When I think of Memorial Day, I think back to the parade that I was in when I was in fifth grade. In Illinois, Memorial Day usually meant rain, but it could be sunny and 90 or cool and 50; it was one of those 90-degree years. Actually, hot weather would not have been so bad, had it not been for the pair of white slacks and the thick, red wool sweater with a big white “E” in the center I was wearing. I remember waiting for my chance to be like my brother and wear the cool sweater that he had worn years earlier. When I put it on, I remember feeling a little proud, but that changed pretty quickly.
By the end, the parade was like a scene from M*A*S*H: some kids crying, others catatonic. Some parents had removed the offending clothes and were dousing their kids with water, and most of us were just trying to drink whatever we could find. I don’t know what everyone else was like, but I know I was in quite a foul mood. Thankfully, no children that I knew of went to the hospital. And more thankfully, with help from the choir teacher (and clearly not really having a passion for the drums), the next year I got out of band and into something much more civilized, though, as you know, I can’t sing (just kidding).
On the surface, there was nothing wrong with the band outfit. They were nice old-style sweaters, and I am sure we all looked quite cute, but they just were not appropriate for what the day had in store.
Faith is sometimes like that. When we set out, we think we have everything we need, but often we find ourselves lacking in some way. It was like the day that I was confirmed. When I stood in front of the church with the other 55 kids who got confirmed that year, I felt proud, as if I was getting a new “spiritual outfit” that would carry me through anything. I soon found out that was not the case. As my life spiraled in various directions because of my health issues and being 14, I realized that I could not always just go back to the outfit that had worked in the past. I became aware that I had to make adjustments. Like the sweater that was inappropriate for that parade, my childhood faith was insufficient for the life-and-death trials that were ahead of me.
The problem that we often find within the church is that we long for our faith to be static, never changing. But all too often that does not work, since neither we, nor the world around us are without change. We live in a changing culture and changing times. If that spiritual outfit does not grow or adjust, we often find ourselves in a very dark place.
If we follow the teachings of Paul, from Galatians to Romans, we see that in his ministry, Paul is growing. As we watch his encounters, especially his imprisonments, we see a markedly different Paul in Galatians from that in Romans. When studying Paul, you begin to recognize that he is not very static in his faith, but is quite dynamic in how he adjusts to the times and trials of his life.
In our country, we all too often accept a faith that is given to us, without thinking and without developing. Unfortunately, when that happens, we often find ourselves lost in a strange wilderness. We wonder why God is not there for us, and we have a hard time reconciling our faith with our experiences. However, when we allow ourselves to step back, ask questions and explore, letting our faith be dynamic, we often find that our faith is strengthened. What worked once may not work again.
Looking back, I cannot help but chuckle as I think of the whole parade situation—what a mess, but we all survived. The band teacher was not bad, nor was he a bad guy; he utilized what was used before him instead of questioning or thinking in a different way. If he had only been able to adjust and take in more information, he might just have avoided that mess. But he went back to what had worked. Oh, and by the way, the next year, the kids were marching in T-shirts and shorts.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen