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Why You Should Join the United Methodist Church

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If you know anything about the United Methodist Church lately, it’s that conservative and liberal factions have been hotly debating several topics and may be on the brink of dividing. However, Morgan Guyton, a campus minister, has consistently shown me the best of the UMC by both asking hard questions and reaching out to humble reconcile with those who disagree with him. He is firm in his convictions without painting others as enemies. While this is a rough time for the UMC, I asked Morgan what he loves about it and why he would suggest others should join him:

 

United Methodism: A Messy House Filled with God’s Love

We live in a world in which ideological tribes are increasingly siloing themselves in isolation from each other. We like mouthing off on social media about the hot-button issues of our idea, but it feels oppressive to see somebody from the opposite side mouth off so we unfollow and defriend them. There are very few spaces in our society anymore where people of differing ideologies congregate and build community together voluntarily. One such space is my denomination, the United Methodist Church.

The United Methodists may be the only major big-tent Protestant denomination left. Every other Protestant denomination has split into a conservative faction and a liberal faction usually along the fault-line of either female ordination or homosexuality. It hasn’t been easy, but United Methodists have stuck together. I actually did not realize there were conservative United Methodists for the first half-decade that I was a United Methodist. I had grown up in a moderately conservative Southern Baptist home. I always thought the fundamentalists were probably right and I was just an immature rebel.

 

But over time, after drifting through Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Unitarian phases, I found myself in a mostly LGBT United Methodist congregation in Toledo, Ohio.

It was in this congregation where I discovered the gospel that I believe today. I had never really believed in the gospel that told me that Jesus’ purpose was to save me from his angry father who was eager to torture me in hell forever. But I’d never discovered a viable alternative to that awful caricature of the Christian story. It was in a church book club that I attended with mostly lesbians where I discovered Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved in which Nouwen argues that our greatest challenge is to actually live as though God loves us infinitely. Nouwen contends that the reason we sin and hurt other people is because we haven’t accepted God’s unconditional love. The process of accepting God’s love is a lifelong journey toward salvation.

To me, Nouwen’s account of the gospel was a much more compelling piece of good news than the angry God gospel I’d received from my evangelical upbringing. I learned years later that Nouwen was touching upon a core definitive doctrine within United Methodism: prevenient grace. Whereas some Christians believe that God has decided who to send to heaven and who to send to hell before the beginning of time, the doctrine of prevenient grace describes the premise that God offers his grace to everybody and is constantly pursuing us and seeking to win us with his love long before we are even aware of God’s presence in our lives.

I’ve discovered that there are many United Methodists out there who haven’t had their most formative spiritual experiences in book clubs they attended with mostly lesbians. Particularly in the Deep South, there are many United Methodists who disapprove of the very people who gave me the gospel that saved me from the ugly caricatures of God that had kept me from fully trusting in him. This has been a very difficult thing for me to discover. If queer Christians are an abomination, then I am an abomination even though I’m straight because they have been such a decisive influence in my journey.

It’s painful being part of a big-tent denomination. And yet, the pain is absolutely worth it. I totally understand and respect the need for LGBT people to find Christian communities where they are accepted and their gifts are appreciated and utilized completely, even if that means leaving the contested battleground of United Methodism. As for me personally, I have been richly blessed by being in a community with people who have very different ideological perspectives from me. It’s obvious to me that they genuinely love Jesus and they genuinely want for people to know how much Jesus loves them. Though our disagreements are real and painful, our shared belief in prevenient grace does give us a powerful common theological foundation.

Though at times I would much prefer to be surrounded by people who agree with me, my experience in United Methodism loving and working side by side with people who have different beliefs has given me a lot of hope. If you try finding your place in an ideologically diverse denomination like United Methodism, you will definitely find people who are completely on the same wavelength with you. You will also find people who aren’t but are willing to accept you and build community with you anyway. Our denomination may be a messy house, but it’s a messy house filled with God’s love.

 

 

About Today’s Guest Blogger

morgan-guyton-methodist-umcMorgan Guyton is the director of the NOLA Wesley Foundation, which is the United Methodist campus ministry at Tulane and Loyola University in New Orleans, LA. His wife Cheryl is a certified candidate for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church as well. Both Cheryl and Morgan attended Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC, where they met. Cheryl has served as a hospital chaplain in the past, but is currently taking some time off to stay home with their two boys Matthew (8) and Isaiah (5).

 

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church. Search for more posts in the series by clicking on the “church” category.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

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5 Fun and Irreverent Religious Books that Some Christians Will Hate

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Let’s assume that you’re a Christian or you’re interested in religion. Let’s also assume that you like reading books about religious stuff that are a bit fun and even irreverent at times since you aren’t living in a perpetual siege mentality fed by conservative fear-mongering, political divisiveness, and end times madness.

Does that sound anything like you? If yes, then I have five fun and irreverent religious books to recommend for you. Some veer more toward entertainment, while others bring up weighty ideas while making readers laugh along the way. All of them have an angle or tone that our more uptight/under-siege Christian friends will most certainly hate.

Whether you’re looking for yourself or someone else, here are five books to pick today for a fun read:

 

  1. Flunking Sainthood by Jana Reiss

Mormon writer Jana Reiss digs into the Christian traditions and spiritual disciplines in an ill-fated attempt to learn a new spiritual practice every month. She reads biographies of saints and books that are supposed to provide practical guidance. Instead, Reiss grows annoyed by the anxious striving of some saints and frustrated by the vagueness of others. Along the way Reiss introduces us to important spiritual practices throughout church history—many of which she fails to do.

It’s not that Reiss wanted to fail. She started out this project with sincerity and good intentions, and that’s what makes this book so good. Sticking with a ridiculous spiritual project doomed to failure feels quite familiar to me, even if I’ve never attempted anything on the same scale.

Whether you cringe at her irreverence or you nod your head in agreement, she provides a welcome outlet for evangelicals such as myself who grew up with a great deal of anxiety and pressure to reach particular spiritual goals. For the rest of us who struggle at spiritual disciplines or have our own histories of failures with these practices, this book will provide a welcome perspective shift that just may inspire you to give them another shot.

