by mia hinkle
LOVE GOD. LOVE OTHERS.
“Point your kids in the right direction, and when they’re old they won’t be lost.” —- Proverbs 22:6 (The Message)
I read somewhere that we are all individually responsible to God. Not one of us can claim the faith of our father or mother as our own. There is no such thing as a “spiritual grandchild” of God. We each must come to Him on our own. If we don’t have our own faith, we have no faith. Even though it is the same faith as others (because it is faith in Jesus), it is not our faith, until we own it in our hearts and minds. That was true for our parents; it’s true for our children, and it is true for each of us. That makes a lot of sense to me.
My parents were raised in the Lutheran faith, and so they raised us Lutheran. We were baptized as babies and confirmed in 8th grade after two years of weekly Catechism class. This involved standing up in front of the whole church in long white robes and answering random Bible questions and quoting memorized scripture verses. I remember being SO nervous.
Karl was raised Catholic and attended St. Andrews Catholic School thru 8th grade. He was baptized as a baby and had First Communion in 2nd grade. He found his own faith in the Baptist church in his 20s. I found my own faith thru the Catholic Charismatic Jesus Movement in the early 70s.
Then as newlyweds in the 80s, we landed in the Assemblies of God tradition under Tommy Paino at the then brand-new Northview Christian Life in Carmel, Indiana. Northview is where our sons were dedicated to God as babies, attended Sunday School and Royal Rangers, and where Karl was on staff for several years. In the year 2000, we helped with a Northview church plant, Radiant Christian Life Church in Westfield. Radiant is where our sons attended youth group and served on mission trips, and that is where our sons were baptized into the Christian faith.
In hindsight, we probably should have raised our boys in a Black church, but at the time our friends, John and Kathy Cernero, needed help getting a new church in Westfield, Indiana, up and running, so we served there. And then all at once and lickety-split, a decade passed and our sons were all grown up and out on their own. And we are still at Radiant 22 years later. But I often wonder if our kids would have a greater connection to their own faith had they grown up where they could see people who looked like them every Sunday morning. But I digress. Water under the bridge.
My mother’s grandfather on her mother’s side was a traveling pastor, educator, and cantor. In those days, it was common for rural areas and small towns to share preachers with surrounding communities. Johannes Leraas was born in Norway and was widely known as an engaging storyteller and orator. Johannes laid the foundation of our family’s faith. My mother made sure we were all in church every Sunday morning. I remember we were always the last ones to leave the building, as she had many good friends at church and there always seemed to be a lot to catch up on, even as we kids rolled our eyes and tugged on her coat sleeves, always ready to go home before she was.
Young adults have a habit of drifting away from attending church after high school or quite simply put after their folks stop forcing them to go. This is true in the Lutheran church, the Catholic church, the Assemblies of God church, and many other denominations I presume. This is a decade of spiritual wandering, to be followed in most cases, by a return to church when they start families. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6.)
Remembering that we are all immigrants in this country, most of our ancestors came to America for economic opportunities but many came for religious freedoms they could not access in their own homelands. So here is a little history lesson.
Religion is mentioned only once in the United States Constitution (written in 1787), which prohibits the use of religious tests as a qualification for public office. This broke with European tradition by allowing people of any faith (or no faith) to serve in public office in the United States. However, Maryland required “a declaration of belief in God,” for all state officeholders until 1961.
The First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution was adopted on December 15, 1791. It established a separation of church and state that prohibited the federal government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion” and gave constitutional protection for certain individual liberties including freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the press, and the rights to assemble and petition the government. It took another 77 years before the Fourteenth Amendment, adopted in 1868, made it clear that states could not enact laws that would advance or inhibit any one religion.
These Amendments keep state and federal governments from interfering with a person’s religious beliefs or practices. Now more than 200 years have passed, and we still see lawsuit after lawsuit measured against the First Amendment. It seems human nature is a relentless tide to legislate.
I think faith is such a personal thing that it is pretty easy for mankind to fall prey to the toxic idea that OUR faith is the ONLY ONE TRUE faith and that all other belief systems fall short somehow. It’s the old mindset of “us against them” or “your enemies are those who disagree with you”, or “they are coming for you next so be fearful.”
