30 May Why So Many Dones And Nones?

As I came out of the bookstore, I had one thought in mind, “I wish I was dead!” The thought of death was the most soothing thought I had had since I’d started college. 

The year was 1971 and after two semesters of college, it was obvious that getting a degree in civil engineering, something that had brought me to the US, was not going to be that easy.

In two semesters, I’d gotten nothing but lousy grades, which had made me quite ashamed of being the failure that I’d become. But even more painful was letting down my parents, who had made a great sacrifice to get their oldest to America. So, not being able to live up to a standard that my Iranian culture had set before me, my next step was committing suicide. But that day, as I came out of the school’s bookstore something happened that gave me a glimmer of hope.

 As I stepped out the door, with the weight of the whole world on my shoulders and my head bowed down, the guy coming towards me was dancing and scat singing. As he got next to me, he looked me in imageedit_2_2122402828the eyes and asked, “How are you?”

Never being one who hides his emotions, but at the same time not expecting anything, I said,  “I’m not doing well.”

 What happened next, as simple as it might sound to some of my readers, was something that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.

 The man stopped dead in his track and asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?” A stranger, a man I didn’t know stopped and offered to help me.  I needed that so much. I deeply wanted to know that someone cared about this worthless failure of a man.

 I don’t remember what happened next. I might have said, “No, thanks! And went on my way” But I still remember that act of kindness, and try to implement it in my Christian walk whenever I can.

 ———————————————

I’m invited to fill in for my friend who is an adjunct professor at a Bible college. As it is my habit, I show up early. Because it was lunchtime, I sit on the retaining wall next to the entrance to the refectory (Whatever happened to the dining hall?). I want to see how the students react towards a stranger who is much older than they are and seems not to belong to their school.

 As these Bible college students, our future Christian leaders, begin to pass by me, I stare at them in hope that, out of respect for an elder, they would greet me, and at least by smiling at me, acknowledge me as a man who is made in the image of the God that they would be studying right after lunch.

 Out of about 100 students who pass me by, only a few of them acknowledge my being and give me a hurried glance. That breaks my heart. Don’t they realize that I might desperately be in need of a smile, a “how are you?” an affirmation that I am still a human being made in the image of God?

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A day doesn’t go by that I don’t come across of an article about the “Dones” (The believers who’ve left the church) and the “Nones” (The nominal Christians who’ve left the church), lamenting the fact that church attendance is drastically dropping in the US. 

 Many of these articles sound like Chicken Little running around and screaming, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling. People are leaving the church. What can we do to bring them back? Maybe if the church offers better programs, then people will stay and the ’Dones’ will come back and the “Nones’ will be attracted to the church again.” But very few talk about why these people have left and why the Millennials are not going to church.

 The issue isn’t having better programs. The issue isn’t having strobe lights and fog machines or having the music so loud that you need to hand out earplugs to the parishioners as they enter the sanctuary on Sunday mornings.  I personally have no problems with any of that. But that will not solve some of the much deeper issues the church needs to face and resolve.

 To think that better programs will solve the crisis the church is facing is like the old joke about a man who had 3 ugly daughters (Upon reading the word “ugly”, I wonder how many of my young readers needed to retreat to their safe spaces while clinging to their teddy bears?). One day as he’s walking on the beach, the man comes across a bottle and when he opens it a genie pops out.

“For freeing me from this prison, I’ll grant you a wish. What is it that you want?” said the genie.

 Showing genie a map, the man said, “ I love Hawaii, but it’s quite expensive to travel there several times a year. I want a bridge over the ocean that will directly connect LA to Hawaii.”

 The genie looked at the map and said, “I’m just a genie, not God. What you’re asking is out of my hands. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

 “Yes! I wish for my daughters to be married. Can you find them, husbands?” pleaded the man.

“Do you have a picture of them?”

 So, the man excitedly pulled a photo out of his wallet and showed it to the genie upon looking at it, the genie said, “Let me see the map again!”

 There’s a broken bridge between the church and the people. Until we rebuild that bridge; until we learn to smile at the old man sitting on the retaining wall rather than being too busy parsing Hebrew and Greek words for our next Sunday sermon, until we learn our neighbor’s name who’s lived next to us for several years, until we acknowledge the fact that we’re all made in the image of God and should be treated as such, and until the church learns to love for no reason, but to obey Christ’s commandment, the church will continue to be as unattractive as the above three daughters.

