Loyalty and Authenticity–Keys to Community

I looked up “loyalty” in my photos site, and I got Starbucks and dogs. Sounds about right.

 

The fourth, and likely-final-but-you-never-know, conversation between generations regarding the church, faith, and how we can put it all together.

What does it take to create loyalty?

Jill: We talked about loyalty last week. But the conversation is unfinished. What key elements do you need in a church to feel it’s your home? To want to be loyal to it?

Emily: What do Millennials want to feel loyal to church? Community. We want to be accepted as we are, which can be good and bad. Everyone wants a community they can belong to, though. We just need to make it clear that this is a community that goes both ways, and that while we accept everyone, we also push everyone to look at issues in their lives, and it’s difficult to do this without sounding unwelcoming.

Jill: When we Boomers talk about loyalty to a church body, we are also talking community. The two are not separable to us. The church we are in is our community.

“Community” may be your new buzzword. Yet almost all the Boomers I’ve talked to in my research also cited it as an important value in church. Everyone wants that family feeling. But if you’re not feeling it, either we’re doing it wrong, or that word doesn’t mean what we think it means.

Emily: Mandatory Princess Bride reference.

Jill: Obvi.

A huge value of our generation when looking for a church is “Does it feel friendly?” Companionship, social events, comfort, friendship, welcome. The Boomers I interviewed all mentioned as important church considerations. Basically, I think we all hope to find our best friend at church. We all hope to fit in there and find people we can be like, talk to easily, and rely on in times of need.

We still operate under smaller circles of interaction than you do. Yes, we are on Facebook, at least some of us, but we do not really have the global “families” that you do. Ours are closer to home. We still look to our nearest outlets for friends and companionship. The family comes first. Work is often second. Somewhere in there, the church is a consideration, especially if the family doesn’t work out the way we had hoped. And when we go there, we seek an atmosphere like that iconic TV show of the 80’s, Cheers—a place where everybody knows your name.

Emily:  Never heard of it.

Jill: Never actually watched it. But—those younger than us found the same thing in Friends. The difference was, in Cheers, they still went home to family in the end. In Friends, those people were the family. A not so subtle shift.

In an era when family was fracturing, before we began to redefine it, Boomers were left trying to figure out whom they could rely on if new mobility led them far away from their families of origin or outside forces strained their marriages. Not surprisingly, churchgoers developed a strong reliance on church to fill that need.

So community is a huge issue for both generations. A defining value. But I suspect you would define it differently than we have. I wonder if you would delineate a difference between friendship and community. And—I think you would be right to do so.

Emily: Well, you’re right about Friends in some regard. The concept behind Friends is independence and community outside of immediate family—a building of a chosen family. It’s odd that the show is called Friends, then, instead of family. Perhaps it’s because all of the main characters have messed up relationships with their actual family, and so the Central Perk regulars decide to hold Friendship up to a higher standard than their memories with Family.

Jill: Most Boomers, like Millennials, say that they yearn for a place to be real, to tell the truth and be accepted with their messy lives. But again, you aren’t getting that vibe from us. Truth is, I don’t either, so something is clearly more important to Boomers than the genuineness we claim to want as much as you do.

I think perhaps it’s because we value safety even more. Where you find it safe to be among peers telling true tales, we find it safe to pull in privately and keep our stories to ourselves.

Where your response to a frightening, unpredictable world is to say “What the heck, let’s go kayak a waterfall, it’s all the same,” ours was to wall ourselves off and play Risk with our lives, strategizing political and social moves to protect our territory (while preferably expanding it). So those values of authenticity and community? We like the sound of them, but we want to define the terms.

Emily: As a Risk enthusiast, may I just say this is game usually ends in multiple people upset and one winner lording it over everyone else. Until the next game. When everyone gangs up on the last winner.

Jill: Our version of community in the 80’s revolved around this concept of separation from society and formation into our own subculture. We had community—insofar as we had it with people just like ourselves. Unfortunately, this leads not only to a lack of communication with or even comprehension of people not just like ourselves. I think we’re reaping what we’ve sown there right now.

It also generates a fake community where people pretend to be what they are not and believe what they doubt in order not to be voted off the island.