 

  1. Do I Have to Be Good All the Time? By Vicky Walker

British writer Walker writes with a blend of self-deprecation and sarcasm that especially appeals to my East coast heritage. For all of our talk in America about the ways British Christians aren’t as crazy as us, Walker uncovers a world of conservative churchianity that should feel quite familiar to American evangelicals where singles struggle to be valued alongside married couples, receive terrible life advice, and end up in unbearably awkward conversations during dates that sometimes end with, for instance, a man confessing he loves to rub cats on his bare chest.

Yes, that is a real conversation in Walker’s book. No, that’s not the only one that prompted me to drop the book in horror/laughter.

While my single friends will no doubt find Walker’s recounting and skewering of the British Christian single culture cathartic, her scope is far wider and will certainly appeal to many. One senses that Walker has ingested a non-stop barrage of dodgy life advice from conservative Christian peers and is using this book to tell them what’s what.

What?

Pop in your monocle and give this book a shot. It’s especially delightful with a proper cup of tea and a scone.

 

  1. The Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

I’m going to assume that most of my readers have at least heard of Evans’ book. Perhaps most of you are sick of hearing about it. However, if you haven’t read it yet, I assure you that you’re missing out.

After being accused by the critics of her first book, Faith Unraveled, that she was picking and choosing which verses of the Bible to obey when it came to faith and gender, Evans’ took up their challenge by obeying everything in the Bible as literally as possible. It’s not just an experiment in interpretation and application, it’s a work of performance art that asks big questions about what it means to be a “biblical” woman. Evans braves conservative books on biblical homemaking, weeps over frustrating crafts, and sits on her roof after growing contentious toward her husband.

Some reviewers didn’t get this project—or perhaps skipped reading it altogether. One conservative Bible professor lamented that Evans would fail his exegesis class. We may well respond that he would fail an MFA course. This isn’t a book about the “right” way to read the Bible. This is fun and thought-provoking exploration of what happens when we follow one theological system to its logical conclusions. If anything, this book is a humbling and humorous reminder that interpreting the Bible isn’t as easy as we think.

If you approach the Bible with greater humility and awe at the stakes of the interpretive task, the laughs provided by Evan’s journey will be well worth your time.

 

  1. Our Great Big American God by Matthew Paul Turner

Superbly researched and written with a heavy dose of self-deprecating love for our Christian forebears in America, Matthew Paul Turner delivers a surprisingly readable spin through American church history. Written in a style that brings to mind Sarah Vowell (a well-known contributor to This American Life), Turner traces the high points (what some would call “low points”) of America’s church history as he makes the case that we’re just as capable of creating God in our own image.

In fact, the staggering number of images Americans have for God makes this book both delightful and hilarious. While Turner isn’t providing a substitute for the work of scholars such as Mark Knoll and David Beggington, he has more than succeeded in providing a thoughtful and funny commentary on the history of God in America that proved to be one of my favorite books from the past year.

In my endorsement for this book, I noted that Calvinists will really, really hate this book. So that will either warn my Reformed friends to keep far away from this book, or I’ve just issued a dare to give it shot!

 

  1. The New York Regional Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker

I’m probably most picky about memoirs. And of the kinds of memoirs I read, I’m most critical of religious memoirs. Let’s face it: the narrative arc is typically either:

I had a crazy religious childhood and now I’m done with that.

Or

I had a crazy religious childhood but now I’ve found a way to redeem it.

There are very few books that can succeed in such predictable narrative frameworks. Books such as Traveling Mercies or Girl Meets God provide refreshing alternatives to that script since Lamott and Winner trace their journeys from outsiders to insiders in the church. My friend Addie Zierman’s memoir When We Were on Fire is among the few faith memoirs that has succeeded in providing a truly riveting read, however, Elna Baker’s journey from the Mormon fold into the uncertain terrain of New York City is not only captivating but brimming over with wit.

While mentions of special underwear for married women and specific Mormon beliefs sometimes remind evangelical readers that Baker comes from a different tradition, a great deal of her story will look and feel familiar. Evangelicals will especially relate to her struggles to adopt her childhood faith as her own, the moral struggles of living in a city fully of temptations, and possible ramifications with her family should she leave her faith and/or HAVE SEX.

One could come away from this memoir with the impression that Baker’s story hinges on whether or not she will kiss a boy, but if you come from a conservative religious background, you’ll know that the story is about a great deal more than that. Baker takes us into the nitty gritty struggles that young adults face when their faith runs counter to the majority of people around them.

From cringe-worthy scenes at the New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, which is a real thing, to the unbelievable “home meetings” with fellow Mormon singles where an unmarried couple plays the parts of husband and wife hosts, Baker provides a perspective that is simultaneously familiar and foreign. I simply couldn’t put this book down. It’s that good.

If you don’t enjoy it, I’m afraid we can’t be friends.

 

Disclaimers

Before you rush off to buy all five of these books (why haven’t you already???), you should know that each of the links here are affiliate links on Amazon. It just means I get a small percentage of the sale if you click through and buy a book. I don’t make a lot of money through these links, but every little bit helps. Having said that, buy these books wherever you like. From the perspective of an author, I’m always just happy people buy my book anywhere at all, but if you can support a local bookstore, go for it!

I know a few of these authors personally. We’re not best friends who swap childcare during the week or go out for drinks on the weekend. I’m picky enough about what I read that I honestly wouldn’t read and recommend something that I didn’t enjoy. However, I want to make sure everything I’ve written here is on the up and up.

Do you have a favorite religious book that is funny and irreverent?

Drop in the title and author in the comments below!

Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join the Episcopal Church

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I’m welcoming my friend Holly Rankin Zaher to Denomination Derby this week to write about her love for the Episcopal Church. Holly is a theologian and youth minister whose perspective I’ve long respected. If you’ve never thought of yourself as the “high church” type, she’ll open your eyes to whole other way to approach worship on Sunday morning. 

