(Note: That ole’ disclaimer still applies. Please read the previous posts, if you haven’t yet.)
When I talk to some Baby Boomers about the importance of beauty and transcendence, their eyes begin to glaze over. I think to many Boomers, the Millennials’ desire for these things displays the courage of a sanctified Ostrich who keeps her head in her Prayer Book while the city around her is burning (I’m pretty sure some Boomers who have been reading these spurious little posts have been thinking that the entire time!). Like those forgotten Thuribles, hidden away in the Sacristy, some Boomers look at Millennials and wonder why we’re sacrificing an urgent relevancy for the sake of beauty, especially when the world around us is crumbling. “We don’t have time for beauty! We should being doing x!” I can hear some Baby Boomers say or – even worse — “None of that means anything to anybody anymore, anyway.” And when you’re out there on the fence dismantling injustice, it might seem that way.
For me, growing up in the 90’s, everything in my life revolved around what was relevant to me. This has been supported by the wider culture, too. We are one of the first generations who is a powerful force in the economic market and billions of dollars were to be made from Millennials; therefore, a lot of advertising is aimed at us and our opinions. Take a look at our entertainment, especially shows like “American Idol”, whose entire premise was about giving your opinion on a certain singer’s ability – regardless of whether you were trained to give that musical opinion. We’re the generation of blogs, Facebook and YouTube — all of which revolve around us. Since we were young, the world has bent-over-backwards to serve itself on its own silver platter to Millennials. The world was made completely relevant, completely easy to digest to us – is it any wonder why we’re considered one of the most self-absorbed generations?
Remember me mentioning the almost hysterics of the Boomers about getting “the young people” involved in Church? Perhaps they were practically giving themselves cardiac arrest because they had those memories of the stodgy fences of the Church of their youth. The Church has even bent-over-backwards to make the faith relevant to us. The Rev. Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Church (and the Willow Creek Model) all hinge on the understanding that everything — from to the building, to the way the gospel is presented — needs to be easily understood by people my age. Churches now hire Youth Ministers (usually several for each age groups) to design programs to help young Christians on their journey with God. This was completely unheard of one hundred years ago, even fifty years ago. Even music is chosen for its relevancy and its easy-to-digest-ness.
Not all of these things are bad, mind you, but I think one tragic and unintended consequence of all this pandering is that it insults the intelligence of Millennials. We must never forget that we are the generation of Wikipedia and are more college educated than previous generations. While we may not be smarter per se but we do have a healthy sense of skepticism and sarcasm that we wield at an alarming rate. In large part, we like being pandered to but we don’t like out-and-out pandering, especially when we’re treated like idiots who cannot understand the finer points of life. While what St. Augustine said was true (“the Church is whore, but she’s my mother”), the Church of the Boomers reeks of frantic desperation and Millennials can smell it a mile away.
With this in mind, I think what is attracting Millennials to Tradition is the complete and total irrelevancy of beauty of Tradition, which has rendered itself completely relevant to us. We have been pandered to for so long, that when a service is made beautiful for the sake of it being outrageously beautiful — when we are effectively ignored, as it were – we can’t help but be drawn to it. We can’t help but be attracted to the mystery that beauty presents to us. Chant, Solemn High Masses, good music (in whatever age it comes from) and beautiful vestments are not easily digested, but require much practice, forethought and contemplation to be understood. It is the same thing with icons, beautiful art, and other traditional practices that the Baby Boomers rid themselves of. Beauty and Tradition are seductive because it is something completely foreign to us and our day-to-day experience. Again, it is completely irrelevant, so, therefore, it is has become wholly relevant to us. It is seen as the missing ingredient of our life.
Again, I remind you that this is a trend being written about throughout the Church and it isn’t just little-ole’-Anglo-Catholic-me saying these things. In my own Parish, a large portion of our newcomers are twenty-somethings, who say to us time after time that what draws them to the Episcopal Church is the intelligence and the beauty of our Masses. At my Christian College Alma Mater, the Emergent Church is being felt in several ways in a reaction against the Boomer way of doing things. It is important to notice this, because I think we might just be dreadfully wrong in the way were are trying to attract Millennials and the way we are doing evangelism in the Episcopal Church.
So, how do we best minister to the needs of Millennials –these people who are being drawn toward a relevant irrelevant beauty?
(More to come in Part IV)