Emily: Because of what we fear, we value honesty. We don’t understand why we can’t admit–-at least to friends-–to having problems. Isn’t that what the point of a friendship is? Sure, there are going to be people we’re totally fake with because we kind of hate them and kind of want them to leave us alone. But true friends should be allowed into our ugly cry souls.

Jill: When your community and friendships are all composed of people like you, stepping out of line is terrifying. Ugly crying? We’re afraid of that. What if we’re found out as imposter perfect Christians?

We insulated ourselves into our Christian bubble in the last century. Then we reaped the consequences of living in that bubble, where any suggestion that one might not have the perfect Christian life could threaten to pop our secure atmosphere.

So we value friendly—but we value MYOB even more. We want friends to do church events with, but we don’t want too much intimacy. We’re afraid of vulnerability, and you don’t appear to have those issues.

 

So both generations long for someone to really know us and yet fear that knowing could threaten our fragile community. It’s more threatening to us, because our communities are smaller and less fluid than yours.

The Boomers are good at facade. I guess the Millennials are too, judging by Facebook. You are the masters at a public versus private persona. The difference is, I think we were supposed to believe that they were the same thing. We were really supposed to be in private what we were in public. And heaven help us if what we were in public was not the perfect image of a Christian family. For a generation that had studied the family so intensely and vowed to protect it above all else, to admit ours was a mess? God knows that just wasn’t done.

Hence, authenticity is a church issue with deep roots.

Loyalty, Time, and Sushi

cory-bouthillette-152732-unsplash
Photo by Cory Bouthillette on Unsplash

This is the third installment in our conversation about church, the next generation, and where the two do (or don’t) meet.

Jill: Let’s talk values. I suspect that at the core of some dissatisfaction between the generations is a difference in basic values. What we might have considered super-important you might not. Abortion comes to mind—a huge, perhaps the hugest, issue for my age group, is more nuanced for you, and there are other values that drive your votes and activism.

What do you value most?

Emily: Millennials value efficiency. I have been called into my boss’ office multiple times to fix what, to any 30 year old or younger, would take less than two minutes to figure out. But this technology is “too much for them to understand.” It’s only gonna get harder to figure out, honey. Better start now.

efficiency

Oddly paired with technological efficiency, we also value seamlessness and minimalism. Not the sleek black and white minimalist tendencies of the early 2000’s; our minimalism focuses on eliminating obsolete technology and apps quickly and–-you guessed it–-efficiently.

We are ruthless. If an app has a bug, developers have a set amount of time to fix it before users get frustrated and bored and move on to find something better. That amount of time is not long. Except for a few staples (banks, Facebook, Twitter), an app will lose its novelty. And some staples might even be in trouble. When there is a multitude of options available to me, my loyalty is hard to buy.

rohit-tandon-105772-unsplash
Photo by Rohit Tandon on Unsplash

Jill: Ah, loyalty. That dangerous word that sends shivers along the spines of many church leaders. Statistics and stereotypes say your generation is not loyal to institutions, brands—basically anything. True?

Emily: Millennials are not loyal. We like things that are nearby (to wherever we are), efficient, and culturally aware. If we are to stay with a brand, we want it to continually be evolving and changing as we do. I’m not sure, since I’m not a boomer, but it seems to me as if boomers value quality, communication, and privacy. I am less likely to go “shopping” around multiple places to find the right thing.

There are so many mediocre products that it doesn’t bother me to not have the best quality money can buy. That doesn’t appeal to me at all. I want easy, quick, and—if it fits—quality.

Jill: So, the opposite of your father.

Emily: Uuummmm . . . Now, I’ll do some research. I’ll know what brands to steer clear of for ethical reasons, what’s well made and in my price range. But I won’t narrow it down to one specific serial numbered product. I’ll probably pick a brand or two and go from there. Then it’s down to style and ease.

If one store offers free shipping and the other I have to go into the actual store, it’s a no brainer. Even if there’s a shipping fee, it still might be worth it, depending on the product.

Jill: So one of your values is also time? That goes with efficiency.