 

Last Sunday I was distracted. My to-do list begged me to be at home, chipping away at the items left. Frankly, I didn’t want to be at church. Sit in a pew, no thanks.

But I walked in, dipping my fingers in the font of holy water right inside. Crossing myself, I recalled this deep part of my identity – as Christ’s own or one who walks with God. I looked up – I always look up. Was it the architecture? A sense of something spiritual? I paused, remembering the ways in the past the liturgy provided language for my life – the joys and frustrations – in the past.

Even on days when the sermon is lackluster or I obviously was not consulted about the music, I can count on the rhythm of the structure of the liturgy. Liturgy, literally the work of the people. The liturgy invites me into the work, to do the work of reflection, of sifting my life through the ancient scriptures, of recognizing my need, of listening for the call to live an intentional life with God in the world.

The Liturgy of the Word allows me to see the big story, repeating the majority of the scriptures over the course of three years with the psalms and the gospels repeated even more. These stories of God’s activity in the world, the retelling of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the interactions of the early church and their struggles are part of my own story as a follower of Jesus. The Liturgy of the Sacrament calls on some of the oldest written communion liturgies that are known and invites us into this practice of sharing a meal. Regardless of social status, racial privilege, or views on politics, we all come to the same place for the bread we need for today. Every gathered Christian community has a liturgy – we Episcopalians just happen to be very explicit about ours.

The Episcopal Church, despite our less than auspicious beginnings with King Henry VIII, has these beautiful moments of reform. One of our founding documents, the thirty-nine articles, called for liturgy to be said in the language of the people, a revolutionary departure from the then current practice of the Catholic mass in Latin. The 34th article still has implications today as we continue to translate, rewrite and rework liturgy. We have a history of working for social justice in response to the gospel: the Episcopal Church ordained Absalom Jones, an African-American, in 1801 – before the Civil War and the Anglican Church ordained Florence Li Tim-Oi way before women’s ordination was approved.

People often ask me what the Episcopal Church believes. This is like a trick question for Episcopalians. While we have a written catechism that illustrates some aspects of doctrine, different Episcopalians give our historical documents varying amounts of weight. How can that be? Well, we don’t base our relationships or community on a checklist of beliefs. Rather we base our commonality on common worship and relationship.

In our age of partisan politics and entrenched positions, hope and life break in with an invitation to break bread and work toward bringing about the goodness of God around me with people who are different from me, believe different things than me and look different than me.

While that worship looks different in various Episcopal settings, it follows a basic form. Sometimes this form is couched in high church organ and choir complete with incense and more pomp than comes with hosting the president of the United States while other times it is a small group gathered around a table, offering each other bread and wine, food for the journey of life.

The liturgies for both baptism and marriage include vows for the congregation to take, illustrating the communal nature of faith. We commit to each other, to support, love and care for each other. Life is not easy and we need each other.

In fact, the Episcopal Church makes up the American portion of the Anglican Communion – we are part of an international community. To be Anglican basically means to be in relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC), to have the ABC in your friend list or in your feed.

This dual focus of worship and relationship frame our life as Episcopalians.

These are the beautiful parts of my church. They give me hope when I come across them. But, as much as I love my church, there are downsides. We can be too hung up on liturgy. We have factions within the church on just how liturgy should be done. Change comes slowing for an Episcopalian. We have a reputation for being the church of the establishment – ever looked up how many presidents and members of the establishment have been Episcopalians? For every move we make to advance social challenges in response to the good news of the gospel, we take steps back like stripping Florence Li Tim-Oi of her ordination (her story: http://www.ittakesonewoman.org/public/litimoi.php). And being held together by common worship can seem quite tenuous in today’s climate.

In those moments like last Sunday I remembered my Christian identity. I dipped my fingers into the font of holy water, listened to the scriptures, prayed prayers for the world, received the bread I needed for my journey, and was reminded of my call to live an intentional life with God in the world. And that I’m not alone. For me, being an Episcopalian, following the Anglican Way, makes the most sense to me to live out my faith in Jesus.

 

About Today’s Guest Blogger

imageHolly Rankin Zaher, MDiv

Holly Rankin Zaher lives in Nashville with her fun family, inspiring people to think and reflect, whether it is about faith, education, cultural studies, or how fiber crafting grounds thinking and reflection. She has spent twenty years in professional ministry in the Episcopal Church, doing youth ministry, church planting and teaching on the seminary level. These days she teaches at a public high school. A champion for young people and women, she spends way too much time on social media, reads too much dystopian literature, and loves the conversations that happen alongside beverages.

 

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

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Moving Toward Suffering During Advent: From Indulgence for Others to Awareness of Others

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Last week I wrote about moving toward suffering during the season of Advent because God moves toward us in order to suffer alongside us and to redeem us. It’s especially tempting to mistake our commercialized version of Christmas with actually moving toward the suffering of others. It’s far too easy to buy someone a gift that isn’t necessarily needed instead of something far more personal, transforming, and costly.

We may make someone feel good with a gift—at least for a little while. Indulging in a friend’s or relative’s desires feels really great. We’ve gotten them just what they think they want. Perhaps we meet a real material need that a person has. However, we shouldn’t confuse meeting a material need with actually being present and involved in someone’s suffering.

There’s nothing wrong with giving gifts, but I personally find it far too tempting to think that my obligation to others during the holiday season ends when I’ve given a gift that represents a significant enough financial outlay and meets some kind of need for the other person. I think we all know deep down that spending money on someone is often far easier than actually being present and bearing that person’s burdens.

Rather than using financial generosity or gift giving as an excuse for disengaging with others during the season of Advent, I’ve been asking how I can actively meet with people in their suffering. It often involves giving up chunks of time or serving others in ways that are difficult for me. I’ll be honest, there have been moments in the past week when I felt like I couldn’t handle meeting someone’s need. Bearing someone else’s burdens feels like a potential black hole that could consume far more than I’m willing to offer or at least feel able to offer.

When we move toward someone’s suffering, we open ourselves up to situations that are beyond our control, and we won’t be able to limit what exactly another person will need.

