Going Over the Religion Cliff

Last Sunday’s Sunday New York Times Book Review offered a cover story entitled, “Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?” (12/23/12)  In that article Paul Elie summed up his sense of the place of Christianity in contemporary fiction this way:  ““This, in short, is how the Christian belief figures into literary fiction in our place and time: as something between a dead language and a hangover.”

I read that and I felt once again that sensation that my religion, my church, my faith, is in freefall—somewhere between the cliff above and the ground below.

As everyone right now is talking about the imminent “fiscal cliff” and its impact on the U.S. economy, this Christmas has left me with the distinct feeling that American Christianity, especially as it exists in my part of the country, has already gone over its own cliff.  And we are in the midst of plummeting to oblivion.

It’s a sensation that I’ve been feeling more and more often.  This year’s Christmas pageant had more adult participants than children, and even then we were only able to find two kings (no matter, really, as Matthew actually never gives a number for the kings who visited the baby Jesus and his family).

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to participate in Hallowell’s annual inaugural, which happens at the beginning of January.  The mayor left me a message yesterday that she wants to chat before the event.  I suspect she’ll offer the same “advice” and “guidance” as last year—could you tone down the “God talk” and try to be not so blatantly Christian?

And all through this season, I’ve been struggling with the sense that not only do more and more people celebrate and observe just the Santa part of Christmas, but they are engaging in this approach in even more determined ways.  A week or two ago, the pubic radio station had a local musician as a special on-air during its weekday morning classical music program.  He was talking about the music of the season and the music that his group will play.  This musician mentioned things like joy and family, and how beautiful the music of this season is, but he never once uttered the word “Jesus” or “faith” or anything like that.  It’s as if all of the sacred music of the season can be extricated from its source of inspiration, as if we can enjoy and contemplate its loveliness without ever meditating on the subject matter of the words that are being sung.

It’s all part of this feeling in my gut that everything is not only changing, but has changed, in dramatic ways.  We are over the cliff.  Will some branch present itself to break our fall?  Will a balloon materialize that will carry us back up before we hit the ground?

I don’t want to sound so negative, or seem so lacking in hope, especially in this season that is about hope, but what I’m noticing around me concerns me greatly.  So, I’m really looking for that branch, or that balloon, that might offer a way of breaking our fall.  I’m really looking.

About smaxreisert

I'm a United Church of Christ pastor serving the small, faithful Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell, Maine. I was ordained in Massachusetts in 1995, moved to Maine in 1997 and have served the Hallowell church since 2005.
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