To the young reformers in this new generation of college students:
To all the young people like Dannika Nash, a junior theology and English major at the University of Sioux Falls, I want to give thanks for your bravery and honesty. If trends reported in a blog by Martin Marty (church historian) are accurate, the confidence in religious institutions is on a decline. I’m not surprised by this fact, and its not just people like Dannika Nash and those in her generation that are frustrated and disillusioned with the Church. I can relate to much of what she is saying. Instead of giving up on the church, she is extending a challenge to the Church to open its arms wide enough to embrace all those who it has tended to exclude. In her recent blog, she writes: (I invite you to read the whole blog)
“But my generation, the generation that can smell bullshit, especially holy bullshit, from a mile away, will not stick around to see the church fight gay marriage against our better judgment. It’s my generation who is overwhelmingly supporting marriage equality, and Church, as a young person and as a theologian, it is not in your best interest to give them that ultimatum. ”
As I teach first year students about Martin Luther, I realize that her challenge to today’s church is very similar to the confrontations that Luther had with the Papacy (language included ☺). I invited her to come to two of my classes today at Augustana College and speak about her theological views and her frustrations and hopes for the church. She ended one class session with the statement that topics like same-sex marriage are not just “issues,” but are about real people who matter. And the best way to encounter people is face to face. This statement, for me, defines incarnation: we meet God in the face-to-face encounters with those whom we love and those we consider enemy. And that’s the hardest challenge I can think of in an era where we tend to de-face those whom we consider “other.” We meet God in the faces of each other. While Twitter and the Internet, brought me to Dannika’s work, it was the face-to-face conversation with this marvelous young woman and my thoughtful students that will give me hope about what it means to be church. I wonder if we can’t find new ways to expand what it means to be church—yes, it is for Lutherans, where the Word is preached and the sacraments given. But today, I experienced flesh becoming Word, in the face-to-face conversations about what God’s grace means in a world that is so defined by hate.
Joseph Sittler, a Lutheran theologian, challenged Christians to listen to the artists, poets, architects, scientists, and musicians to discover the “pulse” of the world, to hear and see what they bring forth about the nature of what it means to be human. The Church needs to hear that again. Maybe the words of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis in “Same Love” or the artwork by Marc Chagall also bring us Word. God’s love is expressed in the incarnational grace notes where we least expect them to be. And today, that was in a religion classroom with students talking about what church means to them.