Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Does Spirituality Matter to Generation Y?

I find myself asking this question a lot lately.

As I, myself, am defined as part of Gen Y*, and as I daily rub shoulders on the college campus with other Gen Y'ers, I've found myself really questioning if spirituality even seems relevant to our generation.

Spirituality and topics of "other worldliness" appear to have quietly faded into the periphery, while apathy and things concerning merely the here-and-now emerge to center stage.

We easily and readily exchange dialogue about our family, our friends, our desire to help people, what we did over the weekend, the latest Jersey Shore scandal, how our boyfriend or girlfriend most recently dropped the ball, whatever.  Conversations seem to cover the gamut -- however, seeemingly stop just short of readily discussing our thoughts about the immaterial, about God, about belief, about eternity, about what we believe happens after death, about whether or not we think prayer works or is a total crock, etc.

King Solomon once wrote (recorded in the Bible) that he believed God has written eternity on the heart of every human.  Solomon believed every human was created with a longing in their heart to investigate the immaterial, the "other worldliness," the unseen, the spiritual.

Being a Gen Y, eavesdropping on other Gen Ys, and engaging the Gen Y day in and day out, this thought from Solomon seemed to be my only hope.  It seemed as if no one actually really felt like spirituality was relevant -- and so in the midst of believing our generation's spiritual interest was crumbling, I found myself merely clinging (and it felt like for dear life) to this thought from Solomon.  The reality of my conversations and of surrounding conversations didn't seem to validate Solomon's belief.  It wasn't natural, but I was deliberately choosing to believe these words in the Bible to be true.

But, I am finding good news!

UCLA has recently released a study indicating, after surveying 400,000 students, that college students are growing more interested in spirituality.  Roughly half of those 400,000 students indicated they believed integrating spirituality into their lives was "very important" or "essential."  Over a third of those 400,000 participants claimed their beliefs had strengthened since when first entering college.

Another study, surveying close to 3,400 high school and college students, indicated 22.9% of these individuals reported becoming more "religious" during the two years preceding the study.

According to another major study, Generation Y seems to break down as follows:
48% believe in a god
32% are unsure if there's a god
20% do not believe in a god
    [two-thirds of those who are unsure about a god or do not believe in a god, do believe in a higher being or life force]

In regards to religion,
44% of Gen Y'ers claim Christianity
31% claim Humanism
17% claim "Eclectic" (believing in 2 or more New Age, esoteric, or Eastern beliefs)

Of the 44% who claim Christianity, only 19% are actively* involved in a church.  Religion is more and more being viewed as a private matter; a significant portion of those 44% who identify as Christian are choosing to move away from any identification with a church.

USAToday's recent article indicates 72% of Gen Y'ers are "more spiritual than religious."

These, among many other findings, are good news to me.
I am encouraged that the numbers actually show our generation as spiritually inquisitive (and many believe moreso than ever).

Spiritual inquisitiveness has recently taken on a different look with our generation than generations before.  However different, the curiosity and questions still arise.  Turns out, King Solomon was right.

Here's my beef with our current culture, however, if I may.

Our generation is filled with individuals going to bed at the end of the day, plagued with questions, doubts, curiosities, wonderings, etc.  Our generation is filled with individuals who boast in anonymity as they use the internet to find answers to their questions.  Our generation is filled with individuals who, out of fear, don't bring up spiritual conversations with their friends.

With a generation whose souls are possibly the most spiritually inquisitive the world has ever seen, lesser and lesser meaningful spiritual conversations are taking place between friends.  In a culture where we advocate "tolerance," believe in universalism, and regard spirituality as a "private matter," how will our spiritually curious generation ever find answers?  How will we ever find satisfaction or truth if we continue viewing spirituality as taboo and impolite to talk about?

Statistics, indeed, indicate spirituality as relevant to Generation Y.

So why are we not talking about it?  Why are we not able to engage in discussion that may simply end in civil disagreement?  Why are we so afraid to engage the deepest things of life with our dearest friends?  Why are we so fearful of openly questioning?  Why are we muting this longing in our heart that cries out for eternal things and significance?

I'm not quite sure how we got here as a generation.  But, I am quite sure that I want to be a change agent.  I want to be a person who creates environments and welcomes people to share their honest thoughts on spirituality.  I want to be disarming.  I want to have 2-way conversations with fellow Gen Y'ers -- hearing (really hearing) others' thoughts and getting to share my own.  I want to be a woman who isn't afraid to address the taboo topic -- because if the numbers are right, it seems clear people are indeed thinking about the immaterial, the "other worldliness," the unseen, the spiritual.

The quieter we, as a generation, are on this topic, the more and more disservice we do to our friends, our communities, our future, our world at-large.

May we embrace the taboo and engage in meaningful conversations.  May we stop muting this longing in our heart -- and instead, respond to it with conversation.

The journey is much more fun when traveled together.  Let's travel together.  (Or at least humor me and/or bless me by engaging with me on these things).