 

Comments

comments

16 Comments
  • Olu
    Posted at 13:34h, 10 June Reply

    Oh Shah, how true. I certainly I hear your heart here.

    I guess though that the word ‘church’ immediately paints a picture in the average person’s mind. Perhaps that picture of ‘church’ may need to be adjusted somewhat in the mind of the modern church establishment.

    I cannot say that my picture of the modern day ‘church’ is a clear one anymore beyond the fact that God also has a picture of ‘church’. It’d be great if Christendom uses that picture as the ‘blueprint’ for doing ‘church’. Maybe that would usher in the era where “Dones” and “Nones” are on the decline.

    For those of us who desire to be identified with Christ, learning to live the way Christ commanded, ought to be strived for. Whether people will be attracted to such may not always be guaranteed.

    If that picture I referred to earlier has the semblance of a rock concert, attracting people will have ingredients like pop music, fancy strobe lighting, fog machines and the like. Unfortunately, that does seems to have more of an air of predictability about it; our modern world does seem to love facades and are attracted to such.

    One thing that no one can deny is the effect that the young dancing, scat singing man had on you that day. If we, out of the love and knowledge of Christ replicated acts of loving kindness, maybe, just maybe, the world would see and believe. Certainly, if the ‘church’ is full of knowledge but very deficient in loving kindness, well, perhaps it is no better than a bible college and you don’t necessarily need Christ to set up one of those.

    Just some thoughts.

    Olu.

    • shahzam2011
      Posted at 08:25h, 21 June Reply

      Olu, thank you for your comments. I'm sorry for my late reply. Fog machines, strobe lights, and loud music is easy. It is LOVING your neighbor that hard. Going to a church service to sing 4 songs, listen to a couple of announcements, singing another two songs while the offering is being collected, and then listening to a sermon for 30-45 minutes on loving your neighbor (Something that you've heard over and over again throughout your Christian life) is easy, but greeting a stranger on the street is hard. So, as it is with our human nature, we always choose the least resistant path and just DO church with our fog machines, strobe lights, and loud music.

  • Gary
    Posted at 09:42h, 10 June Reply

    WOW, nailed it, my brother. Or, better said, nailed me. 🙂 Thank you for challenging me once again to think “outside of the box.”

    Well stated and communicated. How many will take the time to respond to you personally, but more importantly, be willing to change and speak to the old man/young man, rather than pass by? Reminds me of a story from the Bible. How ironic!

    Bless you, my dear brother, and your bride,
    Gary

    • shahzam2011
      Posted at 08:17h, 21 June Reply

      Thanks, Gary! The other day, as I was mowing the lawn, a man I didn't know pulled up in front of my house, rolled the window down, and said, "You've been waving at me for the last 2 years and I thought it's about time I introduce myself to you." Gayo and I have become good friends and he's introduced me to his whole family. By the way, he;s reading my book and loving it. All we need to do is acknowledge people as those who are made in the image of our Lord.

  • David Cuff
    Posted at 13:17h, 02 June Reply

    Shah,
    Thank you for sharing your story and challenging us to connect with those around us

    • shahzam2011
      Posted at 08:14h, 21 June Reply

      Thanks, Dave! Sorry for my late reply. Been working hard on the TV show with the hope that we can release them by the end of July. I really hope believers do get challenged by my stories and begin to acknowledge all humanity as the ones who're made in the image of our God.

  • Hefziba
    Posted at 11:52h, 01 June Reply

    Wow, excellent writing. So what happened to engineering!? Did you finish or changed major!?
    Blessings, Hefziba

    • shahzam2011
      Posted at 08:10h, 21 June Reply

      Hefziba jaan. As we say in Farsi, خیلی عزیزی! Yes, I crammed 4 years of college into 8 years, but I finally got my degree in Civil Engineering and worked as one for t3n years before bcomeing a fulltime pastor.

  • Terry Garber
    Posted at 17:21h, 31 May Reply

    Dear Shah,

    You have a gift for hitting the nail on the head. Church membership is dwindling because Christ doesn't have first place in our hearts. I'm excited to go to church every Sunday, for the message, for the fellowship, and to commune with others. I have never been in a church that shows so much love to everyone before, and it's refreshing. We have several mentally- and emotionally-challenged individuals, but they are just as loved and welcomed as all of the "normal" folks. What a breath of fresh air! I don't think I've ever heard anyone say a negative word about anyone else in the 5 years I've been going there.