It’s a ploy as old as time. Tyranny thrives in chaos. The talking heads who want to control us need to keep us in fear and chaos. Keeping us fearful is the best way to keep us off balance. Always keep this in mind when you find yourself worked up and in a frenzy over the small stuff and little details. Stay calm and trust God.
America wasn’t always a stronghold of religious freedom. Look at this! What a struggle!
- The Spanish Catholics slaughtered the Huguenots in Florida half a century before the arrival of the Mayflower. The Spanish commander wrote the king that he had hanged the settlers for “scattering the odious Lutheran doctrine in these Provinces.”
- The Puritans arrived in Massachusetts on the Mayflower in the early 1600s after suffering religious persecution in England but still could not tolerate any opposing religious views. Catholics, Quakers, and other non-Puritans were banned from the colony.
- In 1635 Rhode Island became the first colony with no established church and the first to grant religious freedom to everyone, including Quakers and Jews. In the rest of the colonies, not so much.
- In 1838 Mormons were ordered by the Missouri governor to be exterminated or expelled from the state.
- In the 19th and 20th centuries, the US and Canadian federal governments created Assimilation Boarding Schools, where Native American children were taken from their loving families and prohibited from wearing ceremonial clothes or practicing native religions, or speaking in their native languages. Some were even killed and buried en masse in unmarked graves.
- Over the years, Mormons, Jews, Seventh-Day Adventists, Catholics, Fundamentalists, Muslims, and many others fought in the Supreme Court for equal protection under the law.
- When John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960 there were many in our political system who agreed a Catholic should never win the presidency because he would undoubtedly take his orders from the Pope. Seems silly now, but there was still an anti-Catholic bias across the country. And haters always gonna hate.
Freedom to choose which religion to follow (if any) has become a political hot button in recent years. The hot button works because faith is so fiercely personal. Faith becomes toxic when a leader proclaims “it’s my way or the highway” inferring all other belief systems are untrue and in fact are dangerous. One author I read stated, “My way or the highway” is a trite expression that sums up a dictatorial leadership style that is arrogance itself. This narrow-minded style of leadership approach has brought many nations and businesses to a painful end.” This is what we see in so many failed states around the globe. Autocrats and dictators drag their people into war after war defending the theory of “I am right and everyone else is wrong” and “it’s my way or the highway.” The United States of America is the greatest country on the planet because our constitution allows for racial diversity and different faiths, and that leads to tolerance in day-to-day life not found in many societies. We have a long way to go in reaching this lofty goal, but that’s another story for another time.
OK, the history lesson is over. Back to me.
I feel like growing up, everyone went to some church; it set the expectation that we are to be nice, serve others, and fear God. I think that may have been the crux of the faith of my parents. When I found my own faith, it became clear that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ had so much more to offer. But I have a sneaking suspicion that we will all be pretty surprised to see who we will be living next door to in eternity; it may not be the narrow slice of humanity we are assuming make it.
Having said that, I must admit that early in my life I too fell prey to the idea that my personal faith was more spiritual and “better” than the faith of my parents. But as the years have passed (I am 67 as I write this), I have come to realize that the tenants of faith my ancestors followed are not so much different than my own.
The life of the Christian faith can be summed up in just a couple of basics: (1) Love God. (2) Love others.
With these two notions as your guiding star, you can’t go wrong. Your desire to love God will make you want to learn all you can about Him, about Scripture, about His son Jesus Christ. Loving God will lead you to find a church where you can learn about the things of God, grow in your faith, and make good friends. Your love for God will make you want to love what He loves and do what he does. Your desire to love others will spur you on to take care of those around you. It’s a pretty great way to live your life and raise your family.
There. Just that simple. Love God. Love others. There are a lot of controversial issues ready to derail your faith walk (crazy train politicians, crabby churchgoers, greedy leaders, to name just a few) but if you always return to those two concepts (love God and love others) your faith will grow deeper and you will be in step with the faith of those who came before you.
It occurs to me as I write this that they, just like me and just like you, possess a deep desire to point their kids in the right direction so they won’t be lost later in life.