*Generation Y: those born between 1977-1997.  (Also referred to as Millenials, Generation Next, or Echo Boomers).
*actively: defined as attending church once a month or more

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Toy Story 3

A well-said bit from Brett McCracken:

Despite the fact that it’s another joyous, action-packed, endlessly entertaining and laugh-out-loud Pixar spectacle, there’s something immediately melancholy about Toy Story 3. Perhaps it’s the fact that this is the third and likely last in a trilogy that we’ve all grown so fond of. Perhaps its because Pixar just knows how to do sadness (see Up, Wall E, etc). But mostly I think it’s because Toy Story reminds all of us of our own childhoods–of those whimsical, carefree worlds of make believe that occupied the free time we now fill with work and stress. Oh for the days of youth! The Toy Story trilogy captures it so well, and the third installment beautifully, affectingly evokes one of its most bittersweet aspects: Growing up.

From the outset of Toy Story 3–where we discover that Andy is going off to college and must either give away, throw away, or relegate his toys to the attic–there is a profound and universal sense of loss. Things change. Nothing is permanent. Everyone grows up and must leave their childhood behind, once and for all. I teared up during the opening sequence of the film, anticipating how it would end. And sure enough, I was a weeping mess by the end. I don’t think I’ve cried more in a movie since maybe A.I.
Which is interesting, because A.I. is also a film about toys with feelings. What it is about this that is so heartbreaking? Maybe it’s because in our consumer culture our toys and collected possessions really do take on personal, relational–even spiritual–significance for us. Maybe it has something to do with the recognition that, while the world changes and we grow up, change, and eventually die, the objects and artifacts that lend meaning to our lives at various stages do not change or age or die. They are just discarded. So, when we anthropomorphize something like a cowboy doll or robot, and imagine that there truly is a two-way reciprocal love going on between it and the human, of course we are going to feel devastated when someone like Andy doesn’t find it too difficult to move on and leave Woody behind. Woody is just a toy. But from Woody’s anthropomorphic point of view, it’s like the worst sort of rejection: The one person who you’ve always loved and who it has been your life’s purpose to love unconditionally does not entirely reciprocate those feelings. It’s the same tragic scenario Hayley Joel Osment’s robot character faces in A.I. And in both movies, it’s utterly devastating.
Another film I thought of as I watched Toy Story 3 was Summer Hours–the critically acclaimed French film from 2009 starring Juliette Binoche. Like Toy Story 3, Summer Hours is about what impermanence means both for humans and for the objects humans acquire. It’s about people dying and their possessions being disbursed to the next generation, where new meaning and significance will undoubtedly be ascribed to them. In both films, the reality of “what happens to my stuff”–when I leave, or move, or die–is of central concern.
But it’s not really about the stuff. Toy Story is not really about toys. It’s about the reality of the passing of time–a painful, relentless, unnatural phenomenon that–for creatures like us who were made to be eternal–always feels a bit like an ill-fitting coat.

If you haven't seen it, I recommend that you do.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Loving 2011

2010.  A year filled with change, transition, traveling, questions, a gamut of emotions, road trips, friends, growth, etc.  Pictures line my walls capturing 2010's favorite moments: Virginia Beach, dance parties, orchard trips, surprise visits, Mount Union homecoming, North Carolina, Mumbai, weddings, etc.

2011.  It's here.  I'm curious what moments will fill these walls over the course of the next year.

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions.  In fact, I don't think I have ever (in my entire life) made one.  They seem futile for an individual who can't commit to even an hour of one solitary thing.

However, as I've taken a few honest looks in the mirror ("an unexamined life is not worth living," thank you, Socrates), I've realized that I want 2011 to look a little different.  I want 2011 to be marked by growth.

As I slowly creep my way into adulthood (although it can feel like a major, sudden plunge), I'm realizing more and more that, indeed, my legacy is simply an accumulation of daily choices.  It isn't necessarily the [CRU] talks I give, it isn't necessarily the lifegroups I get to lead, it isn't necessarily life-changing conversations over Starbucks, it isn't necessarily the few chances I get to have a platform, etc.  It seems, so much more often, that my legacy is those small moments of how I treat others at the (sometimes infuriating) Bowling Green post office, how I open up my home to others for dinner, how I ask meaningful questions, how I respond to the hard-to-love, how I serve those who need, how I gently touch the seemingly undesirable, etc.  The list can go on and on.  But at the end of the day, it's about how I love.  And as I breathe my last, my legacy will have simply been an accumulation of the daily choices I made to either love or not love.

And so as broad as that may be, I want love to be my theme of 2011.

As I've looked long and hard in the mirror, I've realized, I'm not particularly a good lover of people.  It bums me out that love has not been the characteristic that defines my life.  And I fear it won't change.  I fear I'm incapable of loving people well.  I fear I'm too engrossed with myself to love others well.  I fear I'm too busy building up my own sweet kingdom to love people.  I fear I'm not willing to take risks in order to love.  But I'm becoming more and more convinced that the apostle Paul is on to something when he says, "if we have not love, we have nothing."

May 2011 be different for Wags.  May it be one of love.

You are more than welcome to be in this with me.  Ask me how it's going...point out where I have not loved well...encourage me with where I have...let me know how I can specifically love you...join with me in committing 2011 to love.

[You're also welcome to track with me on a semi-unrelated project for 2011 I'm beginning: Curious Oyster].