Tag Archives: millenials

“If You Don’t Go to Church You Can’t Complain.”

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This morning as I drove home from breakfast with a church member, I caught the last 15 minutes of the Diane Rehm show on NPR. She and her panel were discussing the upcoming midterm elections. One of them shared a recent poll, in which only 15% of respondents said they were “closely following” the midterm elections. Among voters ages 18-29, that number is 5%.

The topic turned to voter turnout, especially among young people. How can we get young people to register and vote? Diane asked, and enlisted each panelist to make his or her best pitch for voting.

Now, I’m not a young adult. (As my friend Jarrett put it, “If you’re happy Apple put the U2 album on your phone, you’re not a young adult anymore.”) And I’m a committed voter. But as I listened to the panelists’ responses, I thought to myself, “There’s no way young adults who aren’t voting will be convinced by these reasons.”

And–of course–I was struck by how similar their reasons were to those reasons we give why young people should be in church.

  • It connects you to a larger community. Guess what? There are many ways to connect with community. Young adults go to work or school, they pay their taxes, many of them volunteer, and many seek to live ethically in how they spend their money and their time. They don’t feel they need to vote/to attend church in order to make a contribution; there are other avenues.
  • It allows you to be “part of the solution.” Don’t like what church has to offer? Get involved. Don’t like your options for governor? If you get involved in the process, and bring your peers along, the candidates will start to respond to issues you care about. But young adults are involved in all sorts of community service and activism. They see themselves as able to make change. They just do it differently than pulling a lever or showing up on Sunday morning.
  • And they ended with the old saw, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” Eh, I don’t know about that. First of all, because for better or worse, we Americans (and others) see complaining as a birthright. That’s why #firstworldproblems is a thing! But also because millenials’ lack of participation is a statement, if we bother to listen. Their silence in our churches and at the polling places is not apathy. It’s a clear message: “This has no relevance for my life whatsoever.” Our job isn’t to convince them otherwise. Our job is to ask, “What if they’re right?”

I’m not telling people not to vote. I mean, come on. It’s a small expenditure of time to do basic research and get yourself to a polling place (though one party wants to make the voter registration process harder, through a variety of tactics designed to alleviate the non-epidemic of “voter fraud”).

There are people out there who will say that both parties are corrupt, and they aren’t that different, so why bother. I am not one of those people. Yes, I’ve never seen such a bunch of do-nothing, gridlocked dysfunction as I do in our nation’s capital, and the day Citizens United was decided was a dark day in our democracy. Still, I vote. In a fallen world, the lesser of two evils is a choice we need to make.

Similarly, I think Christian community provides something distinctive that you don’t get other places. (Other religious communities provide their own distinctives.)

But I can’t exactly fault young people for not being jazzed about deciding there are better uses of their time than choosing between Corporate Candidate Chet and SuperPAC Steve at the ballot box. And let’s not dump on them for not jumping on board with church, when what “church” often means is “the way we’ve always done it… until you’re around long enough for us to trust you to suggest ways we can change.”

The whole Diane Rehm discussion–and the discussion so many churches have–is backward. The question isn’t how to convince young people to show up and vote, or to go to church. The question is, what is it about the “product” that they find utterly un-worth their time?

Why do we frame this as a problem with the millenials and not with ourselves?

~

photo credit: Denise Cross Photography via photopin cc

What Novelist John Green Teaches the Church about “Reaching” Young People

HERE COME THE FEELS!

BRING ON THE FEELS!

If you’re a fan of John Green (and if you’re not, what’s your problem?), you’re going to want to check out the New Yorker profile, THE TEEN WHISPERER: How the author of “The Fault in Our Stars” built an ardent army of fans.

John Green is like Colbert to me: someone who’s extremely good at what he does and who brings a joie de vivre to his vocation. I can’t help but root for him.

The church is awash with concern these days about the so-called “nones”: people who are not affiliated with any religion, who may (or may not) consider themselves spiritual but not religious… many of whom are in the millenial generation—aka many of John Green’s fans.

How can we “get” more young people? churchy people ask. Is there a way we can “appeal” to them? The format of the questions reveals their purpose—to find more members so that our churches won’t decline and die.

Guess what? Young people don’t care to be our institutional life insurance.

(Neither do 42 year old mothers of three, actually.)

That said, being interested in young people isn’t necessarily opportunistic. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor, and young people are our neighbors. (So are old people, married people, single people, LGBT people, poor people, Muslim people…)

Jesus also calls us to serve, and that’s something that motivates millenials a great deal. (As the saying goes, they love Jesus; they don’t love the church.)

