Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Need for a Passionate Church

Christian Century has a review this week of a book entitled Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church by Kenda Casey Dean. The basic synopsis of the book and the review is captured here:

Practicing Passion begins with an exploration of the nature of passion and its connections with youth. Like Kierkegaard, Dean sees young people as especially well equipped for pathos. Because they are keenly aware of both love and suffering, they are particularly well suited to engage in passionate practices within Christian community. That is what living in deep connection with the passion of Christ means, she argues. But churches largely abdicate their identification with such costly love, leaving few opportunities for young people to participate in the church as a community that practices God's passion.

Naturally, as Dean explains in the book's second section, when the church does not live out passion in its practices, youth take their passions elsewhere. They commonly fall prey to the larger human tendency to confuse ultimate passions (the kinds of passions that are fully engaged only in connection to the holy) with fleeting attractions to causes, or with transient sexual feelings that only mirror the deeper intimacy they passionately seek. Exploring three dimensions of passion—fidelity, transcendence and community—Dean addresses the relationship between processes of identity formation among youth today and the distortions of passion common in contemporary society.

In the book's final section, Dean proposes that youth ministry be grounded in young people's participation in the practices of a passionate church. To achieve this, the church must retrieve its historical "curriculum of passion," which is found in the memory of Christ's passion and in the "practical piety" of the Christian community as it participates in the missio dei.

I find this very interesting. I wholeheartedly agree that a church constantly needs a 'passion check;' to make sure it still has a pulse for the things of God and the mission to which Christ calls us (John Cobb makes a similar argument in his book Reclaiming the Church). But this article and book hone in on a particular area of the church that suffers in particular when there is no passion: youth ministry.

In the first place, youth are affected when there is no passion in adults. Youth observe their parents and other adults in church and receive a message through their actions. 'If Dad doesn't have to go to church, why should I?' Why indeed. If you don't care, then I don't. Rip on his namesake political system, but Marx had some good points about religion being the people's opiate. Uncle Joe is falling asleep, so I'll grab a pillow in the pew right behind him. This must be what it means to be a member here.

'Youth will take their passions elsewhere,' the article says. That's true of attending other churches as well. In some cases, youth end up enduring Sunday worship at their passionless home church in the morning and then go to 'Christ Rawks Cafe' at Gigantor Christian Church down the road that evening where they feel like they're a part of something life-giving, or at least lively.

Of course, it would be a mistake to measure passion by attendance. Better to measure passion by engagement, by a commitment to transforming lives and the world around us. 'Practical piety,' the article suggests. 'A commitment to missio dei.' What is the mission of God for the church and how might youth passion be nurtured by and focused on this mission? It is my experience that youth have genuine questions of faith that they might not ask until asked if they have any faith questions. Likewise, youth do have a potential passion for church life. It is the call of the passionate church to invite them to participate. Put down your pillow and take up your cross.

Related post: Mainlines in Trouble, Part 2