That isn’t to say that gifts or money are insignificant. There have been seasons when friends dropped off meals for us that really saved us. We’ve done the same for others. However, gifts or meals or other physical objects are no substitute for the moments when someone needs us to bear burdens by his/her side.

For this advent season, I’ve been asking myself whether I’m aware of the suffering around me. Am I seeing the people who are in need? Am I willing to be physically present along their sides in order to support them when they need the most help? Are there times I can move beyond a meal or a financial gift?

I’m still buying gifts for friends and family. However, I’m trying to move beyond what I’m getting for people in order to ask whether I’m actually “for” these people. Am I willing to truly see them, to see their needs, and to make sacrifices in order to be present alongside them with their suffering?

For all of my hesitation and substitutes for being present alongside those who are suffering, I have a suspicion that I won’t be the only one alongside those who are suffering. In fact, if you’re wondering where you can find Jesus during the season of Advent or if you’re struggling to experience Jesus, there’s a very good chance you can find him. Try spending some time alongside those who are suffering, broken-hearted, and struggling.

If you’re looking for Jesus during Advent, he’s with those who are suffering.

Recovering Evangelicals Need Less Roaring and More Rohring

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Richard Rohr is a Catholic, Universalist mystic, and he writes the kinds of books recovering evangelicals need to read. Whether or not you agree with me, just reading this post won’t nullify your salvation, so hear me out.

If you need a few minutes to memorize a few extra verses from Romans or if you want to hyperventilate in front of a picture of Billy Graham, have at it. I’ll wait.

Mind you, I’m not writing this for evangelicals in “the establishment” or who would rather do yoga (the Eastern religion also known as “stretching”) than listen to a Catholic, Universalist mystic.

I’m writing this for you evangelicals who have either had it with the whole evangelical thing, are inching their way out of Christianity altogether, or feel like the evangelical subculture is just a bit much right now. Perhaps some things aren’t quite clicking. Perhaps you’re secretly struggling with doubts. Maybe you’re just burned out and feel a bit hopeless. You’re also most likely “roaring” against the inconsistencies, false promises, or doubts you didn’t see coming.

And if you feel like you’re burning out, bowing out, or the whole thing is just a giant bait and switch offering anxiety and infighting instead of peace and joy, there could be worse things than listening to a Catholic, Universalist mystic.

I know there are a lot of you who are either on your way out or deeply disappointed with evangelicalism. Every time I talk to someone in their 20’s or 30’s, it seems like I hear yet another story of someone who signed on to follow Jesus with high hopes of salvation, meaning, and life-change. The truth of the Bible was exhilarating, going to church was relevant, and you simply couldn’t do enough for Jesus.

At a certain point, things start to unravel a bit. It’s often gradual, but it may be accelerated by a tragedy or difficult situation. There’s almost a script we all followed over the years. We all fell off the same cliff of high hopes.

In my own case, I was drowning in theology, Bible study, and churchiness while in seminary. It was as if one day I woke up and reading the Bible more, getting more truth, or attending more church didn’t cut it when it came to connecting with God. In fact, all of my solutions became my problems since the thought of them failing meant my faith would fail. When you’ve been given the best, purest, most orthodox doctrines and you still come up empty, distant from God, and even more distant from your neighbors, maybe the next step shouldn’t be doubling down on more of the same. Maybe you need a bit of a shift without necessarily throwing everything out.

I know that some people will accuse you of throwing everything out by merely listening to a Catholic, Universalist mystic without the intention of hammering him with a book by John MacArthur. Nevertheless, these accusers forget that smart people can interact with ideas and spiritual practices from someone in a different theological camp without adopting that person’s theology and practices in whole. We can learn something from a Catholic, Universalist mystic without abandoning the core evangelical commitments to studying scripture, personal piety, saving faith through the death and resurrection of Christ, and proclaiming that Jesus is King.

I’m also not here to rip apart anyone’s life choices here. If you get a lot of life from reading theology and Bible study in the evangelical fold, that’s awesome. I have no idea why some people struggle where others prosper, but I never want to make the mistake of criticizing someone for not finding life or hope where I have discovered it in abundance.

In the midst of this mire of despair and uncertainty, I suggest we stop roaring at each other about our theology or whatever and talk a little bit about Richard Rohr.

Rohr is no evangelical. Like I said, he’s a Catholic universalist. You don’t need to buy into everything he writes about. Heck, I’ve skipped some sections in his books when he gets lost in his own spiritual formation jargon or harps a little too long on a pet peeve. However, Rohr offers three really important challenges to issues that often bog down evangelicals. If you’ve been struggling within the evangelical fold, Rohr directly addresses topics that I have found personally frustrating and difficult. Here’s a little overview of how Rohr could help evangelicals:

 

Stop Fighting Tribal Wars

As a former evangelical culture warrior who than dabbled with some of the emerging church stuff, I’m tired of fighting. First I was fighting the world. Then I was fighting the mainstream evangelical subculture. Then I was fighting some of the progressives who I thought had gone too far or thought they could do a better job than the Holy Spirit at bossing people around. In a sense I’ve been the same exact person who was combative, tribal, and absolutist. I just switched my theology and proof texts. I was just as uncaring and judgmental no matter what I believed. I hadn’t actually changed the way I interacted with God and with other people.

If Protestants are anything, we’re tribal. It’s what I love the most and hate the most about us. We always reserve the right to break away. That can be awesome if the global leader of your church commands armies and functions like a one-world government (There are reasons why the first Protestants called the Pope the Anti-Christ!). But what started as a reaction to the corruption of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages soon turned into tribal in-fighting as we fractured endlessly with each other over theology.

I still care about theology a great deal. However, I’m tired of fighting over my turf. I’m tired of trying to classify people as sinners or saints, safe or sinister. Our mission to reach those outside the evangelical fold may have resulted in an unintended obsession over who’s in and who’s out. Is there a better way to spend my time than attacking an opponent or defending someone in my tribe?

