(Part 1 and Part 3 of this series.)
Years ago, my college group attended a weekend retreat (at a hot springs!) without knowing the topic. The speaker hadn’t announced it beforehand. Later, we discovered that that was because the speaker himself didn’t know his subject until he got underway; God only revealed it to him then. That subject was marriage. And it didn’t take long to see why God in his wisdom had waited for the reveal: at the end of the retreat, numerous attendees, as they shook the speaker’s hand in gratitude for solid teachings, admitted that if they’d known the topic beforehand, they wouldn’t have come.
At a different young adults’ group I briefly attended, the pastor offered a choice of topics for the next series: one of Paul’s epistles, or relationships. Paul’s epistle won. By a landslide.
And a friend recently asked, “Can we quit making the first question we ask someone after we haven’t seen them for a long time, ‘Soooo, do you have a guy’?”
Why do so many millennials land anywhere from disinterested to fiercely opposed to marriage?
The answers, I suspect, reach double digits. I myself never numbered among the matrimonially disinterested, but over time, I’ve come to appreciate fellow millennials’ increasing desire for singleness. It stems from not a few understandable stalks. And as I said last week, blunt criticism of singleness, from even respectable evangelical figures, will never be as effective as understanding and encouragement.
One stalk, I think, could be described as a lack of affirmation.
The woman who gazes at a hated reflection and wishes she were thinner and prettier.
The poor man who wears himself out pursuing the worry-free life of a millionaire.
The failed applicant who lost to someone with a longer resume (or better connections).
The scrawny sophomore who sits at home envying the senior jock who seems to go nowhere without an entourage.
All these people are comparing ourselves to others. It’s a rampant problem in today’s society. I needn’t rehash the costly and damaging things people do to attain the standards society promotes.
Much Christian teaching these days, directed at millennials in particular, has recognized the insecurity bred by this phenomenon and offers an answer: to “stop comparing yourself to others and find your satisfaction in God“.
There is truth to this. Even the world manages to stumble haphazardly upon this truth as it blindly gropes its way across the landscape. “A broken clock is right twice a day” and all that. And I would hasten to add that there are good reasons for some of the comparisons we perform. Job hunts are comparisons. We want the best person for the job. We would not hand a pulpit to an uneducated layman (or Satanist), or an engineer’s desk to a botanist who doesn’t know a wrench from his rear end.
However, at the end of the day, there are still lonely and undervalued people out there. There’s a missing piece to the puzzle: us. We have a role to play. And I suspect that we have allowed the competition aspect of life to spill its banks, become more prevalent than it should be.
A few years ago, I stood in my church’s kitchen combing through massive chunks of steaming pulled pork. It was to be sold heaped between hamburger buns as part of a mission fundraiser.
As I coaxed the juicy meat into smaller chunks, I was disappointed.
I’d recently been pulled out of a couple ministry opportunities at my church. I’d been assured that it wasn’t about my heart or competence – just other things going on.
The struggle in my heart was real. Sin kept whispering at me, You wanted to do X and Y and here you are in the kitchen, holding a fork. The Spirit in me wasn’t that stupid. I knew it’s not about me. I knew ambition is unholy. But sometimes lies can feel overwhelming, especially in my already-formidable climate of fear and self-criticism. A gale against a fragile sapling of holiness, trying to stay upright.
Unlooked for, as I stared down into the pan of shredded pork, God spoke into the gale.
I am shredding you.
This week, Jen Hatmaker stepped in it.
The popular progressive Christian author and speaker, in an interview with the Religion News Service, stated she believed that “gay relationships are holy”.
Before I offer my stance on this*, I want to talk about something else: our reaction.
For as soon as I read Jen’s words, a swell of something hit my chest, and I wasn’t sure whether it was a response to Jen’s doctrine, or pity for her.
The moment Jen made her claim, you knew what was coming. She’s been hit with a tsunami of harsh rebuke from every corner of the earthly church. Smug responses, in some cases, like this from the Christian satire site Babylon Bee. Piling on. Without the nuance of face and voice, I can tell you that this wave of response has already struck some people as self-satisfied, angry, and alarmist – everything Christian millennials (like Hatmakers’ fans) already dislike about the evangelical church. It’s a downside to the internet. It’s also one reason my generation struggles so much to respect doctrine.
If you’re ice-cold objective about all this, you probably acknowledge that the harshness of the church has no bearing on whether a piece of doctrine is actually true.
But something is revealed here, I think, by fans of both Hatmaker and of those criticizing her: a hesitation to let go of our earthly heroes.
I recently filled in teaching Sunday School (the usual guy was on mission in India). The topic for the weekend was the church – its role, its record, and how indispensable it is for the believer.
Suffice it to say I was blown away. The high school students in that group had solid, practical ideas about what a church should look like, how to evaluate one, and how much urgency we should place upon settling down in one.
Blown away because while these students knew the right answers, a lot of people my age find them hard to execute.
“I love Jesus, but not organized religion” has become millennial-code for rejection of the church. It’s not hard to see why. I could blame the media for doing its best to blackball the church by accentuating its faults. But I don’t have to. A lot of us have our own wounds to sport. We might have been judged. We might have been extorted. We might just be sick of gaudy sanctuaries, sermons resembling TED talks, and iPads handed out to retain newcomers. Or we might just feel that this or that church doesn’t “feed us” well.
But permit me to challenge. What if we shifted our view of the church from a service to an opportunity?
I realize (and celebrate) that I’m not the first to address this ludicrousness. But I hope you will indulge me in digging a little deeper.
Starbucks’ simple red holiday coffee cups, devoid of any symbols or images that might imply embracing one Christmas “story” over another, have become the latest in a series of small things that American Christians find offensive. I guess our annoyance is better spent on that than, oh, I don’t know, human trafficking or the specter of abortion.
But while I could just say “this isn’t real persecution” (and I will), there are actually a variety of problems revealed when we react so strongly to things. (Like the final season of “Frasier”, I have saved the best for last.)
1. An Ignorance of our Orders
Never mind whether coffee cups without Christmas symbols is an actual sin. Jesus doesn’t tell us to point out sin and stop there. He tells us to spread the gospel. There’s a difference.