~ by Rev. Corein Turbak ~
As someone born in the early 80’s, I straddle two generational categories – some articles will say I am a Gen X and others a millennial. For many of us born in the early 80’s, we deny the millennial title. We don’t want to be millennials and for good reason. We have all heard the stereotypes of millennials; they can never put their phones down, they are self-absorbed constantly taking selfies, they have no attention span, they are overly confident and believe that anything they want should be handed to them, they live and thrive in instant gratification.
To put it simply, millennials are the worst.
But of course, if I was writing this 20 years ago, I’d be saying the same thing about Gen Xers. They don’t care about anything. They have tuned out from the world. All their icons have drug problems. They wear way too much plaid.
I wonder why do we do this? Why are we always so quick to see the faults of the newest generation? We do this across a broad sociological level of generations, but we also do it in our everyday lives. I learned early on, as a young woman seeking to be a female leader in the male-dominated religious world, to be cautious around the first generation of female pastors that had paved the way for me. I naively thought that these women, my heros in many ways, would welcome me and protect me as I tried to navigate into this world. But often times it was quite the opposite; they saw me as a threat, as someone who hadn’t earned my stripes and was now trying to take their hard earned positions.
And I understand that’s not unique to the religious world. I’ve heard it is quite common in the medical field and many other professions. We eat our young.
Why? Doesn’t it seem so counterintuitive? Wouldn’t we want the generation behind us to thrive and go beyond what we achieved?
In theory yes, but in practicality – no, not really. Because we have a tendency to often be a fearful people. We too often operate from a place of scarcity and divisiveness. We don’t trust that there will be enough for both us and the upcoming generation, and so we try to push them out. We don’t believe they truly understand, they don’t have our wisdom, so we label them. As the ones with the power, we define what they can and cannot do, we put them in boxes so we can contain them
In our Gospel story today we see this dichotomy play out. In theory, Herod and all the people are waiting for the Messiah, they are waiting for God’s light to shine upon the world. But when it actually comes to pass, Herod and many others react quite differently. Their fear grows, their jealousy grows, and they want to stamp out that new life.
But God has a different plan. God has never been static in this world. Our God is a God of change, of breathing new life, of upsetting the status quo. And so it is in our Gospel story, that God’s light was revealed not to the Chosen People, not the established powers of the day, but first to poor shepherds who heard angels singing, and secondly to foreign men of a different faith, who followed signs in the sky, and not the words of Scripture.
As we celebrate the epiphany today, each and every one of us is being asked to look at this world with new eyes. Eyes that are open to life. Eyes that are open to mystery. Eyes that believe we have not seen it all and we do not know it all. Eyes that believe that new life in the world has something to teach us, and not the other way around.
While there are numerous stereotypes about millennials, here are a few facts:
- They are the most educated generation America has ever seen, with more attending and completing a four-year college degree than any other generation.
- They vote at a higher rate than any other generation, and are more active in the causes they care about than other generations.
- Compared to other generations, 16% more millennials work for the government, and 11% more millennials work for nonprofits.
- The amount of young adults who have joined AmeriCorp or other service opportunities has tripled in the last four years.
- About a third of the generation are entrepreneurs and supplement their income with their own enterprises.
“Millennials Rising,” by Neil Howe, gives a broader picture of what matters most to Millennials. They worry about carbon footprints and global warming. They seek quality friendships. They’re committed to making meaningful contributions at work. They see the world with an open mind — accepting diversity in gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Their generation is gifted with a passion for accomplishment and an inner social conscience.
The Christian church has been asking for many years how they can get millennials to walk through their church doors. I think one step in making that happen is to realize that this church is no longer ours, it is theirs. It is their turn to teach us and not the other way around.
As we step into this new year, we are called to pay attention to how we react to the newness around us. When does fear get the best of us, like King Herod? Or when are we like the magi, discovering a light and a life we didn’t even know we are looking for?
At some point in life we will most likely find ourselves within each of today’s characters. We will, at some point, be King Herod. Our fear, our jealousy, our thirst for power, our unwillingness to accept the end of our time and the beginning of another’s will throw us into a blind rage. We will choose not to see life around us. We will see only ourselves and our strong sense of self-preservation, and egos will turn our actions to ones of jealousy, anger, and destruction.
But there will be other moments, moments when we will be like the wise men. When we have the awareness, the presence of mind, the fortitude to seek out new life. We will go, we will behold it, we will lay our gifts, our very selves before it, so that it might find its place in this world.
And in those moments, when we recognize life, when we behold it in our world we will become like the city of Bethlehem described in our first reading. The light of God’s life will shine upon us, others will walk by our light, our hearts will throb and overflow with the presence of life.
Life beats in us, it breaths in the person next to us, it soars in blue winter skies and it survives in plants that lay dormant in winter snow. Life is here for us to behold, to journey to, to lay before, and to become.
As we step out into this first week of a new year there are many choices that lay before us but I think, really, only one matters. Will we behold and celebrate life in the people and creation around us or will we blindly rage against it in fear? Both options are equally set before us but there is only one that is meant for us. We were meant for life. We have a predisposition for life. It is God who comes to us like the wise man and beholds the life that God’s self places within us. We are life. We were meant for life. Let us behold the life within us all – let us become light for others so they may discover God’s life within them. And then perhaps our world, our nations, and our hearts will throb and overflow with the life of God. And the newness of life will be welcomed, celebrated, and it will rightly become our teachers in this new world.
– by Rev. Corein
Photo Credit: thrufireandthruwater, “Nativity”. Some rights reserved. Available at www.flickr.com.