While Rohr is motivated in part by a universalist theology in his call for Christians to lay down their arms in their fights with each other and those of other faiths, he still makes a compelling case to stop fighting our little turf wars and to turn toward Christ. His critique is a call is to something bigger rather than a kick out the door for those who misbehave.

Rohr is onto something. Evangelicals have obsessed over preserving pure doctrine and maintaining clear “insider/outsider” categories. Every divisive issue with evangelicals is rooted in this desire to know who’s a sinner and who’s a saint. Some have called this “bounded set” thinking. We have passwords (so to speak) and codes of conduct, and they determine who’s in and who gets invited to a concert with a surprise evangelism message.

Rohr is firmly in the “centered set” mindset. He calls us toward Christ at the center, and he encourages us to define ourselves according to God’s love for us rather than which boundaries our denominations or churches set. Rohr would probably call his approach more of an “open set” mindset, where we create room and stillness for God to meet with us. God is already present with us, so we aren’t necessarily even moving toward God. God has already moved toward us, and he encourages us to open ourselves to this possibility so that God can redefine us around his love.

I don’t follow Rohr’s more Universalist teachings, but evangelicals could really benefit from his focus on becoming renewed and transformed “in” Christ rather than fighting to preserve our doctrines “about” Christ.

Evangelicals could also use a less antagonistic approach to other religions. At the very least we should recognize some common practices and goals with other faiths, even if we can’t swap Jesus with the Buddha. I’m sure that Rohr would be happy if a few more evangelicals wanted to give yoga a shot, but that never comes up directly in his books.

Whether or not we unfurl our secret yoga mats, Rohr also has something to offer those of us who feel like Bible study just isn’t cutting it.

 

Practicing the Presence of God

Evangelicals have a strong tradition of Bible study and spiritual disciplines. We have historically been really good at self-denial and writing commentaries, the latter surely aiding the former by taking away from time that could otherwise have been spent smoking, drinking, and dancing.

As I hinted earlier, I had grown weary of adding one more thing to my spiritual life. I’ve always felt like I needed to add more prayers, more disciplines, and more study. Every time I tried to add something else, it either failed to produce the desired result or I couldn’t keep up with it. As it turned out, I didn’t need to spend more time on spiritual practices. I needed to change how I spent my time.

If you’re worn out and weary from always adding one more thing to your spiritual life, Rohr will drive home a major reality check. Rohr suggests that we often fill our lives up with some many “things we have to do” in order to hide from our true selves: our identity in Christ. So while we can use Bible study, prayer, or spiritual practices to help us discover that identity, the act of doing these things can divert us from the deeper work of silence before God. We can resort to ticking off boxes, whether that’s boxes for doctrine or practices, as the true measure of our faith.

Rohr has helped me see that measuring, adding, and learning are all poor substitutes for abiding. It all sounds a lot like a branch abiding in a vine, and the most life-giving (and “safe”) evangelicals have been the ones who focus on abiding rather than behaving since those who abide will figure out the behaving. There is nothing we can do to change the immediacy of God among us, and with the Holy Spirit among us, we don’t have to “work” to invite God to be in us. We aren’t chasing after a God who is always one step or several steps ahead of us. We have to work to see that God is already in us, and I hope you can see how much hope and joy we can find in that approach to things.

Evangelicals have a tendency to keep working harder and harder and harder to get closer to God, to learn more, and to be more obedient. Rohr reminds us of the good news in the Gospels: seek and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened.

The disconnect comes when we don’t know how to seek or where to knock. Instead of telling us to do more in order to find God, Rohr suggests that we actually do less. As little as possible in fact—as “waiting” on the Lord sets the bar pretty low for us.

 

The Point of It All

At the end of the day, evangelicals are left asking, “What’s the point of it all?” Why do we go to church, read the Bible, pray, attend small group, and read books by Christian authors (like me!) who wave around MDiv’s and drop in self-deprecating jabs at the evangelical subculture? Why bother?

Perhaps the thought of avoiding hell was enough to get you in the door, but fear is a lousy motivator for the long term. It’s awesome for short-term survival. As in, seeing a shark fin in the water will strike enough fear in you that you’ll swim really fast for the shore. However, you can only swim so fast for so long. In fact, for many of us, I would guess that some evangelical teachings on salvation feel like we’ll either reach the safety of the shoreline or a lifeguard will save us, but he’s really unhappy about it because we’re such wretched people.

Evangelicals can be a bit frantic and uptight sometimes. We’re the ones who went forward for multiple altar calls and multiple baptisms throughout our childhood and teens just to be sure we got that prayer right. We’ve had sleepless nights because of end times predictions. We’ve tried to be holier, tried to win God more glory, and fretted over the many times we’ve failed at both.

So what gives? Why is all of this such a struggle? And why bother? Is this really all about avoiding hell?

You may have guessed from the above sections that Rohr has something to say about all of this. Just as we are called to open ourselves to God and to abide in Christ, we practice disciplines such as silence or lectio divina or centering prayer in order to be transformed by a union with God. It’s not just learning about God or obedience, Rohr suggests it’s an actual mystical interaction that we’re after. This is where life change and direction comes from.

We may not even know what exactly has changed. We may not be able to put it into words. It’s not really something that we do. Rohr would say that it’s something that “is” in the present moment. We have been present with God and God has been present with us, even if that presence sometimes feels like silence. In fact, our expectations for God or spiritual experiences can hold us back from receiving God’s presence since we’re too busy looking for something else.

That will sound a bit vague if you’re new to Rohr’s teachings, but I think he hits at one of the greatest struggles that so many evangelicals face is the fear of God’s absence. We fear silence and being quiet before God because we’re afraid that God won’t show up. We focus on the outcome and experience.

Rohr chops away all of that anxiety and calls us to be still. We can be present before God and wait. Over time, God will unite with us and shape us. It’s not a three step or twelve step process. It won’t feel easy or natural for us, and perhaps those reasons alone are the most compelling reasons for struggling evangelicals to give Rohr’s teachings a try.

