Quakers are not alone in this regard, but what we’ve been enduring is that no matter how much effort we put into raising our children within the faith community, they disappear somewhere in their junior high years. For decades, we’ve been hoping they’d reappear as they started raising their own families, but we’re seeing little of that, and again, we’re not alone.
It’s all too easy to blame competition with Sunday morning soccer leagues and the like, although we might also argue that the values the kids learn in their athletic competition more closely fit those of the larger, secular society than those they are taught in religious settings. Rabbi Michael Lerner makes an extended argument in his 2006 The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right, as he contends that too often our children see all too clearly the dichotomy between what we say we believe in faith and what we actually do in a dog-eat-dog marketplace. It’s a harsh criticism. No wonder religion is losing.
As I gaze around our mostly graying worshiping circle, I wonder just where the young adults are today – not just within religious communities, but just about everywhere I venture. Maybe they’re all hidden away working multiple 24/7 jobs trying to make ends meet. I don’t envy them the economic scene they’re contending with.
But I also wonder about the message they carry about faith itself. If the teaching among youths growing up “under the care” of Quaker Meeting has been to build a hopeful, optimistic foundation of values, how do we help them survive the brutal struggles they’ll encounter in the wider world? How do we instill an awareness of the importance of religious community and shared discipline in maintaining a drive toward a more loving and just society?
Perhaps we’ve been too comfortable in our safe, middle-class, largely professional upbringings and neighborhoods and expectation of college and career.
In my own thinking, I keep returning to the concept of the two seeds, one of Christ and the other, call it what you wish – the point is, we face not just “that of God within each person” and its potential, but also a counter element to challenge. It was a line of thinking at the time the Quaker movement erupted in Britain. Think of the parable of the wheat and the tares.
Contending with the two may be what’s been missing in our teaching and example.
More of my own reflections on alternative Christianity are found at Religion Turned Upside Down.