“Failure to Launch” or the new ‘normal’?

I recently went to a workshop put on by the Barna group called, You Lost Me.

It was a great day, but I take issue with some things. One is a conversation about “Failure to Launch.” They showed the difference between today’s 20’s-30’s achieving these milestones that signify adulthood, and the statistics of a previous generation. Statistics say that far less people today have lived these milestones by the age of thirty. The point was that many young people today have “failed to launch” into adulthood.

The key factors that marked a person (or generation of persons) as a failure had to do with leaving home, attaining economic independence, and forming families of their own. I don’t argue that these things are happening and that we should talk about them, but I do argue with the word “failure” and wonder about how we culturally define adulthood.

Leaving home: While this has been a sign of adulthood in American society in recent history, it is also a mark of our cultural value of independence. There are many cultures throughout the world and down through history for which this would not be seen as a sign of adulthood, or a desired state.

Attaining economic independence: I am unsure if this is about paying your own rent or having a career focused job, or some other sign, but some questions to consider might be these:

  • Is this happening because too many men are in their parents’ basement playing games?
  • Might there be other factors, such as baby boomers not retiring and saturating the market?
  • When they do retire, new hires often look and act like the old ones, but  ten years younger instead of forty years younger (or even twenty years younger) In my field, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, you can see this trend as you look at the newest bishops in the church, who are largely 50+. I am not arguing for twenty-six year old bishops, or even a leadership based on Numbers 8, but some diversity in leadership might be good for the Church.
  • Is it because the economy is tight and less people are hiring?
  • Is it because of a large national conversation in higher education about “vocation” meaning finding a calling, (to put it simply)  rather than just finding a job that pays the bills?

If these are factors, then can we blame individuals? Does the “generational failure” reside with those in their 20’s and 30’s (right now) or with another generation? Is it always a failure?

Forming families of their own: David Kinnaman, who wrote You Lost Me and presented on this topic, has also written a blog about the “The New Normal”  which includes pointing out that there is a “global pause in marriage.” Not just in American society, but across the world, many cultures are delaying marriage. There are good reasons for this. I have friends who did launch in all of these traditional ways—successfully out of the house! Successfully married! Successfully breeding! And at such a young age that now they are “unlaunched” or launch aborted. Some of those divorces were incredibly painful. While I have witnessed some great marriages, I can also say there are far worse things that remaining single.

I also think of my friends in the LGBTQ  community. Anyone can form a family, but for LGBTQ folks, they are often not recognizable as such to the government, the church, or a research group if they are defining family in a heternormative way. This, along with the sometimes long and painful process of coming out will probably delay the step of forming a family.

Twenty-two years ago I moved out of my parents’ house at eighteen. I got a college degree, started my first career. I’ve spent 3 months back in my parents’ house since then in between jobs. I became one of the “new normal” of “educated capable young women” who owns a house. But since I am not married and did not have children, I guess that means I failed to launch.

The valid point of talking about this during the “You Lost Me” presentation was to point out how churches are ill-equipped to deal with the “new normal.” I agree with this, because our churches are often very family-centric and heteronormative. But the “new normal” is still called a failure. It is a failure which Jesus would have (probably) been familiar with, because (as far as we know) he also failed to be economically independent. His family (see Mark 3: 31-35) was the people around him—perhaps like the “urban tribes” we hear about as forming new definitions of family. He seems to have walked around a lot, living an itinerant life. He didn’t live much longer after 30, so I guess we’ll never know if he would have eventually become a successfully-launched adult.

Can we please use different words?

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Cast me gently into morning

On Easter each year I set my alarm for a few minutes before sunrise so that I can listen to this song by Sarah Mclachlan, Answer. One year I heard this song during holy week, and I heard these words in an entirely new way:

“Cast me gently into morning

For the night has been unkind.

Take me to a place so holy

That I can wash this from my mind–

the memory of choosing not to fight.”

All of a sudden I was thinking of the stories of Jesus on the cross, and the coming Easter morning. One of the ways I understand the cross is that Jesus was put to death for rebelling against authorities and teaching strange things that people didn’t understand and felt threatening to their way of life–especially those in power. And he chose to not fight, so that he didn’t participate in the systems of death and power. He couldn’t participate in those systems he spoke against, or none of it would make any sense. He had to live and die in a different way.

