It’s a strange thing to have your life thrust into the spotlight of media commentary, people pontificating on everything from why you like to flake on plans to why you don’t respond to emails in a timely matter. Such has been the case for my millennial generation on whom there is no shortage of opinion. It’s a wonderful thing, too, though to be the interest of the internet; it gives us the opportunity as young people to speak with authority on one of the topics we feel most equipped – our own lives – and say unequivocally to our colleagues, to our peers, “You don’t have the whole story.”
Earlier this week, popular Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans published a piece on the CNN religion blog titled “Why millennials are leaving the church.” She writes, “We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.”
She’s right. But she doesn’t tell the whole story: It’s not that we can’t find Jesus in the church; it’s that the Jesus we sometimes find doesn’t look like us.
I’m not talking about the markers of style Evans rightly dismisses – hip worship, gourmet coffee, and jeans so tight your leg throbs. I’m talking about a Jesus who cares about the things we care about – humility, transparency, and hospitality to those “othered” by the world and “orphaned” by the church. Hear me when I say that these are right and good and holy things to care about it, but I have to worry when my Jesus cares only about my things.
What’s different about today’s generation of young people than those who sprouted green out of the ground before us? It’s the silo effect. More than at any other time in history, we can silo our lives into iPod playlists of preference and filter out the unwanted noise. Sure, we don’t have to listen to those chatty radio personalities anymore; but we also don’t have to listen to that chatty woman in church who begins her prayers of the people with “Father God” and gives thanks for the “Blood of the Lamb.” Too patriarchal for our taste, we think. Too violent for our theology.
Our churches are becoming like our media – one show for you, fiery Fox News, and one for you, dear Daily Show. We wouldn’t be caught dead sitting through a thirty-minute program, let alone an hour-long worship service that espoused views contrary to our own. It’s no wonder I can’t think of a single young Republican in Durham I could invite to dinner.
To those that say they cannot find Jesus in church, and Evans is speaking primarily about the evangelical church, I say look harder. Jesus is the church, the image of an invisible God made visible through human bodies. Some bodies might be covered up from the waist down, under utilizing its most essential parts. Others may be lying flat on their back and in need of life support. But Jesus is there, too, I believe, even though he might be hard to sit with in this state. We’re scared we’ll have to give mouth to mouth.
I’m not asking my peers to abide a church community that spins delusions and spews hate. To be sure, just because some people call themselves the true church doesn’t make it so. I’m asking you to consider sitting with a church that is trying to be honest, trying to love well, but in all likelihood getting it wrong, only seeing part of the story. Because it’s human. And so are we.
This is why I’m not leaving the church: It’s one of the few public spaces left in which I can regularly rub up against people who rub me the wrong way. And I think there’s value in that, as I learn to dialogue with difference and practice my perspective.
In fact, I think there’s Jesus in that.