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Knowledge & News
Thought provoking topics and series, necessary news and information.
Out of Fashion
Initially, I wasn’t sure how to respond to the recently published Pew Research regarding the decline of Christianity in the United States. I read over their findings and then skimmed them a few more times after that. Then I decided to give the recent stream of responses on this very blog a perusal. Members of Collective have acknowledged a generational blame game and shined a light on an epidemic decline in American institutions, while others still emphasized their own experiences of yearning that aren’t reflected in what takes shape as mainstream Christianity. Each post pinged at something I had felt or generally feel about experiencing religion and life in general. So, in my own way, I’m going to push forward with an assortment of ideas and hopefully make something of them along the way.
I am a thirty-year-old Millennial. The parameters of what defines a Millennial are pretty slippery, but I’m pretty sure being born in 1985 places me firmly within the older end of the generation’s ranks. My life experiences—being an educated but poorly paid adjunct professor whose home would have cardboard walls if not for the support of an understanding family base—scream Millennial. The generational conflict and recognition of declining institutions resonates with me. When Tina and Mike wrote about these things, I could only nod my head in general agreement. Similarly, the actual Pew Research findings simply provided proof for a lived experience. Although not heavily religious themselves, my parents supported the positions of their own parents, at least for the most part. I was raised to be a Christian and sent to a private Christian school. Those who read my Easter blog know I also went to church with my grandparents on Sunday mornings. I grew up on felt board Bible stories and very specific assertions about God. These weren’t just expressions of the church or the education system I was in, but also my family.
They never quite fit properly though. When a man wears a suit tailored for him, he looks impeccable. However, throwing on someone else’s suit—even if you’re technically the same size—can yield less than impressive results. That’s why many men will drop good money on something tailored to their needs. This principle was echoed in a Buzzfeed post that filled my social media feeds a few months back. This particular piece of clickbait was about the rise of women’s clothing stores that are specializing in “one size fits all” or “one size fits most” fashions. Five women tried on a bunch of different items from one of these stores and then talked about how they felt about the clothes they had tried on. Of course, the end result was a lack of satisfaction with what the store was selling, because one size simply does not fit all and it never will.
because one size simply does not fit all and it never will
While that might seem tangential, the reality of the situation is that many—Millennials, Generation X’ers, and Baby Boomers alike—have been offered a one size fits all version of Christianity. At best, this might mean that going to church might feel as awkward as the baggy suit you’re wearing. At worst, it might feel like they used the extra fabric from that baggy suit to make the tightest fitting of straightjackets. In some ways, the baggy suit and the straightjacket are even the same garment. I cannot deny that there is an emphasis on the personal spiritual encounter in what I’m monolithically referring to as Christianity, but that tailor made encounter is often expected to follow the same exact pattern. So as personal and distinct as one would like it to be, there is at least some expectation that it will produce assembly line Christians.
Unfortunately, trying to cram a personal experience into a one size fits all model does little to foster genuine spiritual growth or comfort in your faith. The unreasonable standards people apply to bodies are echoed in these religious expectations. Sure, for some, the standardized experience fits, but looking at the numbers of people retreating from proclaimed Christian affiliations suggests people are becoming more and more eager to try on something else. Those people who aren’t affiliating themselves with Christianity aren’t necessarily some sort of religious equivalent to a nudist. Their encounters aren’t so easily definable; their journey’s uniquely their own.
I acknowledge that there are some holes in this metaphor, but when you think of how people will visit a variety of churches and communities before they find the right fit, it isn’t far off. However, that also adds a wrinkle to the fabric. One cannot expect a church to tailor itself entirely for each individual member, as much as those members might feel they should. That’s unreasonable and undermines so much of what makes a community fit together. No, a community of faith has to function as a patchwork of those personal encounters, while not hinging specifically on any given one. To extend this whole clothing metaphor just a bit further, we could consider this experience like coordinating a complete outfit. Which shirt goes with that suit? Do those accessories compliment that dress? Making sure things are coordinated takes some work. For people working towards a meaningful faith, this might mean shucking off what is expected of them, including calling themselves Christians when their conception of what that means doesn’t quite fit.
For the communities expecting their version of faith to be the one size fits all, it means the difficult task of acknowledging the unraveling threads of that faith and putting some serious thoughts into repairs.
Other Responses in the "Losing / Finding Faith" Series
We are a misfit faith community that gathers in DeLand on Sundays at 5pm. Come as you are.
We value highly the metaphor of journey. We’re different people from different places and backgrounds, representing an intergenerational community, and we’ve traveled different paths. So, we agree not to make assumptions about the person across from us, next to us, or in conversation with us. We challenge ourselves to be sensitive, knowing this community includes a diverse group of people from life-long followers of Jesus, to people who are just now open to the idea that God might exist. We strive to avoid offense, ask good questions, articulate and explain our responses. We don’t assume fluency in bible, spirituality, or Church language, because we believe the message of Jesus is not for Christianity, but for humanity. So, we do everything in the spirit of love and grace.