So. In the spirit of connection rather than conversion, friendship rather than membership, partnership rather than fixing, here are some things we can learn from John Green and his tremendous appeal.

He isn’t trying to “reach” young people. Green reportedly hates being called the “teen whisperer,” which is to his credit. His crazy popular vlogbrother videos were not started as some calculated attempt to build his fan base. (Well, not primarily with that purpose, though you can’t argue with success.) Rather, he and his brother Hank started them in order to play with the online video format, which was pretty new back in 2006. They created something winsome and irresistible and the fans thronged to it.

Do we in the church see millenials as a means to an end? 
What are we doing that is winsome and irresistible? 

~ 

He takes young people seriously and learns from them. The Fault in Our Stars is filled with wickedly good dialogue, pitch-perfect one-liners and deep wisdom. Some have criticized him for this because “Teenagers don’t really talk like that.” I read somewhere that Green doesn’t try to duplicate the speech patterns of teens. He tries to write the way teens sound to themselves and one another—clever, weird, and wise, assured sometimes and sharply insecure at others. It’s like teen-speak, boiled down to its essence. You have to love and admire and understand young people to pull that off.

Also, the protagonist in The Fault in Our Stars was inspired by an actual teenager with thyroid cancer, Esther Grace Earl, whose experience helped shape the book. Four or five times a month, Green talks on the phone with kids who have cancer, sometimes through Make a Wish, sometimes not. He is also fluent in social media and engages folks on Twitter and Tumblr. And once every few months, he Skypes with teens who are struggling with serious illness.

Is your church present where young people are present, whether online or in person?
Are you cultivating actual relationships with them, not so you can bestow your wisdom,
but so we can all grow together?

~

He’s created a tribe. There are traditions and catch phrases and a shared history—not all of which were created by him. (This is important.)

Last year I checked out a John Green book from my local library and when I got it home, out fell a note that had been tucked into its pages: “Hey, nerdfighter! Don’t forget to be awesome!”

DFTBA is very big with this tribe.

And there’s a focus on giving to others. Esther Day is a holiday that Esther Earl asked people to observe on her birthday. According to the New Yorker, “Her idea was that it could become a celebration of non-romantic love—a day when you’d say ‘I love you’ to people who don’t often hear it from you.” And check out the Project for Awesome that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for worthy causes.

How does Christianity help people (of all ages) become a part of something larger than themselves? (Hint: as the Project for Awesome demonstrates, they don’t need us in order to feel this. Still, what is our distinctive gift in the midst of the broader culture?)
And are people encouraged to bring their own energy and ideas to the table, or are we the keepers of our traditions and norms?

~

He’s a learner. Check out his Crash Course videos. In these, he (and Hank) are teachers, but he comes at his topics with the posture of a student. And my kids love his Mental Floss videos in which he tests out various lifehacks:

Do we have all the answers, or are we willing to learn?

~

He employs humor with substance.  From the New Yorker profile: “In a post advising boys on how to charm a girl, John jokingly said, ‘Become a puppy. A kitten would also be acceptable or, possibly, a sneezy panda’—an allusion to a popular clip on YouTube. But he also said, ‘If you can, see girls as, like, people, instead of pathways to kissing and/or salvation.'”

As communities of faith, do we offer meaning and substance… while taking ourselves lightly?

~

He loves the grand gesture. Again, the New Yorker: “Many authors do pre-publication publicity, but Green did extra credit: he signed the entire first printing—a hundred and fifty thousand copies—which took ten weeks and necessitated physical therapy for his shoulder.”

Which leads to my final question for the church:
When’s the last time you undertook an extravagant gesture for the sake of this world God loves? 

Teri’s Turn: A Q&A with Teri Peterson, Co-Author of Who’s Got Time?

A couple of weeks ago we heard from Amy Fetterman, co-author of Who’s Got Time? Spirituality for a Busy Generation. Today we hear from the other half of that dynamic writing duo, Teri Peterson:
url1. What inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to read this book…and it didn’t exist. Now it does!