Emily: Time=Money has never been more true, and I’d rather have my time free than my money.

jaelynn-castillo-642286-unsplash
Photo by Jaelynn Castillo on Unsplash

Jill: This loyalty thing, though, strikes one of our deepest fears – the rootlessness of the Millennials. You don’t believe in institutions and feel no loyalty to them. With that, though, comes danger. To toss out institutions—marriage, family, church, denomination, company—is to trash not just a thing you can replace but a history.

Yes, we have made a mess of some of those institutions. They are not what they ought to be. But to disregard them leaves you without a foundation. There’s nothing to build on except those dreams of yours and some crowdsourcing on the internet that told you you were probably right. Given the centuries of stability behind those institutions, that’s a rather paltry substitute for them.

Yes, you can retreat and wait for the ground to burn. But rebuilding will be far more difficult than you believe without any blueprints.

IMG_9558

Emily: But I would say this is not necessarily a Millennial trait. It seems to me that many of the late Boomer/early Gen Xers are choosing kids or sports or highly held personal opinions over church community as well.

We just took it one step further, never fully connecting with any church community so that we could feel free to go off and not have anyone chase after us.

Jill: Personal experience as a pastor makes me say you are correct on this. I have watched it play out as our obsession with a child-centric culture, aided and abetted by a Christian culture that encouraged that value, allowed for abandoning church for family activities. We even tacitly gave it approval, implying that putting the family first was Biblical and healthy practice.

In real practice, what we have done is convinced our children that whatever they find valuable, be it sports, school, work, or sleeping in, has a viable right to precedence over the community expression of Christian faith.

This is a bit of what Kenda Creasy Dean says in her research,

“Teenagers tend to approach religious participation, like music and sports, as an extracurricular activity: a good, well-rounded thing to do, but unnecessary for an integrated life. Religion, the young people in (this study) concurred, is a ‘Very Nice Thing.’”

rawpixel-1054659-unsplash
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

We modeled this, Boomers. And now we want to excoriate those kids when they grow up and take it to its logical conclusion. We told you connection and worship was important, but we did not model it. And as your generation is wont to do, you stood back, asked “why?,” and shrugged it off.

Emily: It’s weird. The word “Christian” is hard to connect to because we don’t remember how to use it as a noun. Christian schools, Christian life, Christian values, the Christian Community. The word stimulates a mental image of a maple syrup glaze under which hypocrisy and pride intermingle.

Christ-followers. I don’t know who coined it, but let’s get on board with that.

Jill: I like that a lot. We’ve used it as an adjective when it was meant to be who we are.

But I’m going to push farther.

I’m not convinced that a new paradigm is going to be the answer, either. When will it get old? When will new terminology be old terminology? When will a new time become an old one? I suppose you’ll tell me it will, and I should not count on anything lasting for long anymore. But it’s so exhausting to think about so much change all the time. Plus, when is it just novelty for its own sake?

Trying a new way when you’re talking about architecture or medicine or a sushi restaurant is one thing. It’s another when you’re thinking about something as foundational to human existence as family or Christianity.

392255_10150340863927854_528697853_7968149_1442978658_n

Your generation’s need to reinvent excites us when it’s dealing with hunger. It frightens us to the core when you’re reinventing doctrines and beliefs based on little more than what your peers say they prefer to believe.

We do want to see loyalty to the church, with a capital ‘C’ and without, because we know that’s your tie to historical stability. In the discussion of value differences between Boomer and Millennials, this is huge.

This is what frustrates Boomers. We don’t see you making the kind of commitment to a church body that we believe is necessary. Yes, maybe a commitment to Jesus, or belief, or some hazy thing called “spirituality.” But to the flesh and blood motley group we call our church family? Not so much. They seem as interchangeable to you as fast food joints and as unnecessary as a VCR.

Emily: I think the problem is that we don’t see it as different than choosing a new sushi place. I mean, ok, in some regard yes, we do. But, as you’ve already pointed out, we have a hard time committing.

I don’t think we have a problem with loyalty. We just don’t want to be loyal to something only to find out it wasn’t what we expected. We want to take pride in what we commit to, and it scares us to think that if we commit to something and it ends up doing something wrong, that we might be held accountable. We don’t like the idea that we can be held accountable for an action not done by us, but by a community we believe in. It makes us feel like we don’t know how to discern what is important or right, and it makes us more unlikely to trust the next thing to come along.