 

My Challenge for Struggling Evangelicals:

If you’re worn out or struggling with evangelicalism, I have a suggestion for you: “Roaring” against the failures of particular leaders, theologies, or traditions won’t help you take a step forward or heal the wrongs of the past. We need a shift in perspective and perhaps in our direction. We could do a lot worse than taking a few pointers from a Catholic Universalist mystic, so here’s my challenge:

Read and blog/journal about one book by Richard Rohr in the new year.

You can ask for the book as a Christmas gift. You can buy it in secret and cover it in brown paper so your friends don’t know what you’re up to. You could even have the book shipped to the home of a trusted, non-judgmental atheist friend. Whatever works.

Here’s a list of some books to consider:

 

Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer

Immortal Diamond: The Search for the True Self

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

Yes And

The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See

 

Not sure you want to go that far? You can sign up for Richard Rohr’s email list and get daily readings from his books and talks. They’re short and to the point. Some may prove more relevant than others, so stick with it for a month before ditching it.

If all of that still sounds like a bridge too far, there are lots of other books you can read to help you break out of a post-evangelical malaise. Vineyard pastor Ken Wilson wrote an introduction to contemplative prayer called Mystically Wired. I also wrote a book called A Christian Survival Guide that provides some really simple steps you can take toward praying with scripture and cultivating contemplative prayer, as well as help with other hot topics that give evangelicals fits.

Of course if none of this appeals to you, that’s fine. Catholic Universalist mystics aren’t for everyone. However, if you ever reach a point where you feel like your faith is faltering or you can’t figure out how to encounter Christ in your day-to-day life, I know a guy who can help.

What God Doesn’t Plan: My Post for A Deeper Story

tracks-God's-plan-for-you

 

I’m surrounded by college students every day at a local café. There’s something different about them, even if they generally behave just as you would expect college students to behave: loud conversations on their phones, enthusiastic conversations, texting frequently, working occasionally, smoking regularly, and drinking large, sweet coffee drinks. I can relate to almost everything about them—well, except for the smoking. And the texting actually, gosh, I’m 35, you know. But besides the texting and smoking, the one thing I can’t quite understand is that the majority of these college students have their Bibles out on their tables next to their school books.

If it was one or two students, I wouldn’t give it another thought. This isn’t something I see with one or two students. This is more like fifteen or twenty students who are regulars at the local café, as well as a few friends of theirs who show up from time to time. Every single one keeps a Bible out in plain sight the entire time, every single time.

Most days the number of Bibles in the café outnumber the guys dressed like lumberjacks with huge beards, which is really saying something for my neighborhood. And I’m totally cool with all of this Bible study, even if it’s always paired with an orchestrated public Bible display and followed with a smoke break. They won’t hear me complain. However, one day I overheard a conversation that reminded me of what’s at stake with all of this immersion in Bible study.

Two young guys who were part of the smoking/public Bible group had a very loud, very anxious accountability meeting a few tables away. As I walked up for a refill, I heard a very familiar phrase: “I’m starting to figure out God’s plan for me…”

Read the rest at A Deeper Story

Are We Moving Toward Suffering During Advent?

Advent Candles

If I have made one big mistake as a Christian, it’s been wanting to help people from a distance rather than drawing near to them. You know, pretty much the opposite of what Jesus did.

For instance, the author of Hebrews called Jesus a high priest, which made him a mediator between God and humanity. A high priest is supposed to be among the people—all up in their business, so to speak. Despite being so close to us in the midst of our flaws and weaknesses, words like “merciful” and “empathize” are used when discussing the ministry of Jesus. Have a look:

Hebrews 2:17 (NIV)

“For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.”

The author Hebrews goes on to say:

Hebrews 4:15 (NIV)

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”

We could summarize the ministry of Jesus like this: Find people trapped in sin and suffering, join them, and restore them to God. He is merciful and kind, empathizing with our weaknesses and then healing us. However, in order to be truly merciful and in order to fully heal us, he has to also be fully among us, present with us even when we’re at our worst.

My church has been talking a lot lately about being present with those who are suffering during Advent. In fact, our big picture mission is “to be a community of prayer that engages suffering.” I kind of hate the word “engage” because I think it sounds a little too impersonal or detached, but it captures the right direction and intention. If there was ever a time of year to think about being present among those who are suffering or in sin, Advent is the time.

Jesus came down to earth in order to be present among us, to show mercy. He wanted to fully see, hear, and understand. He wasn’t detached from suffering. And when he encountered suffering, he drew closer to the people, listened to them, and offered to help those willing to receive it.

I like the idea of helping, but it can be tough to draw near to others and to be fully present. There’s always a great excuse, whether I don’t have enough money, time, or emotional reserves.

For advent, I wanted to ask what it might look like to be present among those who are suffering and how we can help.

Perhaps today we need to begin with a simple truth that will make everything else all the more meaningful: God is present among us first and foremost. We’re not in this alone, even if we sometimes feel like it.

We could be in the midst of a dark night of the soul.

We could be distracted.

We could be traumatized.

We could lack training in awareness of God.

There are lots of reasons why we may struggle to recognize God’s presence among us, let alone experiencing the joy and freedom of God’s Kingdom that is already here.

If we don’t believe God is moving toward us first, we’ll struggle to move toward others.

What if you took 20 minutes each day this week to simply sit and acknowledge of the presence of God. Don’t ask for anything to happen. Don’t expect miracles. Just recognize that God is present. Focus on a simple word like mercy, love, kindness, present, heal, or another word that helps you focus on God’s presence.

Through Advent we recognize God’s movement toward us, but we’ll feel alone and forgotten if we don’t prepare a place for God to arrive and assure us that the mercy and empathy of Jesus, our high priest, also applies to us.

