Declining Faith?

Declining Faith?

© GLOW IMAGES

A guest post written by Ronald Scott

A recent study by the Pew Forum on religion and public life found that the number of Protestants in America is slowly declining. The study suggests that a major factor driving the decline is “an increase in religiously unaffiliated Americans.” Two-thirds of them still say they believe in God, but expressed disenchantment with religious organizations that are too concerned with money, power, rules, and politics.

Are average church members abandoning their faith?

When I did some research to try to answer this question, I found a Christian Science Sentinel article titled, “Does Religion Have a Future?” The author asks, “How important is religion anyway?” He makes the point, “Religion does not literally put up buildings. In its truest form it builds people…. It can keep the light in people’s lives.”

My personal experience supports this idea. I’ve always enjoyed active membership in a Christian Science branch church because the church commits itself to being a healing factor through consistent prayer, which supports the community. This invites opportunities to be supportive in practical ways.

A few years ago, the large mountainous area about 45 miles east of my community suffered heavy losses in a very damaging wildfire. A number of volunteer firefighters in that area had their homes burn to the ground while they were called out to fight on a fire line. We received information that there were unfortunate delays in the processing of their insurance claims, so our members put together financial gifts for each of those firefighters’ families, drove out to their community, and presented these gifts to help carry them through to when their settlements were expected. This totally impressed all of them.

Events like this are taking place every day.

From my perspective, it’s not accurate to assume people are turning away from religion, because it is difficult to quantify the number of people praying to resolve their problems as well as problems in their communities – as well as gauge the effectiveness of this religious activity. As I view it, this idea of numbers and trends being a determinant as to a religion’s quality and effectiveness is not logical. With God being available to each and everyone of us, prayers are being answered constantly.

We can take great comfort in this.

Sharing the Parable of the Prodigal Son

Sharing the Parable of the Prodigal Son

photo taken by Mike Sheridan

A guest post by Bill Downs

The parable of the prodigal son in Luke is a much loved and discussed teaching of Christ Jesus, and every time it’s included in the weekly lesson, I find some new aspect or inspiration about it.

Kim Shippey wrote an article for the November 18, 2002, Christian Science Sentinel, which introduced a marvelous little book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Father Henri Nouwen. In his book, Father Nouwen tells how he got much more meaning and understanding of this parable after viewing Rembrandt’s painting “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” The three key characters are depicted with great attention to detail. The younger son is shown barefoot, in tattered clothes, being embraced by his loving, forgiving father, while the father’s face shines in focused light, exhibiting the compassion that is one of the key lessons of the parable. Meanwhile, the older son is looking on with obvious disapproval, dressed in finery, and standing apart.

Fr. Nouwen studied the painting at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. He then wrote his book recounting his feeling of awe, starting with his introduction to the painting via a reproduction on a poster, and later in person, as he spent hours sitting in front of the actual painting. A reader can’t help but want to see the original also, and perhaps experience some of what Fr. Nouwen shared in his book.

After I read Kim Shippey’s Sentinel article, I ordered the book. I appreciate Fr. Nouwen’s account of inspiration and insight from the depictions of the penitent younger son, the all-loving father, and finally the self-righteous older son.

I have shared the book and Sentinel article many times with others, including at a local Catholic Church. The Priest and the senior Nun were very interested in dialog with other local churches, mosques, and synagogues, and invited representatives of several local religious groups to take part in their evening event. Because I had been involved for years with planning interfaith panel discussions and other events for the San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council, I was able to help with their planning process as well. At the event, I spoke briefly about Christian Science, and introduced Mary Baker Eddy. I held up a copy of Science and Health and I told how Christian Scientists use it with the Bible. And I made clear that there is no relation to, or connection with, Scientology or Tom Cruise. I then introduced our periodicals, and in particular, the Sentinel article about Fr. Nouwen’s book, and told how much I appreciated the new insights to the parable of the prodigal son from reading both the article and the book.

After the religious discussion session, a business acquaintance and member of the host Catholic congregation came over to say hello. And he informed me that the men’s study group at the church had recently studied the same book and shared their own inspiration obtained from it!

If you haven’t read this article, or if you want to reread it, the new JSH-online has the entire Sentinel collection available online.

As a note, the above photo is not the Rembrandt that is mentioned in this article. You can view the Rembrandt painting by clicking here.

Thoughts for Beginners

Thoughts for Beginners

Photo illustrated by Steve Jurvetson

Paul Hannesson, Committee on Publication for New York, posted these thoughts from a friend and fellow seeker of Truth, Violet Snow.

A guest post written by Violet Snow

If, like me, you didn’t grow up in Christian Science but came to it on your own, you might feel confused by some of what you read. In the past year and a half, as I try to grasp these new and wonderful but challenging ideas, The Sentinel articles have been enormously helpful to me. But sometimes I have wished for more of a beginner’s guide on how to navigate the learning process.

Now that I am starting to have a more established practice, I thought other beginners might benefit from my reflections on my baby steps.Continue Reading