Jill: So for the church to earn your loyalty, it has to be a little more like TOMS shoes – you know where your money is going, you see transparently what they do with it (sort of), and you can morally get behind those values? You’re even willing to invest a little more than you normally would because you are proud to be associated with that company?

IMG_6983

Emily: Sure. And there has to be continuity in behavior but also a willingness to try new things—for instance, TOMS isn’t just shoes, anymore. It’s expanded to sunglasses, bags, and backpacks, too, each with a different mission. It hasn’t put aside studies that show the importance of local economy and it works to build relationships within each community it provides for. As far as I am aware, back in 2006 it was just a fun startup that sent shoes to kids. The company has learned and changed and become more aware of the people around it.

That is what the church needs to do. Theology studies should come from theologians and ministers, but those studies that rely on society must come from that sphere first. This could even mean taking ideas from (gasp!) secular writers.

Jill: Or, gasp, mothers and daughters (or any women) with random (well-researched and intelligent) musings.

Thank You, Baby Boomers

james-baldwin-276255-unsplash
Photo by James Baldwin on Unsplash

As part of our ongoing conversation about generational divides, my Millennial daughter and I have written some posts praising the positive.

Last week, I wrote on why I’m grateful for Millennials. This week, Emily is returning the favor. Because she’s so nice like that.

I Am Thankful for Your Solidity

We may harp and complain about how stubborn and old-fashioned you are, but I also appreciate how decisive you are. You know who you are, you know how you got where you are, and you don’t really give a spritz cookie about what anyone else may think.

tommy-lisbin-223879-unsplash
Photo by Tommy Lisbin on Unsplash

I Am Thankful for Your Drivenness

You aren’t going to step back so easily in the face of anything from adversity to new technology. You will analyze new situations to determine how they might affect you negatively or positively, and you don’t let failures define you. You live in positivity.

I Am Thankful for Our Privacy

Technology has made privacy a difficult ideal, but one that is still important. You fight for privacy rights, even if you personally get nothing out of it.

I Am Thankful for the Hippies

matthew-t-rader-1491453-unsplash
Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

So we might idealize Hippies more than we should, but we admire that ideal inside of you. It is largely in part to your protests that we have such a different outlook on war and peace today. Plus also, some great music came out of the movement.

I Am Thankful For Your Ability to Relax

You guys know how to have a good time with friends. Those whom you allow into your busy lives you hold onto for years and years. You find joy in gathering together that same group for events and parties and everyone loves showing up and investing in each other’s stories.

anja-137284-unsplash
Photo by anja. on Unsplash

BONUS: I Am Thankful That You Changed Our Poopy Pants. Most Millennials had parents who fell within the Baby Boomer years. So…yeah. Thanks for that.

Dear Millennials, Thank You

fullsizeoutput_1fc

As part of our ongoing conversation about generational divides, my Millennial daughter and I have written some posts praising the positive.

There is a whole lot out there calling out the negative. Don’t get me wrong—we’re both pretty good at that, too. Sarcasm is our second language. Yet it seems, if one wants to have a real conversation, that gratitude is a good place to start when you’re trying to figure out the space between you.

So, here we go. Please, feel free to add your thankfulnesses. (That is actually a word. At least, spellcheck thinks so.) I’ll start.

Dear Millennials,

Thank you.

1. Thank you for your willingness to tell the truth.

Our generation spent so much time, too much time, caring what everyone else thought. I know you do, too. But there is something fresher that you’ve got happening. Something cleaner, freer. Now I’m making you sound like laundry detergent. But it’s good detergent.

fancycrave-347298-unsplash
Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

2. Thank you for your friendships.

You know how to cross generational, racial, and gender lines better than we do. You know how not to care about the demographics and focus on the humanity. I love it. I love having you as friends.

And hey—thank your overinvolved parents. Without us orbiting so closely in your lives, you wouldn’t be nearly so comfortable with older people as friends. You’re welcome.

melissa-askew-642466-unsplash
Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

3. Thank you for your flexibility.

We sat at the feet of masters who taught us that perfection was next to godliness. Thy guaranteed us that if we did all the things right, we would have no worries about our children, our bank accounts, or our white teeth. We lived by equations. Look and act perfect = happy life.

