Accustomed to the high school forensics model of tournaments running Friday evening to Saturday afternoon, I was shocked to discover that in the world of college debate, tournaments require your Sundays as well.
It'd been only a few months since I became a practicing Christian, and here I was faced with the prospect of laying aside church attendance for the better part of my university career.
Speaking with the coach was little help. "There's a good chance you could slip away for a 45-minute stretch to attend a service. There are plenty of churches in all the places we'll be competing."
I replied that since I was an Orthodox Christian, I needed to attend an Orthodox church.
"Why so picky?Do you think your religion is better than everybody else's?”
That's not the point. If it didn't matter to me what kind of church I attended, then I wouldn't have joined the one I did. I chose the historic church, and I was committed to following the path to salvation laid out in its sacred tradition.
"Well, you need to decide what's more important to you — going to your church, or honing the skills of logic, reasoning and argumentation that will give you a competitive edge in the real world."
Ten years later, I don't regret forfeiting that "competitive edge," but it was something I agonized over at the time. As a parent, I'm preparing to confront this same, tough decision on behalf of my children.
People may not actually have attended church more, but there was once a time when organizations wouldn't actively compete with it for our Sunday morning allegiance.
Such disregard is now a matter of course.
Sporting events, music lessons, academic field trips, birthday parties — kids today have a ton of commitments expected of them on a day once set aside for God. What's a faithful parent to do?
These activities are more fun than church, and let's not forget how much more important they are to building our little ones' portfolios.
The quality of our parenting these days is measured by how many activities we have our kids enrolled in. This model implies that we'd be abusing them, crippling them for life, by making them skip taekwondo for some church service.
So we say, "Just this once," which becomes, "Just this twice." Rather than activities being the rare exception to our churchly rule, church becomes the rare event — now possible "if there's time."
Since school and the gym are closed for Christmas anyway, why not go then? That is, if we get the shopping and baking done.
What do we create by dispensing with our children's spiritual formation to build their competitive advantage? Will they be worldly wise and successful, with a thin veneer of religion barely concealing a heart that doesn't have time to contemplate things eternal?
There's a subtle form of indoctrination taking place here. As we drive our kids to soccer practice on Sunday morning, might we also be taking them to spiritual "re-education" camp?
I don't expect the world around me to accommodate my beliefs.If it ceases paying lip service to Sunday morning, I can't blame it for being consistent.
I'd like to see similar consistency from those who profess that any suffering for Christ's sake will be rewarded. Opting out of activities considered "vital" for our financial success and social status are small prices compared to martyrdom in blood.
I got some disgusted looks when I walked away from the debate team, but if I hadn't done that, I might not be where I am now.
I might be gainfully employed. Heck, I might be in Congress. And no one's child should suffer that fate.
- About the writer: Fr. Barnabas Powell is pastor at St. Michael's Orthodox Church. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.