn't so. It may be just a little something here or there, or it may be a central belief of theirs.
Usually if you look at a group and you find the one thing they believe that nobody else does -- that's usually it.
Do I think the church we go to is perfect? No.
Do I think there's a better one out there? No, not really.
Do I think it's worth it? The following-Jesus part is worth it. Sticking together with other people who follow Jesus is worth it. The rest? Not so much.
If you go to another Christian group they'll tell you right away two things: First, that where you came from, the one thing they believe that nobody else does - that is wrong. They may be right about that. And they'll also tell you that the one thing they believe and nobody else does is absolutely correct. They're probably wrong about that.
They may also tell you that you're not really a Christian unless you believe that one particular thing. Unless they're talking about something Jesus taught directly exactly with his own words, or something that Jesus did, they're probably wrong about that too.
I wish I could hand you a better world. I think we can do better. On the one hand I know this world was already messed up before I got here. On the other hand, that's a lame excuse.
I am doing what I can to make things better.
Sometimes I e-mail the pastor when he teaches things that aren't in the Bible.
Sometimes I skip singing songs that do the same.
One or twice I've even walked out on a sermon, when it's particularly against the teachings of Jesus.
These are small things and I hope to do more.
I have a blog; I try to write things that will help. I try to write things that will change how things are. I try to write things that will help other people see how it could be better.
Mostly I try to follow Jesus and hope I'm not making too big a mess of it.
I have ambitious plans. I'm not going to give up easily. But I have no idea if it'll make any difference. I'm writing some new liturgies; I hope they are things that both liturgical and free church groups could both use. (I hope they're things that any Christian anywhere could use.) I'm trying to map out all the differences in the Christian churches in a way that each person can see the other's side. I know it's too ambitious. I don't really have delusions of grandeur -- I just know that I have to try.
And so it comes to this: I try because I won't give up on Jesus. He's why I'm in this. He's what makes it worthwhile for me. He's why I don't give up. As far as I can tell, he's the best hope this world has, and his teachings are the best and most beautiful guide for building a life worth living.
And it also comes to this: I need your help. At your age I can ask only one thing of you: please don't give up.
It is really easy to give up on the institutional church. But the only people who have to give up on it are those who put faith in it, when that's not exactly what we're supposed to put our faith in.
But I don't want you to give up -- because Jesus' promises will give you so much hope in life. His teachings about right and wrong will protect you from so much pain and trouble and heartache. What he said about forgiving us can make all the difference after we've done something stupid or after someone we love has done something stupid. And the promises he has made of his love and of the good he plans for us can really help you keep your head on straight when things are rough.
The reason I don't want you to give up is that I want all those good things for you.
And be a rebel when you can. I will be disappointed to hear if you never skip singing a horrible song or never walk out on a messed up sermon.
Just remember, it never was about the institution. It's about us loving each other. It's about making our lives worthwhile. It's about God saying that this world has good in it and he's not giving up. It's about giving other people that same hope that we have: that God is good, that he forgives, that he raises the dead to new life.