You live by flow charts. One path gets blocked, there’s another option here. Or a work around. Or an app for that. It’s not always comfortable; sometimes I want a guarantee. But thank you. Flow is good.

4. Thank you that you force us to ask the hard questions.

IMG_7878

We can easily forget that there are hard questions. We’ve been in this for long enough to be settled in what we think we know. I think I ask “why” now more than I did at your age. I have fewer absolutes now than I did then. There were so many things I absolutely knew. So many certainties I felt strongly about. (See my personal theme song. I think this woman knows me.)

Now? Not so much. I don’t want to die on the hill of being right. I want to ask why. I think our questions should make us grow together rather than apart. Always. Thank you.

5. Thank you for your adventurous spirit.

The-Transformed-Wife-3

I have gone ziplining, snorkeled, been stranded in Italy with no transportation, done two mud runs, and given myself permission to do hard things. And to fail. I’ve stepped up to solo pastor a church.

I don’t think I would have done those things without a younger generation cheering me on and leading the way. Maybe I would have. I do like a good challenge. But it’s far more fun together.

Bonus: I am thankful you taught me to dress well.

That should speak for itself.

Except those hipster glasses. Seriously, they look like my dad’s. And the long beards . . . you will regret these decisions. Trust me. I lived through gauchos. I know.

It’s Gonna Stink

It takes courage to let Jesus roll away the stones we_ve carefully placed in front of the smelly messes of our lives.

Garbage in, but mostly out

There is an ongoing struggle in our house. My husband sincerely believes that the garbage needs to go out on Thursday night, the night before the garbage truck comes. This is logical to him. He likes logic and, more than logic, he likes to know when things are going to happen. He is a total creature of habit.

I, on the other hand, have a different viewpoint on when the garbage needs to head outside. When it’s full. Or, worse, when it stinks.

Some times of year, it can really stink.

I like my schedules, but if something stinks, it needs to go, regardless of whether the city has scheduled its demise that day or not.

He has habits; I have reactions.

So there is another part of the story we started last week that piques my interest. And my nose.

After Jesus goes to Lazarus’ tomb, the conversation between him and Martha that we began last week continues.

When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them.

They told him, “Lord, come and see.”Then Jesus wept.The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!”But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

Jesus was still angry as he arrived at the tomb, a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance.“Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them.

But Martha, the dead man’s sister, protested, “Lord, he has been dead for four days. The smell will be terrible.”

Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” 

Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!”And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” (John 11.33-44)

Jesus is the resurrection and the life. That means that there is nothing in our lives that is so dead Jesus cannot resurrect it. Not any big deaths in our lives, and not the small deaths either.

Nothing.

IMG_9558

Nothing is too dead for resurrection.

  • Not financial issues
  • Not child issues
  • Not job issues
  • Not relationship issues
  • Not sin issues
    Not medical issues

Nothing is too dead for resurrection.

But here’s the thing. Sometimes, we have to bury those things before Jesus can resurrect them. And sometimes? They will stink.

Jesus asks Martha if she believes who he is—the resurrection and the life. His real question, though, is this—Do you trust me? No matter what happens, do you trust me with your brother’s life—and yours?

We cling to those things that need resurrection, don’t we?

We know the marriage needs intervention, but we’re comfortable, at least, in our dysfunction. We don’t want to give our inch. What if he takes a mile? What if the immense work of changing the way we interact doesn’t change anything? What if we open up something that vomits all over us and never, ever goes back into its safe can?

Letting Jesus roll the stones out from in front of our messy marriage will stink, and we know it. But if we don’t bury what’s comfortable, we’ll never know the resurrection to what’s beautiful.

We know our relationship with our kids is tenuous, but listening and learning is hard. Believing the worst of them is impossible. Believing the worst of ourselves is uncomfortable. Learning boundaries and giving freedom threaten to break us in shards.

It stinks when we struggle with those we love most. But if we don’t bury what we have, he can’t raise it to what it could be.

We know we need to change some things for our health, or we need to accept that parts of the way we’d like to look or be are not going to happen this side of resurrection bodies. (I do not want to accept that.) Learning to live with physical limitations (not to mention saggy boobs) stinks.