One year I saw Sarah Mclachlan in concert, and she introduced this song by saying she had written the chorus years ago and never had any verses, and she furthermore didn’t know what the song was about. From up in the balcony of Benaroya Hall, I wanted to shout. I know! I know what it’s about! It’s about death and resurrection. It’s about this story of Jesus on the cross, and people yelling up at him: “If you are the son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross” (Matthew 25:40). Its about going through the hell of all that rejection and pain and choosing not to fight. It’s about Easter morning and rising up from that death into life. It’s about the Holy.

And, as she sings in the verses of the song, “It will all be worth it—worth it in the end.”

(This year, sunrise in Denver is at 6:32 AM, when this was posted. I’ll be up way before that.)

If you’re going through hell, keep going.

I guess Winston Churchill said that. Someone else once said (and someone else put it on a card) “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

These are the two quotes that keep sticking in my head during Holy week, especially on this day, the Saturday before Easter. If you’re going through hell, keep going. I don’t know what Winston Churchill meant by this but it seems to me to say something about death and resurrection.

What the hell? That’s always the question. On Huff post this week there’s an article about what Jesus did in those three days between death and the empty tomb. Some parts of our tradition talk about descending into hell, and there are various thoughts about why, or what he was doing there. I once had a friend ask me, “what the hell did I ever do that was SO BAD that Jesus had to go to hell for three measly days so that I don’t have to spend an eternity there?”

Well, it’s a good question, but one that is a little bit lost on me. I don’t really believe in this physical place of fire and brimstone with a dark overlord best depicted in the South Park movie. But I can tell you this: Even in my own life, I have experienced really dark nights; I have gone through hard things that felt like the end. That felt like Hell. We all have. I imagine genocide feels like hell. I imagine war feels like hell. I imagine devastating earthquakes and tsunamis feel like hell. I imagine it feels like hell when you go through those things and nobody seems to care enough to help.

I also know about the dark voices in my head that keep me (as Martin Luther would say) curved in on myself, unable to offer my best self to the world. And that can feel like the devil. So we have these stories that personify and animate what we experience in life, because it’s the truth. Sometimes life is hell, and sometimes those voices that keep us down feel like evil incarnate.

So maybe when we hear the stories of Jesus being put to death on a cross, and then going to hell we can get it. The cross is hell. And Jesus went there. Maybe we can come to understand not that Jesus went there in your place, but instead that there is nothing you can experience and no place where you can go where Christ isn’t there with you.

And then the resurrection—which we experience as well. We know from our lives that it really is true—that life keeps going, and that in the end it will be okay. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

So if you’re going through hell, keep going. It’s not the end.

Not a hopeless case

“I don’t believe in miracles” the boy says in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.

Yeah. I don’t either. Except that they happen sometimes and I can’t explain them away. Weird things happen all the time in the world, things that were doomed to die end up living. People that never should have met end up meeting. Forgiveness happens. Wounds heal.

Of course, the opposite happens as well. People who should live end up dying. People who should never meet never meet. We take grudges to our graves. We keep open wounds. I guess that’s why its so hard to believe in miracles.

For churchy-types, we’re stuck in a set of stories about miracles right now. I never know what to do with them. Ignore them? Pretend its not weird that Jesus touched a guy with a skin disease and he was “made clean?”

I have no answers here, just a pondering of questions. For my part, I really am going to ignore the healing part, and focus instead on the anger that, (the story tells us) made Jesus reach out and touch this man, rendering him untouchable himself. Or, rendering nothing untouchable anymore. As Bono screams in Beautiful Day, “Touch me…I know I’m not a hopeless case.”

And none of us are. None of us are. But its still the case that every single one of the people we are told Jesus healed eventually died. So there’s that. But then, I guess Jesus did too. And turned that around to not-a-hopeless-case.

