A few years ago I read the book Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids. The book is one of two coming out of a major research project by Kara Powell and Chap Clark from Fuller Institute, who researched a group of 11,000 church-going teens. One of their findings in that study was the importance of conversations about spiritual matters between parents and their children. Sadly, the study also discovered that these kinds of conversations are happening infrequently in American Christian homes.
Since then, I have read a number of interesting studies in psychology journals whose findings line up with those in Sticky Faith. A particularly compelling read was Kenda Creasy Dean’s report on the results of the National Study of Youth and Religion research, by sociologist Christian Smith. In her book, Almost Christian, Dean has a chapter on the importance of language for creating not only meaning, but faith. That chapter is so important, I reproduce a portion for you, below.
After a discussion of philosopher Charles Taylor’s writing on language, Dean notes:
If language has world-creating power, a theological vocabulary that helps us talk about God also helps us imagine what a God-shaped world looks like. The Holy Spirit reveals divine truth in the gospel not only to tell us what God has done in Jesus Christ but to help the church envision a way of life in which the life, death and resurrection of Christ become the ‘grammar’ of human existence. Teenagers who have trouble articulating what they believe about God also seem to have trouble forging a significant connection to God – and youth who do not have language for Christ are unlikely to imagine an identity in Christ. The practical theologian Thomas Long points out: ‘We don’t just say things we already believe. To the contrary, saying things out loud is part of how we come to believe.”(142)
Dean then goes on to make a case for what she calls ‘conversational Christianity,’ which includes reflections on the place for testimony as a tool for learning Christian language. (You can see the influence of Dean’s writings in my un-Anglican love of testimony!)
Dean’s writing in particular has galvanized my interest in helping parishioners find ways to gain a language of faith; in the home, it has in particular spurred on my interest in ‘sticky conversation.’
In my next blog posts, I will share resources I have found to encourage sticky conversations in the home, and my own efforts at encouraging parishioners more generally in developing their skills in conversational Christianity.
I just took our eldest to see the movie, The Case for Christ, which is out now in select theaters.
The movie tells the true story of an atheist journalist, Lee Strobel, who sets out to disprove Christianity after his wife becomes a Christian. To his mind, she has joined a cult; he despises the (perceived) religious kookiness so much that for him, his quest is really about saving his marriage. The movie essentially relates the backstory to Strobel’s world-wide bestseller: The Case for Christ.
Now I am not, generally speaking, a fan of explicitly Christian cinema, as it is usually tainted by overacting and saccharine plots. Of course, Lee’s conversion is a foregone conclusion – this is after all a Christian film! True to life, Strobel does indeed come to faith through his strange little piece of “investigative journalism,” in a most awkward scene in the final moments of the film.
Having said all that, my daughter and I both liked the movie. Yes, there was a bit of over-drama. The story itself, though was compelling. The film is essentially a series of love stories: it is the story of a husband’s and wife’s struggling love in a bad place in their marriage; of a son’s anger at his distant father; of a man’s resistance to the very notion of a loving God.
There’s nothing in the movie that will convict the viewer of the ‘truth’ of Christianity, but the movie doesn’t aim at laying out the material in The Case for Christ. The movie simply offers depictions of different ways of coming to faith, with Strobel wrestling for a reasonable faith, and his wife having more a deep conversion of the heart. I appreciate that it also tells the stories of the atheists and agnostics too – those who have landed, by faith, in a different space – and painting them as the reasonable and caring people.
The research literature talks about the importance of mentors for young people, as they begin sorting through what they believe and don’t believe, and what their religious identity will be. This movie, in a modest way, gives space for teens to question and wonder, and perhaps find for themselves someone with whom they identify in the film. The characters offer a comforting model of people – who unlike, perhaps other adults in the teen’s life – haven’t landed yet on the side of faith but are still figuring out what it all means.
The film offers a helpful assurances that questions and wondering and uncertainty are all a normal part of the journey of faith, which is critical for teens to hear at their stage of faith development. It also gently reminds the viewer that the end goal is not doubt, but trusting relationship.
For the youth pastor and the parent, this movie may be a helpful resource, opening the door to conversations about the young person’s own faith questions and intellectual wrestlings, which conversations are so critical at this stage of development.
As a pastor, preparations for church Holy Week services consume a lot of my time and head space right now. As a mum, we have our own family practices that – because they are annual – we just naturally fall into. I thought I would share some of our family practices here, in the hopes that you may gain some inspiration for your own home.
Signs and Symbols
Just like we decorate for Christmas, in our household we decorate for the other seasons in the Church Year (especially feast days and holy seasons like Advent, Lent, and Easter-tide). I like there to be a consonance between the signs and symbols in the church, and the signs and symbols in our home.
