Tag Archives: twentysomething

Do not be afraid: Your container will be filled with content

I am surrounded by twenty and thirtysomethings. It is a blessing. Serving these people has been the joy of most of my life. I think the spiritual life that follows adolescence and precedes the second half of life might be the most interesting but also the most frustrating and dangerous time of life. So I often feel like I am in the thick of it. We often think of babies as the most vulnerable of creatures. Twenty and thirtysomethings spend a great deal of their energy creating a container in which these dear little beings can survive.  But what about the parents? They are vulnerable, too, and quite often their true selves die before they even get recognized!

maslow's hierarchy of needs five stage pyramid
Clearly what will be called personality problems depends on who is doing the calling. The slave owner? The dictator? The patriarchal father? The husband who wants his wife to remain a child? It seems quite clear that personality problems may sometimes be loud protests against the crushing of one’s psychological bones, of one’s true inner nature. — Maslow, 1956

Build a container for content

The noble actions of first-half adults are focused on finding one’s place in the world, often as a mate, a parent, an income supplier and a social system builder. The whole era of first half development is a crucial time for growing into our fullness as humans and as spiritual people. But a big danger comes with our development. Our container building can become the only thing we know how to do and we never move on to receive the content to fill up the container! Success, security, some sense of power – looking good to ourselves and others, can almost be our only considerations. We can become containers with little content.

As we often say, U.S. society promotes such emptiness, since our rulers are preoccupied with adolescent pursuits. For instance, they are obsessed with security needs, among other things. Neither Republicans nor Democrats seriously question the enormously high military budget. But that budget is all about the container. The developmentally-arrested president wants to build a wall to contain the whole country and protect it from “shithole” nations!  At the same time, appropriations that reflect needs that are deeper than Maslow’s first two stages on the hierarchy of needs are neglected: education, health care for the poor and everyone else, community-building and the arts. The leaders neglect the need for content in the container. Is often the first cut in the budget, if it is considered at all.

The U.S. is basically an adolescent society and our religious expressions look like it, too. Liberals criticize the church if it is not preoccupied with food and housing [Maslow’s first level]. Conservatives criticize the church if it is not filled with certainty [second level, isn’t it?]. Circle of Hope can get it from both sides as people come to Jesus and his people looking for the basic needs they lost when their lives fractured in this fracturing world. We help them build a container. It is tempting to stay stuck in it and miss the content for which it is intended.

Richard Rohr says, “We all want and need various certitudes, constants, and insurance policies at every stage of life. But we have to be careful, or they totally take over and become all-controlling needs, keeping us from further growth.” Receiving the content of resurrection life takes faith and trust, which are not that useful if one is anxiously maintaining a container. Thus the most common one-liner in the Bible (365 times) is “Do not be afraid.” We we need to move beyond our early motivations of personal security, reproduction and identity. But it is scary to do so.

Do you think we commiserate more with what people fear than we help them not be afraid? How many people are driven from your cell because they can’t compute life beyond their container-building religious ideas? Consider how often you don’t help them figure out how to move deeper. Maybe your cell is stuck at the third step up Maslow’s pyramid up above and does not have an eternal outlook.

Be afraid of the right thing

Being preoccupied with morality, control, safety, pleasure and certitude comes to a bad end. A high percentage of people never get to the content of their own lives! Sometimes you can see the trouble creeping up on us. Areas of our leadership team silo off and don’t talk to other teams. Whole congregations get a sense of their “otherness.” People demand that we make policies about identities. We have to keep saying, “Human life is about more than building boundaries, protecting identities, creating tribes and teaching impulse control.”

Like Jesus said in Luke 12, “Why do you ask, what am I to eat? What am I to wear?” He asks the container-builders who ask such questions, “Is life not so much more than food? Is life not so much more than clothing?” Repeatedly he asks, “What will it profit you if you gain the whole world, and lose your very soul?” (Matthew 16:26). And I add, what will happen to your children if all you teach them is fear and practical faithlessness? What will happen to the church if you persist in never getting the content you need to share? What will happen to the world when your adolescent faith burns up in the heat of adulthood?

A thirty-year-old in our church was 13 when the 9/11 attack turned the country even more into a security state. When they were 19 the Great Recession hit and fear and anger skyrocketed. Since the 80’s, a philosophy-shift resulted in the top 20% of the population securing 76% of the wealth. Now, Oxfam says, worldwide, 8 men own as much wealth as the 3.6 billion who make up the poorest people in the world! Everyday life has encouraged a whole generation to be anxious and fearful. Now Trump is president and each day looks like the foundations in society are being upended. It is no wonder we try to build a wall around ourselves . But our vessels of clay are meant to to hold glory.

Take heart, you were made for this

Jesus tells us to “Take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). It is hard to hear him when we are feverishly trying to keep ahead of the eroding foundations under our feet, as if that were top priority. Jesus was less concerned about his impending death (!), about his life-container, than he was about the content of his life. He was less interested in the consequences of his actions than he was interested in revealing to his fearful, controlling, unfaithful followers what a container is for. Life is more than finding one’s own bliss or balance, disciplining and making the most of one’s time, and fighting for one’s rights — all that is for beginners! The bulk of an eternal life is lived in trust and hope. Dying to mere self-awareness, self-aggrandizement, and self-centeredness is the first task of gaining content for the container.

