You Lost Me, The Conversation: Reconnections

It has been a great learning experience for me to engage in this dialogue with my son about David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me–both online and offline. This will likely be our last set of posts on the book, but who knows, we may find something else like this in the future! I will also be posting a review of the whole book in the next few days which will include links to all our posts.

You Lost Me

In the third part of Kinnaman’s book dealing with “Reconnections” Kinnaman summarizes his recommendations to the church in these words:

     Now that we have met the nomads, prodigals, and exiles and explored their perceptions of the church and Christianity, allow me to share three things I have learned from studying the next generation: (1) the church needs to reconsider how we make disciples; (2) we need to rediscover Christian calling and vocation; and (3) we need to reprioritize wisdom over information as we seek to know God.

Reading this again, I breathe a huge sigh of relief. Ben and I were talking last night and I shared that I hoped Kinnaman wasn’t just going to give us six easy counters to the disconnects he observed. I said my own sense was that the church needs to go back to our gospel, back to our roots, rather than a new set of slick techniques. That would only confirm this generation in its opinion of the church as inauthentic.

I’m especially encouraged that the kinds of relationships Kinnaman envisions are intergenerational relationships. For too long, the church has age segregated itself (as well as in other ways). In my own life I experienced the power of this in a relationship with a disc jockey who served as a leader in our local Jesus Movement in the early 70s. Much of this took place in the front seat of his VW Beetle on the way to rallies. The combination of wisdom and affirmation was critical.  Equally I find myself enriched as I work with younger colleagues and graduate students whose doubts, questions and insights challenge me to dig deeper. I constantly learn from my son, who questions my frameworks and teaches me everything from computers, blogging and contemporary sci-fi to remembering how much “in process” I was in my twenties–and still am.

What so engaged me as a young Christian was a faith that spoke to life Monday through Saturday. So I resonate with the focus on vocation and calling. I honestly wonder why many of us then settled for a privatized faith lived only in our personal devotional lives and church gatherings but not out in the world. Perhaps it was because we focused on big scale evangelistic endeavors and political crusades and church growth schemes, but failed to talk in pulpits and small groups, and informal relationships about living out our call in the circumstances each of us lived in every day, with the people we met each day and the real needs both in our own communities and in communities we had connections with in other parts of the world. Whatever it is, I hope this generation can do better at living out called lives in the places we live and work.

Kinnaman talks about prioritizing wisdom over information. We definitely are information rich! As I write this blog, the WordPress site suggests all sorts of content (including some of my own blogs!) that connect to what I’m writing.  I’d like to think my son and others could look to my generation for wisdom and yet our track record suggests otherwise. We created so much of the information technology being used today but did it make us wiser? I think of the kind of information the “Masters of the Universe” on Wall Street had in 2008 and yet it failed to protect them from hubris and the imprudent and arrogant decisions that brought us into what many are calling the Great Recession.

As I think of wisdom I think of the foundational statement in Proverbs that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” When I was younger, I was put off by that phrase “fear of the Lord”. As I’ve gotten a bit older, I’ve begun to think that some fears are healthy and to realize that all of my life is lived coram deo–that is, before God. That makes you think twice about certain actions! The flip side of that realization is that a life well-lived is one that seeks the pleasure of God, that values this above all else. There is also a wonderful freedom when we so believe and live that we know we have nothing to fear of God, and because of this need not fear anything or anyone else.

Kinnaman is right. Terrabytes of information can never give us that kind of life. Information cannot answer the question of how to live well. There just might yet be a place for the church, not in losing people, but in helping them find their way to that kind of life. What do you think, Ben?

You Lost Me, The Conversation: Generational Distinctives

You Lost Me

So, my blogging son and I are trying a conversation (or is that a blogversation?!) on David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church…and Rethinking FaithBen’s led off last week with the post, Generation Gap. I’m going to pick up on that with exploring three characteristics Kinnamen highlights that distinguish, for him, “Mosaics” (his term for Millenials) from other generations.

The first is the idea of “access”.  He observes that Mosaics have grown up with unprecedented access to knowledge and the world because of the internet and related technologies. I think Ben makes a perceptive observation that early and later “Mosaics” may have different experiences here. However, I would agree with Kinnaman that this has a profoundly shaping quality, particularly in the idea that access doesn’t come in the context of one’s physical community where we gained knowledge through parents, ministers, school teachers, librarians and others who were all embedded in the same physical community, but rather in a placeless virtual community that is everywhere and nowhere at the same time and is not curated by trusted adults in our lives but is wide open and un-vetted.  Social interaction is also changed. Direct dial long distance calls became available while I was growing up–even so this was costly and mostly limited to the US and Canada. We could not have imagined instant contact with someone halfway across the world via tweets or Skype. Mosaics cannot imagine the world any other way. This is a real difference.

The second was a discussion of alienation, and here I wonder if this is a point of contact between Boomers and Mosaics, if we can remember being the age of Mosaics. Growing up in the Vietnam era, many of us felt alienated from a government and educational structures that we felt had lied to us. Many of us had workaholic parents pursuing the American dream (although in many more cases, those parents were still together). Some of us experienced alienation from churches as well that seemed out of touch with concerns about the war, civil rights, and the other issues we were facing. Were it not for a few powerful counter-examples in my own life, I probably would have ditched the faith. For some of us, the experience of re-connecting with God and other people in the context of Christian community powerfully addressed our sense of alienation. I wonder if in the intervening years we’ve forgotten that journey and the painfulness of the alienation we experienced.

The third characteristic Kinnaman noted was a skepticism of authority. Once again, I think there are real points of contact. Our mantra was “don’t trust anyone over thirty”. It is funny how you forget that when those of your generation become “the authorities” or you yourself occupy such positions. I do think the issue of the authority of the Bible among Christians has changed. We certainly had a number of people in our own day who were skeptical of the Bible. But that was not true inside the Christian communities we were part of. We not only spoke of biblical authority but did try to live it, if imperfectly and sometimes selectively. And that last may be the problem–where we were blind to our own failings while being critical of the failings of others. I also wonder if “personal interpretation” where people defended divergent and idiosyncratic readings of scripture contributed to our current generation’s dismissal of biblical authority altogether. Too often, Christians just turned scripture to their own ends without recognizing the larger problem they were creating in tolerating such divergent and individualistic interpretive approaches.

In sum, I find that Kinnaman’s first distinctive, that of access, is indeed a genuine distinctive. The issues of alienation and skepticism of authority are not new, although the nuances of this generation’s experience need to be understood. That last word, “understood” leads me to two things that I think are critically important if my generation is to re-connect with my son’s generation and those who are saying, “you lost me”. One is understanding that genuinely tries to enter this “brave new world”. Perhaps here it is not, in Crosby, Stills, and Nash terms a matter of “teach your children”, but rather to be taught by them and to make the effort to really learn the new technology and the new world mediated by that technology, even if it is bewildering. It also means understanding from their perspective the pain of alienation and why one might be so skeptical of authority. The second thing for me is remembering–particularly our own experiences of alienation and skepticism of authority. While no two journeys of people are alike, it might be that we each might learn from the other’s journey if we are willing to honestly remember them with all their warts and struggles–not the sanitized, all worked out versions we may be tempted to present.