In all seriousness–we kept looking and looking for something that would address the spiritual lives of people like us: smart, busy, X-Millennial bridge people who long for something bigger but aren’t super interested in just retreading the same institutional route and are decidedly unwilling to disengage from culture or intellect. There was lots of stuff about resourcing the spiritual journeys of teens, and lots written about how all of us young adults were entitled rejectors of everything our parents built, but nothing written to or for us, or even really for anyone trying to figure out 21st century spiritual reality. Enter one professor-mentor-turned-colleague who gave us “the look” over a glass of wine in a hotel room, and voila: a book proposal was born.

2. What does “spirituality” mean to you?
For me it’s about how we approach life. I don’t subscribe to the idea that there’s a division between sacred and secular, so I think of spirituality almost as a worldview. I’m constantly looking for the Spirit, and for what speaks to my spirit. But that all takes practice…and that practice is spirituality.

181195333. What will people gain by reading this book that they won’t get anywhere else?
An imaginative yet grounded, playful yet profound look at how to engage the world. And hopefully some ideas that spark their own imagination toward seeking a deeper relationship with God even in the midst of the crazy that can be life in the 21st century.

What they will not find is a lecture about how they’ve been praying wrong all these years, and if they would just try XYZ thing that (insert historical figure here) did, they’d be happy and rich and find world peace. Though if anyone does find that thing, we hope they’ll write to us…

4. Share one idea, quote or section in the book of which you are particularly proud.
While pajama days are probably my favorite practice in the book, I have to say that the chapter on making up rituals to mark the moments of our lives (which are often different, or differently timed, than previous generations’ moments and rituals) is some of our best work–and having actually done many of the rituals in that chapter, and others inspired by that chapter, I can say that they work. In spite of the skepticism of some of my 25-years-older friends.

If this question had been about the writing and what was the most fun part to actually figure out how to put on paper, it’d have to be researching songs in the Common Meter and singing Amazing Grace to them. Seriously…ask me to sing Amazing Grace to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” sometime. It’s awesome.

5. Dream time: where would you LOVE to see this book get covered? (Oprah’s Book Club, Colbert Report, etc.)
We clearly need to be on the Daily Show. Obviously. Though I might settle for Krista Tippett’s On Being at first. 😉

Ooh, good choice Teri! Whether you end up across the table from Jon or Krista, we will cheer you on.

Who’s Got Time? A Q&A with Amy Fetterman

18119533My friends Teri Peterson and Amy Fetterman have a new book, Who’s Got Time? Spirituality for a Busy Generation. Teri and Amy have agreed to engage a little Q&A here at the Blue Room. Teri is currently on a cruise ship with the RevGals, so this week is Amy’s turn.

1. What inspired you to write this book?

Frustration inspired us to write this book – that and a good smack upside the head by a cherished mentor! We kept looking for a book like this in bookstores, online, and found nothing but books about young adults, not for us. Nothing that met us where we are. Nothing that respected that young adults could be interested in deepening their relationship with God yet not necessarily interested in doing the same things their parents and grandparents did (because they aren’t in the same place as the previous generations).

We made the “mistake” of sharing this frustration with a mentor of ours and she just looked at us and stated the obvious we had clearly missed: we needed to write this book. She was right and so we did!

2. What does “spirituality” mean to you?

It’s being intentional about noticing God’s presence, seeking that presence, growing in that presence.

3. What will people gain by reading this book that they won’t get anywhere else?

The comfort in knowing that they are not alone in yearning for something deeper and that they can find connections to the Holy One in so many different, meaningful, and not necessarily obvious ways.

Amy Fetterman, Co-Author of Who's Got Time?

Amy Fetterman, Co-Author of Who’s Got Time?

4. Share one idea, quote or section in the book of which you are particularly proud.

Getting “Samuel L. Mother-bleeping Jackson” into print! Because seriously, that man as the voice of God is just amazing.

I am particularly proud of the chapter on encountering God in creation, because such practices were not a go-to for me. In order to write about meeting God on a hike or camping or gardening, I had to get out there and do those things. Not only did I get material for that chapter, but I also grew in the process! I’m not saying I’m up for taking on the Appalachian Trail tomorrow, but I now enjoy my walks in a more meaningful way.

5. Dream time: where would you LOVE to see this book get covered? (Oprah’s Book Club, Colbert Report, etc.)

I would love to watch Teri throw down with Colbert! I’d also love to be a special guest on Wil Wheaton’s Youtube series Tabletop – geeky young adults are right up my alley and I think they’d dig this book!

~

I hope Wil takes you up on the challenge, Amy!

Meanwhile, check out Who’s Got Time at Chalice Press, Amazon or your favorite online book retailer. (And maybe some brick and mortar places too!)