Relevant, a Christian magazine targeted at twenty- and thirty-somethings, recently posted an article on the website about Millennial traits that make my generation suited for and important to Christianity. Though the claim that individualism is key to community feels like a stretch, the rest of the article rang true for me. (Thanks to my roommate for the link!)
“While it’s true that roughly three in ten Millennials (29 percent) claim no religious affiliation, 86 percent still profess belief in God, which really doesn’t sound like an atheist’s society.”
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So in one of last month’s posts, I mentioned a youth conference where several classmates and I served as college leaders. It was not exactly a positive experience. We encountered blatant homophobia, as detailed in my previous post. Other messages included prosperity gospel, anti-evolutionism, women’s sexual disinterest and men’s sexual enslavement, and consumerism. It left many of us in the group feeling dejected and agitated. This was not the church as we envisioned it.
In our frustrated conversations that weekend, all the questions boiled down to one: reform from within or abandon ship? In other words, is Christianity worth reclaiming or should we start from square one, uncorrupted? It reminded me of the various Puritan sects in England at the turn of the seventeenth century. Some of them advocated for complete separation from Anglicanism while others said that they were called to heal the church. The way to heal was to stay, to shine as the holy minority within. Separation, the latter group argued, would be akin to chopping off a healthy hand to save it from the body’s infection.
Obviously I’m inclined to heal from within, seeing as how I plan to be ordained as a United Methodist. But I understand my friends’ leanings as well. Sometimes it seems that American Christianity has fallen so far that it can never climb back up. As Walter Brueggemann might say, we’ve been assimilated into the culture instead of standing as its alternative. A very wise professor from Duke Divinity once told me that too many Christians put fish on the back of their cars while living the same as everybody else. I’ve certainly been guilty of that. What else could explain my fear of speaking to the homeless woman camped outside my apartment building? Radical Christianity exists in isolated pockets these days.
Still, I am too much of an optimist to not believe that with God all things are possible. God is remaking the world every day with or without me. I want to be included in His great project. I still believe that God’s grace can redeem the church, restore it to what Christ imagined when he appointed Peter. I’m praying hard.
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Sorry for the disappearance, folks! The thesis is due in less than two weeks and has kind of consumed my life. But in the realm of good news, I can announce that this fall I’ll be attending Wesley Theological Seminary in DC! I’m very excited for the opportunity to learn and grow in such a diverse, deep-thinking community. Christian Girl at Grad School, here I come.
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Fred Phelps of “God hates fags” fame is dying, or so claims his family. The anthems of rejoicing echo across the Internet. When this awful man is finally dead, perhaps his hate-filled “church” will dissolve. One less evil in the world. Many people who have been victim to his protests, pickets, and bigotry are eager for Phelps to breathe his last. I can’t say I blame them. And yet…
I recall a winter day in freshman year getting a phone call from my Mom. She said Obama had a big announcement. When the president declared to the world that Osama bin Laden was dead, cheers went up from the impromptu watch party that had materialized in my dorm room. One of my neighbors poked her head out the door and shouted, excitedly, down the hall: “Hey everybody! Bin Laden’s dead!” All through the night and into the next day, me and my friends posted ecstatic Facebook statuses and whispered about it in class. Bin Laden’s death wouldn’t bring back the victims of 9/11, but at least the country felt a little safer and a little fairer.
Amidst the hoopla, there were wise voices among us who condemned our happiness. A terrorist’s death represented a soul lost forever, a person who went to his grave unrepentant and unredeemed. Conversion is cause for celebration; elimination is not. I suppose the same applies to homophobic church planters who believe Mr. Rogers is in hell. God loves Fred Phelps, too, enough to die for him. And because we are God’s children just as Phelps is God’s child, he is our spiritual brother. We ought not to play the Prodigal’s older brother.
It is so easy to wish for evil men and women to die because it seems like the evil dies with them. However, that is not how sin works. Evil is only extinguished by the light of Christ’s loving sacrifice. A human does not need to die an earthly death to die to sin. Their new birth is what we should be celebrating.
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From sundown on Sunday until sundown yesterday (Monday), I fasted as a spiritual discipline for Lent. It was a surprising experience, one which I will repeat on every Monday of Lent. It was difficult, but not in the way that I expected. There was also an unanticipated joy. Here are a few of my reflections.
1) Hunger as reminder
Once or twice an hour yesterday, there would be an unpleasant pang of hunger in my stomach. However, those pangs came to represent moments of peace and strength. Whenever I felt weak, I was reminded why I was fasting: to honor God. It’s so easy amidst deadlines and meetings and Facebook for God to slip from our thoughts altogether, only to be remembered when we say our prayers at night. Hunger served as my constant reminder to keep God at the front of my mind. My very body became a devotion to God.
2) Hunger and Communion
I ended my fast by taking Communion at the college’s chapel service. All through worship, that loaf of bread and cup of sweet, rich juice sat on the altar beckoning to my empty belly. I could barely focus on the sermon because I was so desperate for that tiny bite of bread. At first, I scolded myself as a glutton. But mere seconds after taking Communion, my stomach felt satisfied for the first time in 22 hours. The body of Christ was sufficient. He was enough to give me strength.
3) Fasting as solidarity
Food is a huge part of college culture. We’re busy, stressed out students who love to eat. We love cookies, we love cupcakes, we love pizza, we love bacon, we love cheese. Many times throughout the day I was offered food that I couldn’t accept. This recalled a long-lost memory for me of a youth group trip to Heifer International Ranch. As part of a poverty simulation, the members of the group received roughly 800 calories a day each while engaging in physical labor. By day three, it took immense effort even to walk to the afternoon gathering. There, a ranch volunteer wearing Gucci sunglasses held a bowl brimming with chocolate candies. When we asked her to share, she brushed us off. If we tried to trade with or steal from her, the other volunteers thwarted us. We were the global poor, she was the rich West. Fasting was my small way of expressing solidarity with the hungry who the world forgets. I do not pretend to know what true hunger and its accompanying hardships feel like, but at least for once I was a listener instead of a consumer.
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Ash Wednesday is here again, folks. Time for crosses on your forehead, a steep drop in chocolate sales, and reflection. Barbara Brown Taylor writes that when choosing a Lenten devotion, we ought to give up something we use as “anesthesia” against our stress, dissatisfaction, or pain. Pope Francis invited his flock into an attitude of self-denial and solidarity with the poor this year. For the next forty days (plus Sundays), I’m going to try to do both.
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When I interned at Heifer International, one of the first things my supervisor taught me was to tell stories. He said that we could talk about poverty theory, infant mortality rates, and development statistics until we were blue in the face, but until we connected with a donor’s compassion, it was all useless. This wasn’t meant to be a manipulative, money-grubbing tactic; it was a truth about the heart versus the head. If we think in abstractions, our rationality can turn cold and unkind. A human being with a face and a name and a life is necessary to change the discussion. So that’s what I’m going to try to do in this post, except not about poverty or hunger. I am going to try to witness to the look in my friend’s eyes at a youth conference this weekend.
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