Denomination Derby: Why You Should Join The Churches of Christ

Denomination Church Logo

Today’s guest post is by my friend Adam Ellis, a pastor and theologian I always look to for perspective and sanity on the most difficult theological topics. He’s also my number one source of Buechner quotes, and I always hold it over him that I met Buechner once but unfortunately startled him during the encounter because he was having a hard time carrying something and I came from out of his line of vision to help him. Back to Adam, he pastors a congregation in the Church of Christ denomination and offers some compelling reasons to join him (provided you don’t mind moving to South Carolina!): 

 

Frederick Buechner says most theology is essentially autobiography. I’d argue the same is true of ecclesiology. That being the case, there are a few things you should know going into this. I’m the preaching minister for a small congregation affiliated with the churches of Christ. I’m also the son of a Church of Christ preacher. I was a youth minister for various churches of Christ for over a decade, and I have a Masters Degree in Theological Studies from a school associated with the churches of Christ. My point is, when it comes to churches of Christ, I’m about as dyed-in-the-wool as they come.

Have you ever enthusiastically agreed to do something that you thought would be easy and fun, only to discover that it was more challenging than you originally thought it would be? That’s me…writing this post. The whole undertaking is fraught with difficulty for someone like me presuming to talk about people like us. It’s a little like trying to explain what you love so much about your family. For everything you love, there are faces and relationships that cannot be reduced to bullet-points. There are embarrassing moments that you either try not to think about or you learn to laugh at yourselves.

My first impulse is to talk about the obvious distinctives one might notice if they attended a church of Christ worship gathering. I could talk to you about our tradition of a cappella worship. Some congregations in our tradition are beginning to use instrumental music in their worship services, but even in these cases there is still a certain reverence for the beauty of four-part harmony. I could talk to you about our weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper (Communion/Eucharist). I could (and many might think I should) spend some time talking to you about how we practice believer’s baptism. However, I don’t really want to talk about those things here. These are much longer and more nuanced conversations than the task at hand allows for. I’ve been asked to tell you what I love about churches of Christ and why you might want to be a part of this tradition, and that’s a different conversation altogether.

Churches of Christ have their roots in the American Restoration Movement, which also gave birth to Independent Christian Church and the Disciples of Christ. The movement began primarily as a unity movement in response to the rampant bickering, division and in-fighting many saw among the different denominations (sects) in the early 1800’s. Two early leaders in the movement (arguably it’s “founders”) were Thomas Campbell and his son, Alexander. Thomas was a minister for the “Old Lights, Anti-Burgher, Associate/Seceder National Presbyterian Church of Scotland”, and Alexander was in training to follow in his father’s vocational footsteps. You read that right, by the way. It was a sect of a sect of a sect of a sect. Both essentially broke official ties with this group over the group’s closed and exclusionary communion (eucharist) practices. However, their intention was not to break off and start another sect. Their intention was to draw the circle wider, not smaller.

They practiced open communion. In a revolutionary document titled The Declaration and Address, Thomas declared that division was a horrid evil. He said that the church could give no new command where scripture was silent, and that while creeds may be useful, they must not be used as tests of fellowship. His son Alexander concurred. Alexander was an incredible communicator and helped the movement to spread. Although they were often referred to by others as “Campbellites”, they refused to take sectarian names for their churches, preferring terms intended to be merely descriptive like “christians”, “disciples”, or “churches of Christ”. The sentiment is probably best summed up by another early leader named Barton Stone in a document known as The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery:

We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling…”

It’s easy to get confused, so sometimes you’ll catch some of us forgetting about all of this and perpetuating exactly the same kind of sectarianism we were intended to transcend. However, I believe unity is woven deep in the DNA of who we are as a people and when we lose our way, we eventually tend to find it again.

I’ll always remember the words of one of my professors from grad school. He said, “Here’s the thing about our people: If you can show it to them in the Bible, they can go there.” I’ve found this to be true and life giving. We always assume that there is more to learn. We assume scripture always has more to teach us. When I was growing up, I remember my Father telling me over and over again, “Don’t take my word for it,” when it came to matters of faith. I also remember him telling me that if I found that something he believed wasn’t right or true, I should move on. This is the prevalent attitude I have found in churches of Christ. Ideally, we try not to just believe a thing simply because it is the “Church of Christ” thing to believe. The question, “What do WE believe about that,” doesn’t really make sense in our context.

Each of our congregations is autonomous, and is ideally led by lay-leaders called “Elders” in partnership with a minister or ministry staff. There is no over-arching power structure to which we answer. There are pros and cons to this arrangement. On the one hand, it allows us the freedom to follow our consciences in the pursuit of truth, or, as a friend and mentor from another tradition once told me, “Churches of Christ are great, because you don’t have to turn the whole ship.”   On the other hand, I’m typing this post with the full knowledge that there will be some from churches of Christ who will feel quite strongly that what I have written is not representative of them at all.

Even so, I love these people. I love them like the quirky, complicated, wonderful family they are. They taught me to study scripture like it mattered…to try to speak where the Bible speaks, and to allow for difference, nuance, and ambiguity where the Bible is silent. They taught me to keep digging, to keep searching, to never be complacent or merely prop up the status quo. They gave me the space to grow. If any of that sounds appealing, maybe they could do the same for you.

 

About Today’s Guest Blogger

AEAdam Ellis is the husband of Dana and the father of Emma & Chloe. He has a Masters Degree in Theological Studies from David Lipscomb University, and he worked for over a decade in youth ministry in various congregations across the south eastern United States. For the past 6 years he has been employed as the preaching minister for a congregation in South Carolina, and he’s been working on the side as an adjunct university Bible instructor. Frankly, he’s kind of a geek about theology and pop-culture, but his wife and daughters love him, so he’s ok with it.

 

About Denomination Derby

This series invites ministers or ministry volunteers with seminary training to share what they love about their denominations so that readers will have a greater awareness of and appreciation for the good things happening throughout the church.

We have several writers lined up to write about their respective denominations, but nominations for guest bloggers or requests for a particular denomination are welcome.

Subscribe to my RSS email list to make sure you get the posts each Friday as they go live.

 

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We Don’t Move Forward by Adding Another Thing

time-too-busy

I’m in the Christian writing business, so I am acutely aware of the greatest danger for Christian living books: The worst Christian living books try to add more stuff to your life without helping you remove stuff first. In fact, the most helpful books probably remove stuff and help you thrive with what you already have.

