Take the Rough Rider’s advice and go to church this year

If you aren’t already a regular churchgoer, my New Year’s resolution for you is to become one. To strengthen my appeal, I enlist the old Rough Rider, President Theodore Roosevelt. I’ll splice in my own comments to spice up his “Ten Reasons to Go to Church,” which appeared in a 1917 edition of The Ladies Home Journal. (As always, substitute your own religious tradition for church; this is not the place to proselytize. Likewise, know that when Teddy says “men” he also means “women,” although they don’t seem to need as much convincing.)

1. In this actual world a churchless community, a community where men have abandoned and scoffed at or ignored their religious needs, is a community on the rapid downgrade. Human beings are made to relate upwards (spiritually), sideways (socially), and downwards (naturally), so to speak. We stand most erect when we attend well to all these relationships.

2. Church work and church attendance mean the cultivation of the habit of feeling some responsibility for others and the sense of braced moral strength which prevents a relaxation of one’s own moral fiber. We are what we do. If we want to be better, we have to act our way to it through practice.

3. There are enough holidays … devoted to pure holiday making. … Sundays differ from other holidays, among other ways, in the fact that there are fifty-two of them every year. … On Sunday, go to church. Amen.

4. Yes, I know all the excuses. I know that one can worship the Creator … in a grove of trees, or by a running brook, or in one’s own house, just as well as in church. But I also know as a matter of cold fact the average man does not thus worship or thus dedicate himself. If he stays away from church he does not spend his time in good works or in lofty meditation. He looks over the colored supplement of the newspaper. Today we might watch color TV instead, but this excuse is usually a copout.

5. He may not hear a good sermon at church. But unless he is very unfortunate he will hear a sermon by a good man who, with his good wife, is engaged all the week long in a series of wearing and humdrum and important tasks for making hard lives a little easier. I can’t speak for the preacher being a good man, since I only know one well, and he’s a stout blend of good and bad. Going to church helps me move the mix toward the good. It may for you, too.

6. He will listen to and take part in reading some beautiful passages from the Bible. And if he is not familiar with the Bible, he has suffered a loss. Verily.

7. He will probably take part in singing some good hymns. OK, they’re not all good. And some are just choruses. But when the valley of the shadow of death looms, humming Lady Gaga won’t get you through.

8. He will meet and nod to, or speak to, good, quiet neighbors. … He will come away feeling a little more charitably toward all the world, even towards those excessively foolish young men who regard church-going as rather a soft performance. Many non-attending men seem to fear losing manliness in church, as if it’s really a woman’s world. Jesus was a real man, but he did love his mother. Just saying.

9. I advocate a man’s joining in church works for the sake of showing his faith by his works. Here, here. Real community is come-and-stay commitment, not come-and-go consumerism.

10. The man who does not … connect himself with some active, working church misses many opportunities for helping his neighbors, and therefore, incidentally, for helping himself. Good church is good for you. Look for a good church that you can find, not a perfect one that you never will.

Though many of these may seem quaint and old fashioned, the point is still the same today: God is worthy of worship, neighbors need caring for, and our souls require spiritual exercise.

A church near you waits to welcome you.


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