But if I don’t bury my need to look and feel 35, how is he going to resurrect what is and make it what it can be? (Also, if I don’t bury my need to binge eat macarons and chocolate.) 

We know He’s calling us to something more, higher, deeper—in faith, in work, in calling, in hope. But taking the steps toward that means burying what is for the dream of what might be.

It takes courage to let Jesus roll away the stones we’ve carefully placed in front of the smelly messes of our lives.

IMG_9549

Oh, but look what can come walking out of the tomb if we let him.

Resurrection. Life. Renewal. Restoration.

All the fullness of life.

Do you know why “This Is Me” became the runaway hit song from Greatest Showman? Because we all know the feeling of hiding our mess. We know what it’s like to be afraid of revealing all that we are, the good, bad, and ugly, to a critical world.

We all long for the resurrection and life, not just in the future, but now, right now, in our mess today. It’s just that sometimes, we don’t long for it enough. At least, not enough to bury what is and let Jesus handle the smell.

Martha looks him in the eye. She knows it’s going to stink. She’s never experienced an actual resurrection before. It’s got to be frightening. She buckles in, nods her head, and says, “Yes, Lord. I believe.”

Blessed is she who has not seen and yet believes.

Little Atheists

615c1711f462e6c5faa2545c3fe24373

I was an avowed atheist when I was six.

Our parents dutifully sent my sister (8) and me off to Sunday school every week (well, semi-dutifully) with a quarter in our right fist and shiny shoes on our feet to see what we could learn. We didn’t go to the church service afterward, and no one came with us. I have only hazy memories of a blue flannel Jesus and some woman telling me he was good.

One afternoon, my sister and I rode our bicycles in circles around the garage, and she told me all about the things she had learned—how Jesus loved her and died for her and rose again.

I told her it was all baloney.

I didn’t believe a word of it. I have no idea how I was so certain of that at six, but I suspect that I figured my parents must not really have believed or they would have gone with us. Also, blue flannel Jesus was terribly boring. Also, I probably didn’t like that my big sister knew more than I did.

It all seemed pretty clear at six.

fullsizeoutput_207

Who knew that, long after I’d quit walking up the street to that little Presbyterian church, God had plans to capture me with his love anyway? Little atheists don’t know as much as they think.

Last year, we explored here  a series of questions God asks. Today, because Easter and all. we’re going to look at a seemingly straightforward one:

Do you believe this?

Backstory: Jesus receives a message that his dear friend, Lazarus, is deathly ill. His sisters Martha and Mary, also his dear friends, are looking for him to come set things right. They trust him to show up big for them—but he doesn’t. In fact, Jesus chooses to wait a few days before setting off to see his friend—days he knows are precious.

When Jesus arrived at Bethany, he was told that Lazarus had already been in his grave for four days. Bethany was only a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, and many of the people had come to console Martha and Mary in their loss. When Martha got word that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. But Mary stayed in the house.Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.” “Yes,” Martha said, “he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day.”

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” “Yes, Lord,” she told him. “I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.” (John 11.17-27)

IMG_5380 (3)

I’ve always loved this story, because it displays raw emotion mixed with real faith. Martha grieves—real grief, real tears. Real terror, because with her brother gone, who was going to take care of her and her sister? She knew what happened to two young women alone in that world. Her emotions ran out of her like spring rain swelling a waterfall. She is hurt, scared, grief-stricken, and confused.

Confused that the one she knew could help her didn’t come. She knew it—look at her words. 

“Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

She is too painfully aware that Jesus could have chosen to come, and she might not be in this despair. She is aware of something too many of the disciples don’t seem to be. Jesus is Lord of life and death itself.

She knows this.

This is why her response is so incredible to me. She knows he could have, she knows he didn’t, but she still chooses to believe.

Jesus’ response is perfect.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?”

Do you believe this?

Jesus could not ask this question at a worse time. This is not a philosophical question for Martha. Everything is in her heart and her eyes. Her world is shattered. If there is a resurrection and a life, and if this man is in charge of it, it has to mean more in this moment than an “I’ll fly away” Hallmark special effect someday in the clouds.

It has to mean something now.

Why? Because he asks her this question before he does anything.

