First of all, I want to say thanks to Brian and Ben for the great posts on their blogs. And thanks to others who have added their comments. Ben and I were talking this morning about the fact that it seems you can have a much more thoughtful conversation on blogs than on Facebook, which just seems to invite all the crazies and idealogues. Ben posted a blog entry on Friday that includes all the links to this conversation so far in case you want to catch up with us (or even join in).
Part Two of Kinnaman’s book is on disconnectedness: why “mosaics” disconnect from the church. In his introduction to this section, Kinnaman talks about the factors he covers as applying to other generations while having particular relevance to the current generation because of our particular cultural moment. That was helpful to note in re-reading because the disconnects were indeed true for my generation as well. They were:
- Overprotectiveness: an attitude that tries to guard the young from the culture rather than taking risks to engage it.
- Shallowness: an approach that substitutes slogans and platitudes for substantive and whole-life embracing teaching and practice.
- Antiscience: often the church is perceived as afraid of science, out to squelch science while many of this generation see the benefits of science and the tools of technology that they use every day.
- Repressive: the church is often perceived as hung up and uncomfortable with sexuality while every kind of consensual experience is available and celebrated in the culture.
- Exclusiveness: Christians are perceived as being unwelcoming and condemning of those who don’t share their belief in the singular nature of Christ.
- Doubtless: many think of the church as the last place they would go with doubts and deep questions perceiving that these are often dismissed or trivialized.
As I said above, my generation reacted to a number of these things as well. The question for me is, why then did we form churches that practice the very things we abhorred as youth? A few thoughts on these:
I think our overprotectiveness and “repressiveness” may have reflected our own generation’s history of brokenness as the generation characterized by “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll.” Those of us who came to faith came to recognize that so much of our “sexual freedom” was just a pretext for taking from someone else what you wanted without really needed to commit to that person. Along the way, we discovered that sex was far more powerful as a unitive act than we gave it credit for and we ultimately either were wounded or grew hard to protect ourselves in consequence. Drugs and alcohol often were means to anesthetize ourselves from the pain and our music glorified the transient ecstasy of these experiences and the angst of our lives. Many of us experienced a richness of life in Christian communities and built marriages rooted in our trust in Christ and commitment to each other that allowed intimacy to flourish.
And we had kids! And I think the parent instinct kicked in with a vengeance because we knew that all the things that had been toxic in our own lives were still out there and we didn’t want our kids to repeat our mistakes and experience our hurts. And so we took them out of public schools in many cases (not in our family), created chastity rituals and reduced our sexuality teaching to “what not to do and who not to do it with.” (Although I think the culture does no better than this often times in simply stressing avoiding STDs and pregnancy, and talking about “no meaning no”.) It seems that we often forgot to share about the God-given wonder and at the same time mysterious unitive power of our sexuality. And we probably forgot to talk about how we got to our own convictions around these things and listen as our children ask all the questions we asked at one time.
Why did we become places that squelched doubt and science and gave simplistic answers? My own sense is that many of our churches became enamored of becoming BIG. We developed “seeker-sensitive” approaches that often were reduced to providing slick experiences of music, personal experiences, and short, easy- to- grasp messages that would inspire Christians to go slog it out for another week and help “seekers” know how to join the flock. Actually, this was quite inclusive in a way–sort of like broadcast television in a pre-cable, niche market age. The problem with substantive responses to doubt, thinking deeply about faith and science was that these were complicated and perceived as “boring” to the masses we wanted to reach, and such things took too much time in our increasingly fast-paced suburban lives.
The “exclusivity” thing is a real head-scratcher for me in some ways. We were the civil rights generation. I remember singing the Youngbloods chorus, “Come on people, now, Smile on your brother. Everybody get together, try to love one another…Right now” (I think a contemporary group tried to cover this a few years ago). I think this changed in some parts of the Christian community in the 1980s during the Reagan years as some thought they could gain political leverage to influence the country on pro-life and other issues and the Republican party was glad to accommodate them. I first knew we were in trouble when a good friend told us (inaccurately I think, but the wider perception of Christians led her to this) that she couldn’t join our church because she wasn’t a Republican. We stopped being “Jesus alone” people and started being “Jesus and…”. We also, I think, forgot our gospel, and decided that we needed to reform the morals of the country instead of loving people, connecting them to Jesus, and allowing Jesus to transform them (and us, who equally needed it!).
Those are a few of my musings from my own generational perspective. Thanks for reading my rambles if you’ve followed this far. And forgive the somewhat sweeping statements that I’m sure are over-simplifications in many cases–this is a blog, not a book. I’d love to know what you think, whichever generation you are in and would be glad to have you join our conversation!