This Memorial Day weekend was something of a big milestone for me. This was really the first time that I was able to take my son Levi fishing. We went up to Kanopolis lake and stayed at a family cabin for a night and went out a couple of times. Now, this isn’t the first time that he’s seen a fish or been with me while I’ve been fishing, but it’s the first time that he’s really been aware that we are going fishing and wanted to participate in what we were doing. In fact, I even got him a little Mickey Mouse fishing pole for the occasion. All in all it was a fun time. By the end of the trip we even caught a couple of fish. Of course I use the word “we” in a fairly loose way here. Levi helped to the extent that a 2-year-old can be helpful. But nevertheless we wound up with two fish, one for each of us.
In some ways this fishing trip was a rather typical and uneventful trip, at least when it comes to the fishing itself. The reason that this trip was particularly meaningful for me is because in some ways fishing is more than just about fishing for me. I learned to fish from my grandfather. He grew up on the Little Arkansas River and fishing was always a big part of his life. He was the kind of guy who bled river water. Fishing was one of the ways that we connected with each other and it is one of the things that he passed on to me. Fishing, for me, is some-thing that I enjoy personally but it is also something that reminds me of my grandfather and connects me to my family history. Taking my son fishing for the first time, then, was about more than just catching a couple of fish. It was about beginning the process of passing on something that I care about to him.
As we drove home from the lake I started to think a little bit about the process of passing things on to the next generation. Particularly when it comes to passing on our faith I think that there are some similarities between fishing and faith.
The first of which is that you can really only pass something on if you actually care about it. Levi learning to fish starts with me actually enjoying fishing. At least at this point Levi’s interest and excitement for fishing is directly related to my interest and excitement for fishing. In the same way, our ability to pass on our faith or religious practice begins with it being important to us as parents or adults. In order to pass on something it takes the older generation (parents or otherwise) modeling that particular practice. And if they don’t, it usually doesn’t stick. For example, over the years every now and then I have met families who will attend church as long as their kids are in high school because the parents “want their kids to be raised in church,” but as soon as they
graduate the parents disappear. Unsurprisingly, the kids generally follow suit and become disconnected from church mainly because church and faith just wasn’t something that the parents actually cared about in the first place; they were just going through the motions. Faith formation starts with adults.
The next thing that fishing and faith formation have in common is that it takes work. When it comes to fishing there are a whole set of skills to be learned: how to bait a hook, where to look for the fish, understanding what bait to use, paying attention to the weather and time of day and so on. More importantly however, passing on fishing takes time. It takes making fishing a priority in your schedule. You can only learn how to do it by going out and doing it, and that means making time to actually go do it. The same is true for faith formation. There are skills to learn: prayer, service, Bible reading, singing and so on. But more importantly, passing on the faith means make time and space to engage in the practice of faith.
Finally, one of the things that I see as a similarity be-tween fishing and faith formation is that there is no guaranteed outcome. Some of the other people in my family have taken up fishing, but not everyone. I know that Grandpa tried to pass it on to everyone, but not everyone took it up in the same way. As I begin the pro-cess of passing on fishing to my son, I hope that he’ll pick it up for himself, but I don’t have a guarantee of that. The same is true of passing on the faith. We may do the work of teaching faith practices and making it a priority, and yet there is no guarantee that the next generation will take up the faith in the same way that we do. At some point every person must decide for themselves to take up the faith, and when they make that decision it may be in a way that is different from our own faith.
After this fishing trip I’ve been left with the question of what parts of my faith do I want to pass on to my own children and to the children of the church. And what’s more, I’ve been thinking about how to make those things priorities, not just in word, but also in action. As a church, we all have a part in raising the next generation, which means being intentional about faith formation. Is not only for leaders or parents it is for all of us. Which means that we all must think about what parts of our faith are really worth passing on, and what we must do in order to make it happen.
Each month for our newsletter Pastor Alan writes a short article on a variety of topics. At times he will also create a video version of the article.