Her brother has not yet been raised from the dead. Jesus has shown no hurry to do so, or apparent interest. Yet he’s asking her if she believes right now, in her grief, in her heartache and horror, before she ever sees her brother unwind those graveclothes from around his face.

IMG_5661 (2)

She’s known him for years. This family has the ease of old friends. The question is, does she really know him? Does she know him well enough? Has she studied his life, looked at his heart, listened to his words enough to really believe, even in this impossible moment?

That’s what he asks all of us, isn’t it? Have you studied me? Not about me, but me? Have you learned my heartbeat? Do you know what makes me joyful and what gives me sorrow? Do you understand what I am capable of? If you do, do you believe I am the resurrection and the life?

Now. Before I do anything in your life to prove it.

He’s asking her for a personal trust. He wants a relationship that can weather the storms ahead. He needs Martha to believe him no matter what happens, not for him, but for her.

If Lazarus had remained dead—if Jesus had chosen not to raise hm back to life—would Martha’s answer have been the same?

“Yes, Lord. I have always believed you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.”

Blessed is she who has not seen and yet believes.

Even when we don’t see, do we know enough of who he is to believe?

IMG_7440

I am the resurrection and the life.

I am the raising up.

I am the Not Dead.

I am death you don’t win.

I am the death where is your sting?

I am the “no one can stop me from raising myself or you.” Raising you to and from all manner of things. If you believe before you see.

That’s been hard for some of us in this season. With news of people murdered while worshiping, children slaughtered while learning, white supremacists marching, and babies stolen from their terrified parents, it’s just hard some days to remind myself that I follow a God who proved there is no situation he cannot resurrect.

But I do believe this.

In fact, in light of the insanity that surrounds us, believing he is in control of all things not being dead is the only theology that makes any sense at all. (And my friend, we all have theology. It doesn’t matter if we believe Jesus is baloney—we still have one.)

Unlike my six-year-old self, I do believe this. It’s all there is to believe in a world that needs hope. It’s the only thing that can bring our deaths out of the grave and unwrap them before our eyes.

Church as a War Zone?

During this series on young voices in the church (which will soon be interrupted by the most wonderful time of the year, Good Friday and Easter), I want to rerun some work I did with a very familiar young voice—my middle child. Here is one of our conversations on the topic of intergenerational faith. I loved it. I hope you do.

What is the church?

Is it local or global? Made up of a stable body or fluid? Can a few people in a living room be considered the church, or is it more than that? At what point does the “church” become the “Church”? And which deserves our loyalty, if either?

Do Millennials and Boomers really have completely different answers to these questions? As “they” are leaving “our” churches, or as “they” are shutting “us” out, can we worship in one body whose parts we all recognize? Or are the current battle lines merely going to make a corpse of that body?

In our very random quest to answer these questions, we somehow landed on a warfare metaphor. This does not mean we believe the generation are at war. At least, we hope not. Nevertheless, the metaphor gives some good insight into what we might be doing wrong we we try to do church together.

The Fear of Death

andrew-stutesman-643239-unsplash
Photo by Andrew Stutesman on Unsplash

Jill: Are our two generations really at war when it comes to the church? In the seeming battle to determine who “owns” the church and who will lead it, how do you see your generation responding?

Emily: Not a war, but let’s run with that metaphor.

We Millennials know that sometimes abandoning a battle is another way of winning. Like that story they tell in history class about how Russia killed Germany’s plans to invade simply by retreating and burning everything in Germany’s path.

We are Russia. You Boomers are Germany. You may think, as you gain more traction and pass more old-fashioned laws, that you are winning. But we aren’t leaving behind anyone or anything for you to build on.

Eventually, your resources will run out. And then we’ll be back to reclaim our place, free of your restraints and rules. High ground isn’t much good without a shelter to keep out the wind. Moral superiority won’t help build a fire.

So stop fighting us. We’re younger, stronger, and larger. There’s no way you could win this if it became an all out antagonistic fight. Diplomacy. Recognition that we are a source of power. These are the new trades of war.

Jill: Actually, I think traditional Boomer leadership is more like the UK than Germany. We already occupy the territory; we’re not out to conquer it. But we will bloody well (See? We’re British here) hold that ground and not back down, should any stronger forces try to storm the gates.

