Easy Street Amalgamated Church.
Younger generation people wouldn't get it. Our boomer cohort used to laugh our heads off at the Rev. Leroy's Church of What's Happening Now segments on the Flip Wilson Show that aired on NBC from 1970-1974. It was hilarious to us because most of us had accumulated some personal pew time back then. His was a humorous poke at some of our flimsy religious ways. Even more, Wilson dared to invite his television congregants into what was perhaps the most segregated hour in American life, the church hour. Like much entertainment fare it was funny because it was true. The majority of us got it because there was such a ring of truth to it.
Underneath the humor was our largest generation up to that time, us baby boomers, laughing because we were already questioning American institutional life. Sure, Flip Wilson wasn't a prime time influence in our most formative years, the fifties and sixties. We laughed because we had already placed traditional values on the examining table. By the early seventies we had become jaded about religion, family standards, race relations, government, the military, education, and a host of ideals which had previously been protected as cultural icons. In the fifties and sixties light, subtle comedy ushered us around and through those delicate topics. Flip Wilson, Archie Bunker, Saturday Night Live and a few others notched it up a few levels in the seventies. There were no off-limits signs then. Religion had question marks.
So, boomers didn't actually walk away from church or institutional religion. We ran. After the hippie fads there was a vital new consciousness, the inner self. In the last forty years additional categories of religious awareness hit the search engines---the growing number of people with no religious preference (nones); and the fastest growing segment of the Christian population, the nominals (Christian in name only). Many of these boomers left their grandmother's church for something without the institutional markings or rigid doctrinal positions. In most instances these were not actual congregations but rather informal personal belief systems I have called the Easy Street Amalgamated Church---a little of this and a little of that, shades of Protestant orthodoxy with Buddhism, eastern mysticism, Catholic dogma, Andy Griffith, Oprah, Dr. Phil, and the Three Stooges. Many observers have called this "salad bar" faith. Have it your way, kids.
Then, think about this baby boomerang phenomenon! Us boomers are returning to church. Studies by Pew Research and the Gallup organization, among others, anticipate several years of continued church involvement and growth in the boomer population. At first analysts attributed this renewed interest to the simple fact that boomers had tried everything else to find personal purpose and meaning and are returning to their origins because nothing else has worked. Drugs, alcohol, careers, the marriage-go-round, counter-culture "turn on, tune in, and drop out", and dozens of other paths to the good life have flopped. We're turning back to faith in these final years in a quest for something that makes the whole thing make sense.
It is an amended faith, however. What we believe now is only distantly related to what we left back then. As a generation we believe in God, view truth as more situational than absolute, hold a less than literal view of Scripture, believe in the power and urgency of personal on-the-go prayer, rarely read or study the Bible, and attend church sporadically. An interesting note is that we hold distinct views on the reality of heaven and hell. That's an odd one for these times. According to the Pew Research Center 78% of boomers believe in the existence of heaven and 59% in the existence of hell. It's pages of statistical data but if you would like to see the Pew material then click here.
How we attain heaven or are consigned to hell as eternal destinations is a debated and varied proposition among boomers. There are legalistic hard lines to heaven as well as the roll of the dice, that is, hoping we find a key to heaven among the multiple options proposed by this new salad bar faith. In the main there's the trendy assumption that everybody goes to heaven or the secular view that the grave is the end. Lost in the amalgamated blend is the hope of eternity, the peace and confidence of facing death.
Over and over a verse from the Apostle Paul gives me pause and reflection over the mysteries of life and death. To the Thessalonians Paul wrote---
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that
you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 1 Thessalonians 4:13, ESV
In my mind it is the concept of hope that amalgamated faith misses and that is pushing our boomer cohort back to church. In these latter years we could use a little hope.
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews added something powerful to this ideal of biblical hope---
We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner
place behind the curtain.
Hebrews 6:19, ESV
There it is, what is so often ignored when we're worshiping alone in Easy Street Amalgamated Church, the steadfast anchor of the soul, the hope of eternity. Seeing this blank spot in so many boomers saddens and challenges me. It is the final product of what the Apostle Paul prophesied---
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:19, ESV
If all we have is a roll of the dice or the grave, then we are to be pitied because there's no hope in them. And, then the old axiom is real---life is either a hopeless end, or an endless hope.