[Photo by practicalowl]
A few weeks ago, I and some other folks watched THIS VIDEO* – also below – about the We Generation and a book that was just released. I brought this video up to the group not for it’s political content, but to lift up a cultural reality about a generation of people that are telling us at every turn, “Your days are numbered.” Again, I am not saying that the content is good or bad, but only getting on my soap box again to say that if we don’t at least acknowledge some things are happening in the world that are outside our realities and normal modes of operation, we will blindly, arrogantly and irresponsibly react to these things around us. If we are not careful, we will embrace that which should be rejected and/or reject that which should be embraced.
There is one particular part in this video [3:38] where a young woman says, “We are the largest demographic group in the United States, and once unified, we can control America’s political landscape.”
The power in which she says this – and I don’t know if she is just a good actress and/or activist as there were both in this video – is palpable. This is not just, “Look at us young people who are optimistic and energetic.”, but more of a “This is not a choice, we control the future.” Now these words and the flashiness of the video may be easy to dismiss, but if you look around both within and outside the church, as some of us get older, we know this to be true. Our days of influence, at least in the ways we have known them to be, are fading fast.
So what are we going to do about it?
Over the past few months, there have been a few interactions that have reminded me of the arrogance that exists within our generational and denominational culture when it comes to seeing new ways of being the church as an institution. I am pretty confident that it is not just us, nor is it always about age, but we play out the tension of these changes as well as anyone. There are cultural realities that we all have some part in owning that we desperately need to shed ourselves of lest we run the risk of not simply wandering into our own demise, but going out with a bang.
Sadly, most of the things that I believe infect our ability to listen to what is happening in the world is our own need to hold onto whatever authority, stature or worth we believe we have been given by this institution that we serve. This plays out in many ways as I have seen so far both personally and institutionally. I am sure there are many ways that this power-hold manifests itself, but let me toss out a few that I think may get us started.
- We find our worth in our role in the battles. I think that too many of us find our worth somewhere in the continuation of age-old polemics and battles. Our worth is no longer determined by seeking to faithfully follow Christ wherever that may lead, but our faith firmly placed is in theological ideologies that places ridiculous restrictions on interactions and relationships which only increase the idea that we would rather be right winners of ideology than faithful partners in following Christ.
- We think the church is our salvation. We seem to give so much of our spiritual and emotional energy to the preservation of an institutional culture that sometimes I think we actually believe that our salvation can only be lived out through it. This is obviously not true, but sometimes I think we forget that the institution, at its best, is an amazing gift from God through which our faith is lived. At its worse it is the main center our faith thus any push to change, transform, yes, even die to new life is going to be difficult to say the least.
- We live as if we have power and authority that we do not. – Somewhat connected to the point before, I often wonder why we give so much of our power to the current manifestation of the institutional church. Now again, we do some amazing things as Presbyterians, but lets be real. At all levels of our church, we arrogantly believe that we still impact the world like we did 60 years ago. We do not. This is not to ignore some of the wonderful ministry that we still do, but the level that we invest of our time and energy into things that are not about moving into the future, but about the holding onto the past, only reiterates to the world how out of touch we can be. I have said at many a town halls, to affirming but sad head shakes, “We have become so irrelevant in many ways, that we are no longer even worth rebelling against.”
But there is hope. I really do believe that. For each of these tensions, we are being taught new ways of being community that we should listen to. As I travel the church, visit with people not before interested to talk about the institutional church and as I pastor a church where the average age of our uber-committed and newly ordained elder class is 27, I am filled with hope for our future.
What I am hearing is that, unlike the polemic days of the past, people are approaching faith and institution not with an all-or-nothing mindset. There is commitment to and an appreciation for institutions that unleash rather than control, support rather than hold back and most importantly embrace the complexities of community rather than fall back into destructive and false divisions.
This is where the excitement and the future of the Gospel lies. This is where, if we are wise, humble and profound, the future of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the vessel through which that Gospel may be lived will find new life. For those of us for whom this church has for decades, our place of hope, refuge, justice and faith, we must look around. The world is changing, new demands are being made of us and the very nature of being church is being challenged to be made more real to the world.
Thanks be to God, our days ARE numbered.
Now what are we going to do about it?
*My daughter happens to have a small part in this video – see beautiful, strong and smart young lady on swing – and we receive no compensation for any links, referrals, etc.