Future of our faith? Watch ‘Calling’ tonight on PBS!

Wherever we travel around the U.S. for ReadTheSpirit, we hear the same thing from people of faith: “Our young people are our future.” That’s why congregations coast to coast are anxious about how many children and teen-agers they have within their worshipping community. That’s why members are bursting with pride when a young person feels a call to ministry.

But, what happens between that moment of celebrating a youthful “call”—and, years later, meeting that now-older-and-wiser person as a veteran pastor, rabbi or imam? For two hours tonight and two more on Tuesday evening, PBS is opening the doors to seminaries, to classes, to board rooms, to diverse houses of worship—and even to the bedrooms where these young adults often wrestle, late at night, with the implications of their vocations.

It’s true: These young people are our future as they become influential community leaders.

And, according to PBS’s slice of seminaries, the future is looking very good!

We are strongly urging our readers to tune in—even though it’s obvious that this particular array of seven men and women preparing for ministry doesn’t reflect the current balance in the U.S. population. Clearly, the filmmakers were looking for cross-cultural experiences to share with viewers. One young Presbyterian seminary student is the son of a Samoan chief and, part way through the four hours, his father dies. We travel with him to Samoa for a traditional island funeral service—as experienced by Christian Samoans.

That’s absolutely fascinating, but of course it’s not the experience in most American congregations. The vast majority of Americans (more than 3 out of 4) are Christian. Half of all Americans identify themselves as Protestant. One in every four Americans is a Catholic. Gallup Poll tracking of Jewish Americans is at about 2 percent of the U.S. population. The exact population of Muslims in America is a hotly contested issue, but it’s certainly no larger than the country’s Jewish population—meaning that Muslims are 2 percent or less of the U.S. population.

So, when we find that 4 out of the 7 young adults in “The Calling” are Jewish or Muslim, it’s clear this is not a balanced representation of American seminarians. Of the three Christians, one is Mexican-American, one is Samoan and the other is African-American. The thousands of Euro-American Christian seminarians—in fact, the majority of young Americans experiencing a call each year—aren’t represented at all.

But, is that a problem in “The Calling”? We think not. In fact, these four hours are a valuable open window into lives and into entire communities that most Americans will never encounter without some help.

We highly recommend this series because of the amazing access this gives millions of us to the lives of young American Muslims and young American Jews. For most Christian Americans, these are exotic, unseen, puzzling communities.

We recommend this documentary because it vividly shows us the many conflicting calls on the lives of young men and women who embody global diversity. When the Samoan-Presbyterian seminarian’s father dies, this young man suddenly faces a traditional call to return home and serve as the new chief. He’s suddenly shouldering not one, but two weighty calls on his life.

We see the fears—and the tears—when a young, single, African-American mother, raising a son with chronic health-care issues, tries to become a pastor in a denomination that still has a strong cultural bias toward married male clergy.

We see the bittersweet pull of the past on an African-American Muslim seminarian, when he returns home and is reminded of his earlier years as a teen-aged leader in a Pentecostal youth group. That dual Christian-Muslim cultural experience is an unusual spiritual realm where many black Muslim families live in this country. It’s fascinating to see that complex cultural experience unfold on the TV screen.

Don’t misunderstand. This documentary is not some kind of heavy-handed educational lesson.

Unless your heart is a stone, you’ll be moved when you see young mothers, fathers, wives and husbands come to terms with their families and their calls. These filmmakers managed to gain remarkable access and must have shot countless hours of footage to capture these vivid moments in the film’s final cut.

There’s even some laughter, too. You’ll chuckle when the young rabbi finishes a service and is beaming with pride—then encounters an enthusiastic older woman who rushes up, corners him in a hallway and says: “I enjoyed the ceremony so much!” Then, after a long pause, she delivers the blow: “I just have to criticize one thing—if you don’t mind.” That scene could have been shot in the hallways of a thousand congregations on any given weekend. We laugh; and we ache for that young rabbi.

Watch this series. You’ll find yourself wrapped up in the lives of these young people. It’s flat-out fun television—intimate, dramatic, amusing and so true to life.

As you enjoy their stories, you will be seeing our future as a nation and a world. Perhaps it’s not the slice of life in your own house of worship, especially if you’re among the majority of Americans who still are Christian with a heavy Euro-American focus. But certainly you’ll be glimpsing your neighbors in a new, healthy and positive light.

And that’s a great gift from PBS!

REMEMBER TO CHECK YOUR LOCAL PBS LISTINGS: PBS has a special page for “The Calling,” where you can read more about the documentary, watch a short clip and find TV listings in your part of the country.

We want our international conversation to continue

Conversation is far better than the dangerous shouting matches we’ve been witnessing in our global culture. So, please, email us at [email protected] and tell us what you think of our stories—and, please tell a friend to start reading along with you!

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(Originally published at readthespirit.com)


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