We will bar the gates and wait you out for as long as it takes. Yes, we will grow old and grey inside our churches, but we will still insist it is your loss because you would not cooperate.

Unfortunately, the churches that do that Will. Die.

rolf-neumann-1435004-unsplash
Photo by rolf neumann on Unsplash

How can we pick one or two verses out of the overarching story of God and claim we follow God’s purpose?

No Enemies Here

What we’re missing is that if you are Russia, you are our allies. (At least, if we maintain the WWII history here. One must suspend disbelief of all history since then.) You’re not our enemy.

You don’t need our stupid little island; you’ve got access to an entire Eurasian landmass if you retreat and do your own thing. And one day, those of us who are left will come out from behind our walls and discover that there is no longer anyone there. That’s my little world conquerors metaphor, there.

Emily: An excellent metaphor. Way to run with it. It’s a similar idea with dystopian novels–in almost every novel is a world whose leaders are corrupt and horrific–-a position of power that was often set in place as a means by which to counteract a specific threat.

Yet years after the threat is extinguished, the extinguishers are still in power, power has inevitably corrupted them, and everyone just deals with it because it’s all they can remember and anyone who “remembers” differently disappears.

Now, I’m not saying we’re living in the apocalypse. I’m not even saying it’s coming this week. I have no idea when it’s coming. (No one has any idea, actually.) But we need to recognize that our actions will always push the world in one of two directions ( I am loathe to use the pendulum simile, but there it vaguely is), and sometimes it’s really difficult to be certain that the action we choose really will push that pendulum the direction we were expecting it to.

Discipleship as a Missing Link

Jill: “We Millennials know that sometimes abandoning a battle is another way of winning. We aren’t leaving behind anyone or anything for you to build on.”

It sounds like your strategy is to withdraw and create your own version of church, where the judgment and antagonism you often feel doesn’t have to be faced. You’re going to “unfriend” the Boomer church so you no longer have to deal with their drama-filled statuses. In fact, that’s what the church sees happening.

That’s a key we Boomers need to grasp. We know all the data about 60-75% of Millennials leaving the church. But often, we dismiss that data with the glib assurance that you will behave as we did. You will return once you start to settle down and have kids. You’ll yearn for the security of a church and a belief system that stands through the ages. And brings you casseroles. That’s our assumption, because that’s what we did. Except in your case, it will be gluten free, vegan, locally sourced casseroles.

klara-koszeghyova-545438-unsplash
Photo by Klára Koszeghyova on Unsplash

Emily: Oddly, in our world of multi-accepted truths, it’s becoming harder and harder to be Christian and to belong to The Church. This is only partially because of the stigma attached to The Church.

The other part is–-in a catch-22–-because going to church is no longer the norm, we therefore need to know what we’re doing. We no longer have the excuse that the service is in Latin. Science and Christianity have declared a centuries old war on each other and I’m not even sure who started it.

We need to know our faith in order for us to be able to defend it. And, for better or for worse, that is just too difficult/time-consuming/pointless a journey for a lot of people. Those of us who are still in the church are stronger for it, but most days we’re as much at a loss as you guys are about how to get the rest of the gang interested in working for their parents’ faith.

We don’t want to be discipled into knowing about God. We want to be discipled into knowing him.

Jill: So part of the reason you’re leaving is that you haven’t been discipled to know what you believe. You can’t commit to “church” because you have to know and believe in what you’re getting yourself into to be comfortable jumping in. That’s fair.

But your inherent skepticism, coupled with that technology-induced immediate gratification thing, don’t allow for “knowing” anything. That makes our job a bit rougher.

Emily: But it’s not our fate to remain blind. We allow ourselves to be blind by repeating actions and ignoring consequences, without taking time to study and learn God.

aaron-burden-759770-unsplash
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

How can we buy a present for a friend when we don’t even know what kind of coffee she likes? How can we know what kind of getaway weekend our parents might appreciate if we don’t listen to their interests and get involved in their lives?

How can we pick one or two verses out of the overarching story of God and claim we follow God’s purpose?

We don’t want to be discipled into knowing about God. We want to be discipled into knowing him. Then, we might stay and find somme common ground.

We can avoid being Russia.