We have an alcove that I guess you could call a home “altar” where we decorate for the Church season. Here’s what we have up for Lent:
I’ve collected our “signs and symbols” over the years – mostly from dollar stores and thrift stores, although some of the treasures are ones made by me and the kids. The art is all pretty much from printable downloads from artists on Etsy.com. I store our seasonal decorations in bins, just like we do our Christmas decorations. Now that they are older, the kids help decorate, just like they do at Christmas.
I know my positive, affective associations with Christmas are shaped in part by the sights and smells and sounds I associate with that season. I hope that in a very humble and gentle way, these signs and symbols from Lent and Holy week will be one more thing that ties our children’s affections to God, in that same way that the Transcendent sometimes impinges upon our consciousness through a piece of choral music, or a stained glass window, or a fiery sunset.
Food and Fellowship
As a child and teenager, I was always fascinated by the Jewish observances around food, and especially the linking of special foods with special Festivals. Once I became Chief Cook in our household, with power and authority over the menu, I began wondering about ways to tie in special foods with special season of the Church Year, noticing all of my own positive associations with special foods at Thanksgiving and at Christmas.
Turns out, there are already many historic associations with the Church year that I simply didn’t know about!
In 10th century England, clergy used to hand out Pax cakes to their parishioners on Palm Sunday as an encouragement to extend peace to one another and to their neighbours. I have found some traditional recipes, but they are a bit complicated for me. So this is the one I use:
Pax Cakes Recipe
Beat one egg.
Add and beat until smooth:
1 cup sour milk or buttermilk
2 tablespoons salad oil (salad oil is any vegetable oil)
� cup whole wheat flour
� cup wheat germ
� cup white flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
� teaspoon soda
Grease a heated skillet or griddle. Pour batter from jug onto the hot griddle in 3 to 5 cm diameter dollops. Turn the pax cakes when bubbles show.
Heat on the second side until brown. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Cinnamon may be added if desired. Makes 30-50 pax cakes.
Variation: Use 1 cup white flour, instead of combining whole wheat flour, wheat germ, and white flour.
On Good Friday, in the morning, we eat hot cross buns. That is the first day we begin to enjoy them, and then continue eating the buns all through Eastertide. One legend has it that 12th century English monk dreamed up these delicious treats as a way of honouring Good Friday, with the cross being the obvious symbol.
We also eat fish as our main meal that day. This dates back to the the old traditions of fasting during Lent, which ranged from some kind of daily fasting, to fasting on certain days of the week, to fasting from meat on Fridays. In some traditions, the diet for Holy week fasting (ie. one meal a day) was the xerophagiæ, which was a diet of dry food, bread, salt, and vegetables. Fish was often allowed for the meal, as the fast excluded only flesh meat.
We haven’t practiced any kind of fast as a family, and this is mostly because I haven’t figured out how to meaningfully explain it to our children when they were younger, and because I myself get lightheaded and can’t work well without something for breakfast. But this year, our 12 year old understood the notion of “giving something up” for Lent for first time, as a meaningful spiritual exercise, so we might revisit it next year, and at least extend the practice to Fish Fridays in Lent.
A friend of mine taught me how to make pascha bread, and so that has become our Easter morning tradition. Unfortunately, since I leave the house at the crack of dawn, I don’t get to join the family in the meal; but I like that when our kids wake up, there are not just chocolate easter eggs waiting at the table for them, but a meal that is unique to the resurrection celebrations.
Lamb, a traditional food for Easter, doesn’t fit our budget, and anyways we are lucky in that my husband’s usually gathers this day, and so cooking is all taken care of.
Simnel cake is another lovely traditional food at Easter if you are baker (which I am not). It has marzipan balls representing the 12 disciples (minus Judas, which I guess makes only 11 marzipan balls!). If I felt equal to the task, we would eat Simnel cake on Easter Sunday or Monday.
Devotions and Worship
We do daily devotions at suppertime and during Lent have been doing the special devotional given out at our church. But during Holy Week, we enter a special time of family reflections. We have a Holy Week Egg tree devotional that we use, that I love because of the reflections and the visual reminders is offers:
The artist is from Etsy, and is called Jesse Tree Treasures. This was a birthday gift one year, as it is not cheap.
When the kids were younger, we used Resurrection Easter eggs, for Holy Week, which you can make or buy.
Or, you can simply find a special devotional online to use in the home to mark this special week. Here’s a simple one I found online this morning.
And, of course, worship with our faith community is an important part of this coming week. For us, it means Palm Sunday as a family, Good Friday, the Easter Walk on Holy Saturday, and the big party on Easter Sunday.
Usually our kids go down for the kids’ program on Good Friday; just today our eldest asked if she could stay up with the adults. She’s ready, I think.
Can’t believe how time flies!
Remember: there is no right or wrong way to mark this holy time in your home. You know your family best! Be creative. And have fun with it!