Thursday, February 14, 2013

None of Those Ashes for Me

By Gary Berg-Cross

Valentine’s day, a day of visible love, was preceded by Ash Wednesday this year - a day of humbling, visible religious affiliation used to reminder believers of people’s “dependence on God.”
But there were a few things about this 40 day AW event trending differently from past ones. For one thing on the 2013 Ash Wednesday, some priests went  mobile with SUvs into neighborhoods to offer service in a fast-based culture. It’s part of the part of a national "Ashes to Go" movement that began with an Episcopal church in St. Louis in 2007. You can get ashes outside of a church now and train stations are popular. In Baltimore:

Leta Dunham got her breakfast order to go at a Roland Avenue Starbucks Wednesday morning: a grande triple skim latte in her cup and, on her forehead, an ashen reminder that we are all destined to become dust.

Dunham was among Ash Wednesday observers who took advantage of Ashes to Go, a service offered by area Episcopal and Methodist churches at more than a dozen spots around the city and nearby counties, The practice seeks to bring the Lenten season ritual to the people, rather than waiting for them to come to church.

Transit &  Metro stops around cities' morning rush hour now offer ashes (and a prayer can be thrown in).  It’s like blue law abandonment as reluctant acknowledgment that busy Americans have less time to frequent houses of worship. So there is worship outreach coming to where the people are.

 But as the Washington Post noted a counter trend too and it is more than time to go to a church but also a reluctance to be so showy about their religion. An article called On Ash Wednesday, some faithful appear reluctant to wear belief on their foreheads notes that more people seem to be uncomfortable with showing faith in what one person called “a pompous way.” As David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group and author of several books on young Christians, noted:

The trend also stems from a fear of oppression by a secular culture and partly from a personal challenge, said. In a society questioning the very truth of God, what do you really believe? In the past, evangelism didn’t have that high a standard; you were sort of signing people up for something they already were predisposed to accept, .. Today it’s about people asking: How does that translate into real transformation? When I wear something, what is this saying about me?”

It’s another small part of the growing, unaffiliated Nones phenomena that the Post seems to be picking up on and has been blogged on here. Indeed one might think of it as part of broad demographic & cultural change phenomena that political parties as well a media groups are positioning themselves for.  As one deeply religious person interviewed said it, she doesn’t talk a lot about her faith at work because “some people don’t want to hear it.”

Strategically this may be part of a quiet period that is an opportunity to get a reasonable message across.  What may be needed is less reactive confrontation (such as flashing a big red A on Ash Wednesday) from  some of us.  And we need to listen to see what topics are interested to the None community. Some thoughts along this line are found in a discussion of 'None' leaders chart a path for more political, cultural power for the religiously unaffiliated. It's something that Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association has picked up on as a thoughtful, strategic stance. 







Anonymous said...

Good comment. But it's time again to remind that labels don not necessarily tell you what's in the bottle. Or: you can't judge a book by its cover. "Nones" tells you only that the person is unaffiliated.

"Atheist" tells only what a person does not believe and may have no other content. Milton Friedman was an atheist who strongly favored taxing everyone to support church-run private schools. A prominent atheist writer of my acquaintance actually supports the Vatican/fundi position on abortion. I could name "humanists" who could use lessons in ethics and whom I would not tgrust to hold my wallet.

On the other hand, a person may bear a religious label and be very humanistic. JFK was a Catholic who strongly supported church-state separation, as did Justice William Brennan, a main architect of Roe v Wade. Catholics in Congress have been good supporters of separation. Etc, etc, etc. People retain religious labels for a host of reasons. We need to judge people by their deeds, not what we imagine are their creeds.

Edd.Doerr said...

Oops! Not anonymous. Should read Edd Doerr