The scene…I’m sitting in a Starbucks in Manhattan, NY. Like many Starbucks in Manhattan, it’s pretty crowded. I’m at the one outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the seat of Timothy Cardinal Dolan; the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York. There is an American woman sitting next to me. She tells me she is on her way to AA and really needed a cigarette. For the first time, I felt bad for not smoking. At some point, a young Russian woman walks in and speaks to her. Here is the dialogue as best as I can remember, typing on an iPhone 4GS:
Russian Woman (RW): Oh…(speaks Russian)
American Woman (AW): Huh?
RW: Oh, sorry, I thought you spoke Russian; I mean, your cross.
AW: Oh this! I got this from a Russian Catholic priest when I was doing desert work.
RW: It’s says (speaks Russian)
AW: Yes, it’s says “soul saved.”
RW: I have a ring that says the same thing!
AW: Are you Christian or Catholic?
RW: Oh no. I’m not religious.
AW: You’re not Christian or Catholic? [with a puzzled look]
RW: No, I’m Orthodox. But I’m not really religious.
AW: So you don’t believe anymore.
RW: No, I do, but I’m not really religious.
AW: Oh, okay. That’s pretty cool you speak Russian.
RW: Yeah, I guess. Thanks.
AW: Okay, I’m leaving so you can have my seat.
RW: Okay, thank you.
I find it quite common for people, especially those in their 20s and 30s to end their religious affiliations with “…but I’m not super religious.” Although my level of sympathy is quite small I do comprehend the logic. The understanding is that those in this age range do not want to be labeled as “super religious” and either look like:
or this woman
The guy is Fred Phelps, the Pastor of Westboro Baptist Church. WBC is known for its protesting of military service members funerals, any activities geared to the LGBT community, and for placing many Baptist clergy in the awkward position of explaining how they are not the “same Baptist.” Recently two of his granddaughters left the church. In short, Phelps and the entire clan are religious zealots and the negative face of religious people. To 20s to 30s crowd, he represents all that is wrong with religion.
The woman is Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Perhaps the most saintly woman to ever graced God’s green earth in the 20th century. She is revered by Christians, non-Christians, non-believers for her work with the poor, the marginalized, and the afflicted. She was a very devout nun. In short, to many 20s to 30s, she was boring.
With these two as the perceived options of what a Christian looks like, the phrase “not super religious” is understandable. However, my sympathy is not present. It is not present when I reflect on the martyrs of the church who died for the faith in the 1st and 2nd centuries. My level of sympathy is non-existent when I think of the Afghan Christian who would sneak into the back of my chapel for spiritual and pastoral counseling, all the while fearing that he may die if he was thought to be a Christian by his neighbors who were Muslim zealots. Also, I think about the martyrs worldwide in 2013 who are still being persecuted in Nigeria, the Middle East and other parts of the world for proclaiming their faith in Jesus Christ.
Being in the United States, if all you get is Bill Maher (and many of the so called intellectuals) making fun of you with sophomoric comments and flawed conclusions you got it easy. Somewhere in the world, there is a young man or woman, who if asked it they are a Christian, are legit making a life or death choice. With that said, they will not deny the name of Christ. They will suffer the consequences of death. There is something we really need to learn.
Peace and blessings,