Let’s be honest, blogging is sexy.
Like an aphrodisiacal wine, crackling fire or bearskin rug, few things bring our raw and inchoate emotions to a startling head quite like a breathless 750-word epitaph elucidating the grizzly details of parenthood and/or a particularly sour stay at the Airport Days Inn outside Columbus (the TOWELS SMELLED LIKE ONIONS)!
Physiologically, the endorphin spike a writer feels when his or her words are looted like the tombs of the pharaohs for out of context sound bites and typos by critics whose only identifying marker is MONKEEEEBUTTZ1358 is largely unmatched in the lived experience of humans throughout the eons of history.
(Come Lord Jesus, Come.)
But all insider shop-talk aside, if you want to make it in the unpaid wasteland of Internet journaling, you should write exclusively about the large scale abandonment of the Christian faith by folks under 35. And, while you’re at it, make sure you manage to apply some sort of numerical order to the presentation of your poorly-researched observations about “the 6 reasons emerging adults would rather poke themselves in the eye with a rusty garden spade than attend your church”— that is, of course, if you’re interested in rooting the totality of your self-worth in how many times MONKEEEEBUTTZ1358 retweets your words to his or her (?) followers.
(Again, and this time with feeling: Come Lord Jesus, Come.)
However, as someone who’s spent an embarrassingly inordinate amount of time reading on the subject of why many folks in my generational classification are refusing to self-identify as “Christians” to telemarketers from the Barna group, I’ve been rather shocked at the inability of these commentators to put forward a solution that doesn’t involve doing more of the same things that got us here in the first place. That being, continuing to respond to the concerns of 20- and 30-somethings about the seemingly scatter plot nature of God’s movements in the world with the tired and dilapidated rhetoric of divine power, apologetic theodicy and omnipotent control, which are of course, alienating ways of simply stating:
“God’s got a plan for your life, so just trust, let go and let God.”
In a recent article for Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, Andrew Flores outlined the dreary financial and occupational prospects for people who’ve graduated from college and grad school over the past seven or eight years. He notes:
“We’ve long known that millennials — the Snapchatting army of those born between 1980 and 1997 — face unique economic challenges. They are poorer today than Americans of the same age in 1989. Many are also deep in a hole of student loan debt, unlike any generation has seen before. They are less likely to own a home — and if they do, those homes tend to be worth much less than the starter homes of 20-somethings and 30-somethings in the recent past.”
According to Flores, the bad news doesn’t get much better as Millennials transition into late adulthood because long-term earning capacity is chiefly tied to the age and initial salary a person receives when he or she finally manages to enter the workforce.
Meaning: living longer at home while working jobs for which we’re overqualified and underpaid profoundly stunts our ability to earn what our parents and grandparents have in their middle-to-later adult years. And it is this reality, I’d like to argue, more than any other that grossly and disproportionately affects the faith (or lack thereof) of Millennials. Because, in my rather long relationship with American Christianity, the God to whom many of us have been invited to pledge fealty controls all, sees all, hears all and orders all …
for the good of those who love God*.
(*typically, this translates almost directly to granite countertops and a parking spot near the front. #blessed)
However, things start coming off the rails when the world we’ve seemingly inherited — as now fully functioning adults who know what the word “escrow” means — has been left increasingly unemployed, polarized, polluted, endlessly militaristic, violently racist, and, not to mention, crippled by religiously motivated conversational and governmental gridlock.
Leaving all of us crashing on our parents couches after grad school wondering:
has God abandoned us?
For the record, it doesn’t feel great when — in the face of our doubts about God’s activity in the universe — we’re met with condescendingly high-minded rhetoric about how, in your day, people went to church, paid their taxes, left their front doors unlocked, showed up on time for work, looked people in the eye, knew how to order a pizza over the telephone and “believed in America.”
See you next Thanksgiving!
My paternal grandfather didn’t finish high school and for the majority of his occupational life he sold tobacco products for R.J. Reynolds. Over the course of his time with RJR he bought a house on mostly one income, invested any excess salary in the stock market, retired at 65 and earned a pension* that still supports my grandmother to this day.
(*for the unfamiliar: it’s pronounced pen-shun and is this thing where a company keeps paying you after you stop working for them.)
I got passed over for a minimum wage gig at Bed, Bath & Beyond with a master’s degree.
My point in all of this is to simply note that there isn’t an incredibly vast difference in the propensity of faithfulness between, say, my grandparents’ generation and that of my own, as some would suggest. The difference, I would argue, is found instead in the simple fact that many people I talk to have a rather difficult time believing in a God of omnipotence and omniscience in a world of randomness, chaos and violence.
Especially when virility, salary and familial stability continue to be the popular rubric utilized to determine the strength of one’s faith.
Maybe we could say it this way: Praising the God of American manifest destiny, 30-year fixed mortgages and apple pie isn’t particularly appealing to a 28-year-old still living at home, with a brother who fought in Fallujah, who has $40,000 of student loan debt, and a gluten allergy.
Churches and faith-based organizations can continue to alter the packaging, the language, the sheen, the music and the housing surrounding American Christianity, but until they begin addressing the thing behind the thing, they will be, in a word,
(not to mention confused and a little exhausted as they diligently attempt to keep the church Facebook page up to date.)
Perhaps I’m wrong here, but maybe the central issue besieging “the church” is that a great many of us are still unwilling to let God finally die.
What I mean by this, is that according to the historic Christian faith what the world has and will always need is for the God of violence and wealth and control and endless answers to climb upon the nearest cross and willingly die for the sake of all of those clinging to life and faith on the margins and undersides of power.
Because when the God of power and control finally dies, those of us who’ve been excluded or have excluded ourselves from the faith are finally left with enough silence and space to make out the voice of the God of weakness and generosity and grace and peace and militant, non-violent, self-sacrificing love whispering at the doors of all the locked rooms of our expectations and beliefs about where and with whom God locates God’s self most profoundly.
When we let this God in, rather than belittling our doubt and shaming our insecurities, he simply lifts up his shirt and opens his palms revealing the scars marking his scandalous death at the hands of the righteous and the well-connected, and in so doing, reminds all of us that he would do it again and again and again and again
were it needed.
Put another way: we all need resurrection, even God.
So, may it come today
for all of us just trying to find our way home.
Photo credit: Flickr photo by Simon Webster