Still praying

A man once told me that the last time he entered a church was forty years ago. He was a teenager, but folks in his church thought he had an “unnatural attraction” to his best friend. They held an intervention for him. When the intervention “didn’t work” he was kicked out of the church, and didn’t return for 40 years.

One day, he knelt in tears at a railing near the altar while we prayed. The altar and railing looked similar to the church where they had prayed over him as a teenager. Forty years later when he had found his way back, we prayed for the walls he had built up to fall. We prayed for him to have the grace to forgive the people who had harmed him. We prayed for peace for him as he found his way back to church, even though it is sometimes hard to be there, with triggers that remind him of that earlier time, and fears that it will happen again.

I am still praying. I just heard a news story about a teenager named Lennon in Barnesville, MN, who was supposed to be confirmed last month at his Catholic church. He was allegedly not confirmed after posting on his facebook wall that he was against the marriage amendment that failed to pass in Minnesota on election day. The vote would have changed the state’s constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Lennon voiced his opposition to that measure. You can read more about that here.

So I am still praying.

I have an uncle who is gay. I don’t see him much, but he was at my grandmother’s funeral, and told me he had not been inside a church in at least a couple of decades. He asked me, “What is the point of these buildings? What use do they serve?”

The Barna group did a study that talked about the most common reasons that young people don’t go to church. The most common responses had to do with the church being irrelevant to their lives, anti-homosexual, antagonistic towards science, boring, and judgmental. The research is documented in the book, You Lost Me by David Kinnaman

So I am still praying.  First I  prayed for was that the voices of love and grace and mercy would be louder than the voices of intolerance and judgement. But that is not enough. If I am going to pray, I might as well ask for it all. Now my prayer is this: That we might find a way, as Church to be God’s body–to embody the love and grace of God above all else, and let go of fear, intolerance, and judgement.

I want to be able to tell Lennon there is a place for him in this Church, even with his opinions. I want to be able to tell my uncle about the reasons for Church, and not be afraid that his worst fears will be confirmed if he walks back in. I want to know that the man who left forty years ago won’t experience the same pain today. I want to know that this will never happen to another person again. I want young adults to come to church and experience it as a place that recognizes and welcomes their gifts, their questions, their life experiences and their whole selves, including a thinking mind.

We need this not just because I want a church that feels safe for Lennon, my uncle, and others to be themselves, but because the body of Christ needs them too. Those of us who are “in” the church miss out on all the gifts that those “outside” the church have to offer. And as long as there are groups that are “inside” the Church and “outside” the Church, we’re a long way away from God’s vision for this world.

At least as far as I can see.

So I’m still praying.

“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?