“It will be a miracle if you find the lock this key goes to” says the woman back to Oscar in the movie. Of course, he does. It’s the movies. But it isn’t exactly the way he thought it would go. It never is. Miracles probably happen every day and we just can’t recognize them, because we’re looking for something different.

(PS. See the movie. It’s really good.)

Ordinary and/or sacred: Brandi Carlile and the disciples

There is this cover band called Runaway Train made up of these suburban dads and me. I don’t know why they let me sing with them, but I’m grateful. One of them goes to the church I work at. The other two play in a band at another church. We occasionally play at a bar in a  strip mall. Apparently, these guys also want to play at the end of my time here. At church. One of them suggested we sing the song “Shout to the Lord.” I know this is a favorite for many people, and if that is a song that speaks your story, then sing it out.

The truth for me is this: I don’t really resonate with many contemporary Christian songs. I also don’t resonate with many hymns. (And I’m just praying that there is still room for people like me in the church.) I can’t quite put my finger on what it is–part of it has to do with complexity of both music and themes. Life is complicated. I like my music to reflect that complexity (message and means of relaying that message). Otherwise, it doesn’t feel like the truth for me. It is not true, for example, that I will forever praise God or that I sing for joy at the sound of God’s name. I’m just not that good. I also don’t envision God as a Mighty Fortress. I’ve never been in need of a Mighty Fortress. I’m not even sure what that is, though I’ve been to Wartburg Castle, so that is what I picture in my head.

What I do resonate with is when some song I hear on the radio reminds me of an ancient sacred story. Or when I read from sacred text (Bible, for me) and think about the characters introduced and what they might be thinking about and feeling, and find some singer today who is expressing those same thoughts and feelings. That deepens the experience of the sacred story for me.

Here is an example: My friend Michael Larson and I like to work on finding poetry and music that goes with Jesus stories. He is working on a worship experience around the story of Jesus calling his disciples. It’s in the first chapter of the book of Mark (one of four books that made it into the Bible that tell the story of Jesus). Jesus is starting to collect disciples—people who would follow him, like, as a career. He picks up these two fishermen and tells them if they follow him, he will make them “fishers of men.” (For you churchy leader types who might be reading this, this is the text you may come across for January 22.) For the text of the story, look here: http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Mark+1:14-20&vnum=yes&version=nrsv

Thinking about those fishers, we wondered what was going on in their heads as they heard him say that. Jesus must have been a compelling person in order for them to decide to follow, but there still must have been some ambiguity in their choice. Some question about if this was wise. What does it mean to be a fisher of men? How do you make money off of that? Who is this guy and what will be expected of me? What will my family think? And as we kept hearing that word, “follow” we thought of a song from Brandi Carlile, called “follow.” We looked up the lyrics to see if it might speak to the situation these guys found themselves in. Imagine a scene in the movie of this story where you see these guys struggling with this opportunity to follow, and wondering what to do. And maybe the scene is told with this song playing over the top: Brandi Carlile “Follow”

And as you think about the possible thoughts of those guys, maybe you’re also led to think about your own life, and your own struggles with what to do, and how to respond to your own life and what God might be calling you to do. For me, this way of listening to music and thinking about the ancient stories animates the stories and my faith life, infusing faith into life, making sacred what is ordinary.

Some people find it important to keep sacred music separate from the rest of the world (variously described as “secular” or “profane”). I’m uncomfortable with that separation. I want to experience God in all kinds of ways. Just as I am to remember Christ whenever I eat bread or wine—ordinary things in the world, I also want to remember Christ and these stories whenever I turn on the radio and hear ordinary music of the world. If this song comes on the radio while I’m driving  along I can think about those guys and the choice they had to make, along with all of us, who are still making choices about who and when and what to follow today.

So, that’s why the band won’t be singing Shout to the Lord on my last day. When we sing at the bar, we always sing the Decemberists,  Down by the Water, a song that reminds me of John the Baptist (see this ancient river bed, see where all the follies led, down by the water, down by the old main drag…)

Of course, they also occasionally talk about doing the song “Feel like Makin’ Love.” I don’t know what story to relate that to. Sampson and Delilah? Just some occasional thoughts on life, sacred and profane…

Holly