Barack Obama displayed some of this wisdom when he was shown talking to David Letterman the other night. He said, “One of the things that Michelle figured out, in some ways faster than I did—was part of your ability to lead the country doesn’t have to do with legislation, doesn’t have to do with regulations [making a container], it has to do with shaping attitudes, shaping culture, increasing awareness [being and receiving content].” He is a hopeful guy and he inspires me to be the same, even when I feel I am in the thick of it. Our containers (egos, churches, and what not)  have holes in them, so we need Jesus to overcome our world and keep filling us with eternal life. But as  long as we are co-workers with the Lord instead of container protectors, we have a chance to become the kind of content that makes the world take heart.

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Give up on REform and FORM

millennials and church

One of the best things about the present era of the church in the United States is that 20somethings keep writing scathing critiques of it like this one: Twelve reasons millennials are OVER the church. My dear comrade, Joshua Grace, sent this article out to the pastors the other day and here I am stirred up and writing about it in the middle of the night on Kauai (where I am doing my best to act like I am a 20something).

I felt super-defensive when I first read Sam Eaton’s critique, which struck me as someone reiterating everyone else’s critique five years after the criticisms became popular. Can we stop criticizing people as if it were righteous? Anyone dealing with an overly-critical parent or a merely critical teenager, knows just how far criticism goes toward the healing of humanity. For one thing, it makes people defensive!

So I did not feel like being critical about this super-critical summary of criticism of the church of yesteryear. But I do want to say a few things about it, since drinking poison needs an antidote. So here are a few things that I think are antidotes to Eaton’s well-meaning, passionate but unwittingly poisonous critique of the church.

So what if the church is a mess?

Like any 20something worth their salt, I shared his criticisms of the American church — but that was 40 years ago! OK already, the church is a big fat mess. The two branches most bent on creating domination systems: the Evangelicals and Catholics, are especially culpable for giving the whole enterprise a bad name, by and large. SO WHAT? Criticizing someone is easy; that’s why it is often called a “cheap shot.” It costs little to criticize someone else for what they are doing. It costs a  lot to be something better in the face of what is worse.

Continue reading Give up on REform and FORM

The twentysomething church

Twenty years old! It does not seem possible, especially if you just showed up in Circle of Hope last week! What are we to you, you person who just showed up?

  • Are we like a well-aged wine you just opened?
  • A great old song that was just updated for your genre?
  • A miracle you experienced when you thought they didn’t happen anymore?
  • A new friend who feels like you’ve known them your whole life?

People say such things.

To me, we are like Nathanael. I see us like the guy Jesus saw under the fig tree in Bethsaida. I think he was a guy, about as old as our church, maybe, a twentysomething who was wondering what was going on with the world, the oppressive government, his out-of-touch parents, his no-future job, the weird guy from the desert, John the Baptist, and his own soul, which he was thinking about taking seriously. We are a twentysomething church and often act like all the twentysomethings we know: susceptible, nervous, energetic, risky, learning like crazy, sometimes a little out of control, unfinished, just getting started. I could go on.

Nathanael under the fig tree by my man, James Tissot.

But the way we are like Nat (name too long to type) is how we really like how Jesus SEES us. We love it when anyone sees us for who we really are, as ourselves, not someone’s kid or some school’s pupil. Nat’s friend Philip told him he’d found the Messiah and he should “Come and see.” When he got to Jesus, the Lord told him “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nat worshiped him. He was seen; he was known. This is a big deal for people who are bits of data to their leaders and fodder for the big institutions that run them.

Jesus responds to his worship with, “You haven’t seen anything yet!” (essentially). “If you liked the miracle of how I knew you, loved you, looked for you before you knew me, then you will really like the miracle of me revealed in all my glory, when the whole world discovers that God knows their every suffering, loves them with a self-giving love, and is looking for them to claim their rights as the children of God in the restored kingdom I’m giving to you!”

To me, we are like THAT Nat to whom Jesus is unfolding the secrets of eternity. We like how Jesus found us. And we are just getting started on what the Lord is going to reveal next. We haven’t exactly been hanging out under a fig tree for twenty years, but it is like we have been building toward this moment our whole lives.

Thinking back about the Grill and Chill last week I worship Jesus for how he found us and built us together into a splendid piece of alternativity. Jesus keeps finding people and they keep finding themselves in him.

But Jesus told me again after the party, “You haven’t seen anything yet!” In this wild era, this growing megalopolis, this diversifying city Circle of Hope has an important role to play that is worth our effort, our love and our resources. The Map we affirmed is kind of a taste of new wine, the first bars of a new song being written, the next example of the miracle that began us – and it didn’t even try to express all we have become! I’m with Nat, “You ARE the Son of God” Jesus!

[Original post at Circle of Hope.net}