One of the things I have always appreciated this congregation is our ability to evolve, experiment, and take chances. Since our beginning as somewhat of a new church experiment in the late 50’s, we’ve been a congregation trying new music, exploring new ideas in the realm of justice seeking, adapting our programs and approaches to raising youth in the faith, and exploring new ideas of about what Christianity looks like.
This past Sunday, in Java and Jesus, Chris Tarrant offered a “bugs eye” view of faith. She likened our growth in faith to the exoskeletons of insects. However, since exoskeletons are rigid, they present some limits to growth. Organisms with open shells can grow by adding new material to the aperture of their shell, as is the case in snails. A true exoskeleton, like that found in arthropods, must be shed when it is outgrown. A new exoskeleton is produced beneath the old one. As the old one is shed, the new skeleton is soft and pliable. The animal will pump itself up to expand the new shell to maximal size, then let it harden. When the shell has set, the empty space inside the new skeleton can be filled up as the animal eats. Failure to shed the exoskeleton once outgrown can result in the animal being suffocated within its own shell, and will stop them reaching maturity.
This truth is so applicable to our life of faith. Why would we not expect to outgrow the faith of our youth? Why would we not need to try on new ideas, new attitudes, new spiritual practices over time? Some of the spiritual exoskeletons of our past bound us tightly, even abusing us. The adult life of faith, however, is the constant choosing of a spiritual exoskeleton appropriate for our situation and journey. What a gift to be part of a community that cherishes, nurtures and supports such exploration.
Truth be told, however, the metaphor also reminds us how important it is to offer age appropriate spiritual exoskeletons to our youth. I’m delighted that once again a whole team of adults has agreed to journey alongside and with children and youth of all ages in this congregation. I’m delighted that as a congregation, we can offer our young people some framework — ideas and practices — that we trust will set them on their way. At the same time, I’m reminded that the single greatest predictor of faith development in young adults is seeing a vibrant and life giving faith in adults around them.
So our journey is complex, as with every new exoskeleton. We must learn new ways of living in our faith. We must offer a framework and program to encourage our kids. We must honor the challenges and concerns of all ages as each one of us bumps up against the limits of our faith right now. We must provide a container for continual exploration and experimentation. It is a tall order, but it is what communities of faith are uniquely set up to do. As we begin another year of programming together, may we cherish the complex, ever changing journey we share.
On another note
Throughout the fall, we’ll have a sermon series titled Framing the Puzzle Called Faith: Stories to Guide Us. As I come down to the final months of my time as your senior pastor, I will be drawing on stories from my experiences here at Orchard Ridge over the last 20 years. I hope to use these stories as a way of putting some of the frame around the often confusing journey of faith (i.e. the puzzle). Some of the stories will be familiar to many of you, some will be new to all of you. By the time I finish the series, just before Advent, the puzzle of faith won’t be complete. It never is. But I hope it will help me, and you, make sense of the faith I’ve tried to live and share as your pastor. I am looking forward to it. I hope you will enjoy it too. And maybe even see yourself in the stories.