In June of 1971 I became absolutely convinced of the reality of God. I was at a retreat sponsored by the Roman Church called ‘Search.’ Being protestant, much of the structure was foreign to me. What was not, however, was a sense that something Transcendent was present. I experienced…felt…a true ‘touch’ that left me changed in a deeply significant way.
Over the next few years my fledgling faith was given substance and form through, first, my Presbyterian church and second, a free style commune-type Para-church. I found that the experience I had could be named. It was being ‘Born Again.’ Wow! Just like Jesus told that guy Nicodemus in the gospel according to John. In a way, this connected me to the earliest Christian church. And, I and those I hung with exploited that connection. Other churches like the one in Rome and any flavor of institutional Protestantism had somehow strayed from the path that Jesus, Paul and the others had originally intended. We, however, had regained the truth. (Sounds kinda cultish…maybe, it was.)
My journey eventually took me into what has become known as the Evangelical Church. Yeah, I put on the whole right-wing, conservative ‘Go Reagan’ regalia that has since stereotyped that entire segment of society. I even wore a suit for awhile! (GASP!) Eventually, I and my family fell in with a group that tried to be less formal; some may say ‘cool.’ We held church in people’s homes and sang contemporary songs. Many had long hair and just about all of us wore jeans and t-shirts with some kind of pithy Christian saying on them. Ah, yes! We were the chosen generation! Chosen to win the world for Jesus. Chosen to lead everyone to the Promised Land.
But, a funny thing happened on our way to heaven. We became more and more antagonistic toward our ‘other-religious’ neighbors. We began to politicize our version of the ‘gospel’ in a way that excluded everyone but us. It was ok to have friends and associates who did not believe like us. That is, as long as we were working and praying for their ‘conversion.’ Our emphasis became the assimilation of all people so that they could become just like us. (Resistance is futile.)
In the process something happened to me. You see, when I was younger I was an aspiring young freak. I wasn’t quite old enough to be a bona fide Hippie, but I was totally immersed that attitude and culture. We saw ourselves working for freedom. But, wait, there was more. We wanted to create a new reality in which people of all races, religions, genders and orientations were welcomed and affirmed. We saw ourselves as the vanguard of a new social reality in which government actually served the purpose of justice. Oh, and we wanted our rock-n-roll LOUD! As I reflected on this, my inner liberal came back to life. You might say it was resurrected. I began to realize that the Evangelical culture that I had so long been a part of simply did not fit me anymore. I’m not sure it ever did. The worship and the message coming from the pulpit were shallow. The confrontational spirit and exclusion of all ‘others’ was distasteful. The words I heard simply could not be reconciled to my understanding of Way of Jesus as the gospel writers presented it.
In the past couple of years I have found myself identifying more and more with people often referred to as Millenials or Gen Xers. These people have come to the table with observations and questions that are refreshing and not easily dismissed. They doubt. They don’t accept rote dogma nor pat answers to their concerns. They are seekers. Theirs is an inclusive spirituality that defies the specific, hard-edged parameters that earlier generations had built. I LIKE THAT!!! Forty years ago, that was me. Now, that’s me again.
So, what do I want? I want transparency. I want to be able to reveal myself as I am, not as someone in some pulpit wants me to be. I want to be part of an inclusive community filled with a diverse contingent of fellow-travelers. I want to be able to ask hard questions of God and God’s people without receiving some well-rehearsed but, ultimately, meaningless drivel. I want depth in our discussions and music and art. I’m tired of the cookie-cutter mentality of the Evangelical tribe. And, I’m no longer afraid of the gatekeepers who try to keep people out. Rachel Held Evans articulates well what many of us desire. She wrote, “What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.” That’s what I want, too.