Looking for Faith and Fellowship at Chautauqua 2017
I spent July 8-15, 2017 at the Chautauqua Institution listening to first-class lectures and discussions examining “Is there a Crisis in Faith?” Chautauqua is a beautiful 740 acres on a lake in western New York, isolated from social reality, opened for nine weeks a year with a different theme each week. It was founded in 1874 to train Methodist Sunday school teachers and has been non-denominational since 1890. It was nationally known before World War II and has hosted several presidential speeches. President Theodore Roosevelt supposedly said that Chautauqua “is the most American thing in America.” One speaker this week said “it is a little slice of heaven” to which someone replied “Heaven will certainly be more diverse.” Alas, the more than 5,000 participants were Christian or Jewish, highly educated, mostly over 50, and . . . white. The speakers were much more diverse. Take a look here: Chq.org or www.ciweb.org
Below are 10 of my memories/lessons from various speakers followed by my short answer to “Is there a Crisis in Faith?”
1. Adherents to organized religions have declined, especially among Millennials. The decline has been greater among “less than higher educated.”
2. Andrew Sullivan, who came out as gay early in his journalistic career, is a practicing Roman Catholic mostly because “he was born that way” (yep, he said it that way a la Lady Gaga).
3. Black Lives Matter does not look to Martin Luther King and the Black church for guidance.
4. Non-followers of a Faith tradition are less likely to have children—a emerging problem in Europe and Easter Asia and soon to be in the U.S.
5. The term “culture climate change” is a good one—the present political climate has heated rhetoric and more spikes in extreme points of view. Combined with mass consumption and instant communication provided by the internet, outraged public opinion has a short fuse.
6. The more than 80 percent of Evangelicals who are Trump voters, and Rush Limbaugh listeners, seem to seek “protectors” of their “perceived way of life” even while neither lives like one.
7. My favorite statement of the week:
“You can’t teach what you do not know,
You can’t lead where you will not go.”
Spoken by the pastor for the week (she gave a sermon each morning) Rev. Teresa L. Fry Brown, an AME minister and professor of preaching, at the School of Theology, Emory University was born in Sedalia, Missouri and grew up in Independence. She can preach!
8. My favorite book for the week: Arlie Russell Hochschild’s STRANGER IN THEIR OWN LAND: Anger and Mouring on the American Right and the quote “The (Gulf of Mexico) spill makes us sad, the (Obama’s) moratorium makes us mad.”
9. Several speakers referred to the need to grow the social sector that is not the market nor the government.” One speaker called that “social capital” and mentioned fellow political scientist Robert Putnam’s book BOWLING ALONE. Churches and religious organizations once filled this role—what will happen if Faith institutions decline?
10. Bill Moyers reports that the most searched for passage in the Bible is Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (which Moyers takes as a sign of concern about the future, but other interpretations seem to focus on the “God’s personal plans for each of us.”
11. (Mizzou alum Sheryl Crow has quite a following, even among the 70 + crowd.).
Is there a Crisis in Faith?
My answer–for today:
There is a crisis of faith in religious institutions (as there is in governmental, political, and social institutions). Most Americans (people) seem to desire more community or fellowship—a desire to belong to something bigger than themselves. Perhaps that’s why they identify with professional and college sports team. Once we were a people “yearning to be free,” now we are yearning to belong. At Chautauqua, I heard a traditional Jewish Prayer for Peace that included: “Strength the bonds of friendship and fellowship among all the inhabitants of our land.” Perhaps people of Faith have always been looking to belong.