From Consumption to Engagement

At the recent Christ & Cascadia Conference a few weeks back, I had the chance to present a paper on my working view of discipleship and young adults. Here's the abstract from the paper:

“From Consumption to Engagement: Discipleship and Millennials in Cascadia”

Much has been written and researched outlining the hasty exit of millennials from the church in recent years.  Cascadia is no exception. Within the cultural pluralism of Cascadia, religious commitment is but one choice among many, and one that is decreasing in popularity. Cascadia churches that are intentional about engaging millennials do so in a variety of different ways. From a surging New Calvinism, to thriving experientially-based worship events, to a growing emphasis on gap-year discipleship education, to cultural adaptations for belief and practice, many sectors of the Cascadian church are attempting to alter the trends of millennials leaving the church. But is it working?

The focus of this paper is twofold: 1) I will briefly outline several approaches to discipleship with millennials in Cascadia, suggesting a propensity to adopt consumeristic tendencies;  2) I will provide an alternative approach to discipleship with millennials drawing on James Davison Hunter’s model for “faithful presence” as a way to avoid the common consumeristic tendencies (in To Change the World).  I will suggest that faithful presence requires churches to emphasize local relationships rooted in a theology of covenant and participatory leadership with a view of culture that explores faith in Christ in the midst of the tension between challenge and collaboration. In a culture as diverse as Cascadia and to a demographic as religiously complex as millennials, I will argue that discipleship centered on “faithful presence” can provide a sustaining faith and set millennials on a trajectory for a lifetime of authentic discipleship.

U2 and Serious Ridiculousness

I strongly believe that ideas are best understood when enacted in our lives. We need to avoid two extremes: irrelevant abstractions and thoughtless behaviors. By themselves, both display an ignorance to our interconnectedness as humans - the reality that we are both human beings and human doings.

Such self awareness may be naively optimistic in a culture that demands both instant knowledge and immediate gratification. We don't have time for self awareness. Perhaps this is why Ann Powers, in her recent article on U2, draws on Dostoevsky's concept of "serious ridiculousness" to describe U2's way of being in the world that demands the practice of belief. As a band, U2 invites participation from the audience - "...what people love and hate about U2 is the band's insistence that listeners not just watch or listen, but enter into an experience with them."

I'd describe myself as a casual U2 fan. I know the main songs, own a few albums, but am far from being a die hard fan. I'm inspired, however, by their example of engaging life through their music with a raw honesty towards life and meaning. They disavow both naïve hope and apathetic hopelessness. And whether you like the music or not, U2 presents an engagement with our world and the human experience - "belief as practice" - that we could all use a little bit more of:

Ordinary ridiculousness comes from not being aware — from either simply not thinking about bad or excessive choices, or from embracing blind faith in the self, a God or a system. A seriously ridiculous person is clear-eyed. She knows that idealism is a fool's game to begin with, and that every conviction carries the risk of closed-mindedness. But she takes on belief as a practice, a way of being around others that seeks common ground. The ridiculous man or woman has found a way to connect things within life's inevitably broken landscape. It's an act of reaching out that can never be fully fulfilled, but which changes things in the moment, which is all we really have.

You can read the rest here.

Christ & Cascadia - Scarcity or Abundance?

Cascadia: “Cascadia” is something called a “bioregion” which includes Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and pieces of Alaska, California, Idaho, and Montana. Its boundaries are not political—they are natural. By definition, bioregions like Cascadia share a common set of natural characteristics (animals, plant life, soil, watersheds, climate, and geology). That said, many observers have begun to argue that Cascadia shares a lot more in common than mountains, salmon, and rain—it shares some important cultural and spiritual characteristics as well. More than lines on a map, regional observers have begun to argue that Cascadia is also a cultural and spiritual state of mind (Matthew Kaemingk)

I had the opportunity to participate in the inaugural Christ & Cascadia conference recently in Seattle. The conference was a gathering of scholars, leaders, thinkers, bloggers, activists, normal folk, and not-so-normal folk, all conversing around the intersection of Christianity in this region called Cascadia. The purpose of the conference, as stated, was “to know and love this place.

Having grown up in Cascadia, I find it interesting to hear how people understand and process the particularities of Cascadian culture. In the area of religion, this can be especially interesting. Cascadia is often known as the home of the “spiritual, but not religious.” Or as journalist Douglas Todd has described, people here are “secular but spiritual.” Studies show that God and spirituality remain popular, but religious affiliation continues to decline. This is the land of “religious nones.”

For Christians, this can be difficult to accept. The reality of “religious nones” fuels a general negativity towards Cascadian culture, this pagan and irreligious place. Overall, from a Christian perspective, Cascadia culture is seen as insufficient, scarcely able to offer much of anything of value spiritually. And at a conference such as this, one could expect this to be dominant theme.
But it wasn’t.

In fact, many of the presenters, myself included, while not ignoring the challenges related to Christian commitment and a “secular but spiritual” culture, offered reasons for Cascadia to instead be seen in a much more positive light. As James Wellman, professor at the University of Washington, proclaimed, Christians need to drop their “none-zone theological prejudice” and also see Cascadia from another angle: “a place of abundance!” From the abundant beauty of the environment itself, to the innovative and creative impulse of many, to the desire for authentic relationships (be it in tension with a hyper-individualism), there is much to be celebrated in Cascadia. Are traditional forms of Christianity going to face challenges in terms of integrating a vibrant religious expression in Cascadia? Absolutely! But such challenges don’t have to assume a position of negativity or hopelessness in the midst of the culture we find ourselves. Instead, as this conference suggested, cultures are always a complex reality of opportunity and challenge, and to pay attention to beauty and goodness - abundance! - can potentially reveal the ways in which Christ is already present in Cascadia.