Why are men abandoning God?
Religion is increasingly a woman’s domain in America. Two-thirds of church and synagogue attendees are women, studies show, with young men fleeing the pews even faster. On any given weekend, 13 million more women than men will attend religious institutions.
Home is even worse. Moms are usually the ones talking about God at the dinner table. When the topic turns to faith, dad is usually out to lunch.
What a shame. Fathers can find great inspiration in faith. For the last dozen years, I’ve traced the influence of the Bible through the Middle East and America looking at how religious figures from the past are relevant to today’s families. In Walking the Bible, I climbed Mount Ararat, crossed the Red Sea, and spent weeks recreating the Exodus through the desert. In Where God Was Born, I continued that journey through the second half the Bible in Israel, Iraq, and Iran. In America’s Prophet, I explored how the story of Moses has influenced Americans from the Liberty Bell, through the Statue of Liberty, through Cecil B. DeMille and Charlton Heston.
Two years ago this week I was struck by a life-threatening illness and suddenly my travels took a more personal turn. What lessons of faith would I pass on to my three-year-old twin daughters? My new book, The Council of Dads, includes a Father’s Four Lessons of Faith.
1. Wrestle with God. In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with a messenger of God. The two come to a standstill, and the messenger leaves a mark on Jacob. The scar does not end up on Jacob’s hand, nor on his head, his heart, or his eyes. Humans experience God, the text suggests, not by touching him, imagining him, feeling him, or seeing him. Jacob is scarred on his leg, for the essential way humans experience God is by walking with him. Forever after, Jacob is called “Israel,” one who wrestles with God. Don’t be afraid of doubt. The true way to experience the divine is struggle with him.
2. Befriend the Stranger. There’s a reason the Exodus story has inspired so many Americans. It’s a narrative of home. “This year we are slaves, but next year we can be free.” History is not set in stone. It is not an immovable pyramid. The pyramid can be flipped. When you despair, when you hurt, when you fear – and especially when you encounter those feelings in others – remember the slaves who first groaned under bondage. You should read the Israelites’ story and remember: There is a moral dimension to the universe. Right can prevail over might; justice can triumph over evil. Flip a few pyramids yourselves along the way. Overturn injustice. Befriend the stranger, for you, yourselves, were strangers once in a land with no hope.
3. Plunge Into the Waters. One reason Moses is America’s true founding father is that he evangelizes action; he justifies risk. He gives ordinary people the courage to live with uncertainty. The visionaries who have been inspired by him – Christopher Columbus, Benjamin Franklin, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King – were not born to greatness. They became great by tapping into the anger and hope within themselves. Imagine your own promised land, girls, plunge into the waters, persevere through the dryness, and don’t be surprised – or saddened – if you’re stopped just short of your dream. Because the ultimate lesson of Moses’ life is that the dream does not die with the dreamer, and the true destination in a narrative of hope is not this year at all. But next.
4. Be Reunited With the Ones You Love. My book, “The Council of Dads” tells the story of my “lost year” fighting cancer and the men I asked to be father figures to my daughters. Today I am cancer-free, and I learned a powerful lesson during that experience. The Liberty Bell has a quote from Moses on its side, “Proclaim Liberty throughout the world, unto all the inhabitants thereof.” This line refers to a tradition whereby every seven years, farmers are obliged to give their fields a year of rest. Every 49 years the land gets an extra year of rest, during which all families are reunited, and all people reunited with the ones they love. That fiftieth year is called the jubilee year. That tradition perfectly captures my experience. My “lost year” was my jubilee year. I was needy. I was a stranger. I was reunited with the ones I love. Don't forget to slow down, girls. Reunite with the ones you love.
Take trips. Take chances. Take off.
Bruce Feiler is the bestselling author of "Abraham," "Walking the Bible, "America's Prophet" and "The Council of Dad." Click here to buy The Council of Dads. Or click on the title to purchase America’s Prophet, which Glenn Beck called “the best book of narrative history I have ever read. I cannot recommend it highly enough.” To learn more, or watch a video of Bruce talking about the life lessons of his fathers, please visit www.councilofdads.com.
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Bruce Feiler is the author of six New York Times bestsellers, including “Walking the Bible.” He is the writer/presenter of the new PBS series “Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler,” which airs on PBS December 16, 23, and 30. For more information, and to watch a preview, visit www.pbs.org/sacredjourneys.