I keep having the same conversation. My life happens like that, I learn in little spurts, like inlets in my brain I scurry down them and find myself surrounded by a theme. This particular one is a tired topic, the horse has been dead a long time, and yet we remain the same. The topic is us, millennial’s, and Christianity. Our peers and our parents are trying to understand us, why aren’t we Christians anymore, and we are trying to understand ourselves. What did we come from, why did they do it like that, what is truth, does it have to be this way?
The themes I have gathered have definitely been scoured and articulated by academics and the like. There are collegiate articles written on culture and Christianity. Really thoughtful podcasts are taking on the topic and chasing after answers. I know the themes of the millennial drain in churches, I know why we’re leaving from books and from what people are saying. But I know it in my life. I don’t mean to make a cultural critique that I’m not qualified to make, but I see it in my community. At some point along the way the church stopped being compelling, the collective Christian voice stopped being the choir we wanted to join.
I know it in myself too. I have all the feelings my peers do, I sit across from them as they relay their spiral down into the abyss of doubt and unbelief and their slow climb back to clarity in a new form. I remember every single step, every moment my hands were pried open and I had to release all the boxes that kept my worldview in squares. It’s so hard and most of us come out of that deconstruction in a state of silence, we have to heal from the very real pain of disorientation - or some word I can’t grab onto, one that describes a loss of identity and hope and the feeling of being duped and simultaneously being judged and misunderstood for the wanderings. We finally find our feet and have to heal.
For a long time I was mad at God and the church; as I saw it, they set me up for the spiral of disbelief. But I see with kinder eyes these days, I see the church and the community of Christians that are desperate to do right by God and I see the drifter trying to find God in all the rightness. They’re both looking for Him, I hope He embraces us all.
I can’t figure out if I’m afraid or hopeful for us. Part of me watches my generations and celebrates our efforts to love and accept people better. We have been kinder to the LGBTQ+ community, we have worked towards elevating women, we have made concerted efforts to alleviate racism, less people are pretending, less of us go to church just because we’re supposed to, if we believe we fought hard to believe, we give less empty slogans for naked pain, we’re better at loving people where they’re at. And yet, less and less of us are Christians, or at least we’re not in the church.
Of course the greatest minds in Christendom are likely asking why (hopefully). But I see themes, I see them in myself and in my community. I think we got confused when faith was presented to us as black and white and it turned out that it wasn’t. We thought that there was a cause and effect between making good choices and having a good life. We understood it that if we had faith in God and didn’t fear the very real fear of this world then God would come through for us. We counted our blessings and then went to Uganda and couldn’t figure out how to count theirs. We believed in sexuality as God commanded it and then made friends with someone who was gay. The church spent all its money on being cool for us and it worked as well as putting mom in a leather jacket. We saw the needs of the world and simultaneously heard the collective Christian silence. We saw a man elected into office who stands for everything but Christian values who was voted in by a great majority of our fellow Christians. We read the Old Testament – and that’ll do it.
I believe in the life Jesus lived. I’m confused about so much, but I’m not confused about that. In the very middle of my heaviest season of doubt when I could not get myself to believe in God, I knelt before Jacob’s Well in Palestine where Jesus chose to deliver the good news to a half-breed, enemy women who by all accounts was not worthy of the news, and I sobbed. I sobbed because I can live my life for that, for someone who saw and loved the least of these. That moment was the beam of light in the chaos of doubt, and I will not let that go.
I have so many conversations with friends who are trying to understand God and as they do they’re finding themselves in a mystical place that’s much less orthodox than our pastors might hope. I hear in their voices a humble approach to faith, “I hope for hope to be true” they’ll say. I have so much space for these conversations, because on my best days I mostly believe, which I’ve accepted is the best I can do. I naturally respect the questions, I work to respect the answers.
I want us to remember the main point. I want us to be known for loving really well. I want more of our money to go to the poor. I want our communities and churches to be simpler and less self-focused. I want us to have space for each other’s differences in belief. I want us to empathize better with those who are different from us. I want us to be able to be honest about the pain of this life and honest about questions and doubt. I want us to be really good at loving the orphan, widow and stranger.
In all its simplicity and all its complexity this is Christianity 101, but we’ll lose ourselves and we’ll lose our children if we don’t respond.
I write to myself.