    I make it a point to smile, and often to speak to, people who are in my path. It's amazing how many people smile back. Sometimes people approach me in stores, though I'm clearly not an employee, and ask me where to find things. I think it's because I generally smile most of the time.

    We are salt and light as believers. We don't need to BECOME salt and light; Jesus said we ARE. Now we just need to believe it, work on our internal relationship with Christ, and let the Holy Spirit lead and guide us to do the Father's will. Thank you for sharing, for your honesty, and for your outrageous love for God and others.

    Blessings,

    Terry

    • shahzam2011
      Posted at 18:04h, 31 May Reply

      Terry, I\’m glad that you have such a great church. However, I’m willing to bet that much of it has to do with the type of a person that you are. One who’s not hiding the light that burns within you, and is willing to let it shine right through you. I don\’t understand what\’s a big deal about smiling at people or just waving at the person who drives by your house, even if you don\’t know him/her.

  • Stacy Echeverria
    Posted at 15:56h, 31 May Reply

    Hi Shah,

    Hope all is well with you. I wanted to respond to your newsletter. You nailed it! Christianity is about relationship with God and others but most people don’t know how to relate to anything other than their electronic devices. It can be a lonely world especially for those that are emotionally and mentally wounded. I can understand why people in the world don’t connect but when it’s in the church, that’s a bitter pill to swallow. Time and time again Robert and I attribute this behavior to people being in so much emotional pain that the thing they want the most (relationship/connection/to be known) is the thing they fear the most. If Christians aren’t willing to move past their fear of being hurt to offer kindness or acknowledgement toward someone who may be contemplating suicide, then who? A smile, a hello, etc. could be the difference between life and death. It costs us nothing.

    I enjoy reading your thought provoking, honest, and real perspectives that many of us hold.

    • shahzam2011
      Posted at 16:27h, 31 May Reply

      Thank you so much, Stacy, for these encouraging words. I so agree with you that following Christ is about relationship both with God and with people even if they're not "one of us". Although it is true that hurting people fear relationship, but most often, at least in my experience, Christians withhold relationship because we're either too busy or just don't consider some people worthy enough to connect with. I saw that a lot when I worked at a Christian organization. "What's in it for me," was the motto of many of our leaders when it came to connecting with what they called, "minor leaguers'.

      As you said, it costs us nothing to smile at a poor soul who's contemplating suicide. But anymore, we first need to have someone famous come to our church with his PowerPoint presentaion to teach us how to smile before we're willing to do it. And even then…

      • Stacy Echeverria
        Posted at 17:02h, 31 May Reply

        I hear what you're saying. Matt. 25:40 "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'" If only we could see ourselves as part of the "least of these" then maybe things could change. I also believe that being too busy to connect is a coping mechanism, an excuse. Let's face it, we make time for what's important to us so if we don't value the importance of connection/relationship then why make time for it? It's easier to stay isolated but it goes against how God has wired and created us. I believe Satan uses our "busyness" as a distraction to keep us from what's important. We need to be intentional and not go through life numbed out and oblivious to the world around us. Christians have a unique opportunity to offer healing in a world filled with so much pain, but we need healing ourselves and many avoid doing the work required. I say "suck it up and do it" because staying stuck is much worse than the healing and wholeness Jesus has to offer, and in turn us being able to offer it to others.

        • shahzam2011
          Posted at 17:59h, 31 May Reply

          Stacy, I honestly can\’t add much more to what you are saying except to talk about something I\’ve been involved within the last 4-5 years, Neighborhood Initiative—A call to Christians to get to know your next-door neighbors by name. Look it up: http://neighborhoodinitiative.com/

          • Stacy Echeverria
            Posted at 18:44h, 31 May Reply

            Robert and I are already getting to know our neighbors by inviting them to our home the 2nd Saturday of every month. We call it "Just Desserts Saturday" where our neighbors can bring a dessert (or appetizer) and get to know one another. It's been great! Everyone is so appreciative of us taking the initiative and God's doing some wonderful things.

            • shahzam2011
              Posted at 09:44h, 01 June Reply

              Stacy, that is just awesome. A group of Christian leaders gets together once a week to pray and discuss issues just like that. You're way ahead of many Christians and their leaders who are still sitting at their churches waiting for people to go to them, rather than inviting their next door neighbors for a cup of coffee.

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