Our greatest challenge as Christians is seeing what we already have. If we aren’t getting to the place where we think we need to go, we probably won’t get there by adding another thing to our lives. We’re already loaded up with stuff and our minds are buzzing with distractions and ideas to the point that we’ll struggle to figure out the next step.

If you’re feeling full and life is chaotic and crazy, you don’t need another book on how to study the Bible or how to memorize scripture better or how to even add another cool prayer practice to your life. Those things may help, but they won’t help you when you’re feeling busy and chaotic. You’ll just struggle to add those things to your life and then you’ll have both the sensation of spinning wheels and the guilt of not being able to live a spiritual-enough life.

If you are a follower of Jesus, then here is what you have: you are a member of God’s family who can call him “Father.” You are mysteriously united with Jesus, and the Holy Spirit dwells in you. That is what you already have. You don’t have to work to gain those things. You may need to change things in order to “experience” that reality, but you can’t add anything to your life that will make any of those things more real.

So if you read scripture, you will give yourself a tool to experience the presence of God.

If you pray, you’ll be able to confess sins, express what’s on your mind, and, if you learn how to listen, hear what God is saying to you.

If you add a new spiritual discipline or practice, you’ll create more space to experience God in your life. If you keep an open mind, you’ll ideally start to become aware of God throughout each day.

However, none of those spiritual practices can change God’s presence in our lives. If anything, it’s the stuff in our lives that prevents us from seeing God. We are too loaded down with distractions and burdens to hear and experience God.

Some of us, perhaps many of us, rely on these distractions as a way to medicate our pain, confusion, or disappointment in life. I find it striking that Jesus described himself as a doctor who had come for the sick. It’s like he knew that our world is full of hurting people who are relying on all kinds of “drugs” to get through the day.

We are promised abundant life that flows constantly like water from a spring. However, so many days it feels like a trickle. Then again, perhaps some of us are picking at dry ground, praying for a bit of relief. We’re looking for the perfect way to dig up enough water for today, and those promises of abundant life feel like a dirty trick.

I have seen time and time again that I can only move forward spiritually if I remove something. I need to eliminate the stuff that is keeping me from being present in my day, from hearing God, and from resting in who I am.

Our core identity in Christ is the foundation for our lives, and too often we try to become something holier and more spiritual on a false foundation of extra effort or new fangled spiritual gimmicks.

The “work” of the Christian life isn’t convincing God to be with us. The work is cutting out all of the crap and distractions that cut us off from our identity in Christ and fill up our days. God can’t build until the foundation is cleared of all the junk. And sometimes the junk is stuff we like—television shows, sports, social media, news sites, etc. It’s a leap of faith to trust God has something better for us if we prepare a place in our lives.

Perhaps we’ll be prepared to take this leap of faith when we’re hurting enough or feel lost enough. You’re always welcome to try adding another new thing. I just suspect that it will fall flat without addressing your identity in Christ first and foremost.

I’m not saying that God can’t help things get better or that more prayer and Bible won’t help. I’m just saying that we all have so much more than we realize already. It’s right there for us, and we don’t see it. It would be a tragedy if we spent our lives trying to add one more thing when the most important things are hidden because we haven’t learned to grow through subtraction.

Millennials Should Give Up Their Dreams and Serve Me Coffee

Coffee served by Millennials for career

Oh look, this coffee has a special leaf design on it and someone took a picture of it because clearly no one has ever seen anything like this ever before…

 

I noticed you weren’t steaming the milk with the same vigor this morning. In fact, you didn’t swish my coffee mug enthusiastically as you filled it up, the half and half is empty, and the dishpan is a mess of piled porcelain. I can only deduce that you’ve been reading books or listening to podcasts where successful entrepreneurial older white men are telling Millennials like yourself to fulfill your dreams and to pursue your passions, and now this cafe isn’t cutting it for you.

Stop it. Stop listening to them. Stop dreaming. STOP and listen to me.

It’s clear to me that these experts have found a way to exploit your generation’s obsession with following your passions and pursuing your dreams. I mean, you could try to do these things, but I assure you that this will only result in more news stories and advice columns chastising you for being the world’s most selfish, narcissistic, unrealistic generation. Besides, you will most likely fail at pursuing your passions, so why even bother any way?

I know the business entrepreneurs, gurus, and “ninjas” are telling you to quit your job and pursue your dream and that it worked out for them and “why not you?” Well, here’s the thing: that was OK for them. They weren’t selfish, unrealistic Millennials raised on the hollow promises of a purple dinosaur telling them they were special. They are realistic, generous, and non-stereotypical Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers. I mean, look at them! These business experts left stable incomes to make thousands of dollars telling dissatisfied people how to be like them! That’s about as selfless as it gets! You, on the other hand, are an entitled, starry-eyed egomaniac who can only think about getting what you want… and then taking a selfie when you get it.

Look, serving coffee is a pretty great gig. It’s better than breathing in toxic dust in a mine, losing a finger in a factory, or skimming slag in a steel mill. Do you know how bad a selfie turns out in a mine when you’re wearing a headlamp? Can you imagine texting without a few fingers?

Right, you can’t imagine any of this. You can only imagine sitting in a palace where servants snap selfies for you and money magically appears in your bank account every time you tweet. At least some of you tweet as if that’s what happens.

So here’s my advice:

Don’t take any risks.

Don’t set aside time for self-reflection or prayer.

Don’t ask friends for advice or counsel.

Don’t read any books about things that interest you.

Don’t consider going back to school.

Don’t seek out mentors who could help guide you.

Don’t pursue any kind of professional training.

Don’t learn how to manage your own business.

Don’t downsize your possessions.

Don’t find a more affordable place to live.

Don’t change how you eat or what you buy when you go out.

Don’t cancel your cable service or limit your mobile data usage.

Don’t even think about trading your car for a bike or public transit.

Don’t look for a flexible job that can pay the bills while you try something new.

Give up on your dreams and passions. Stop paying attention to that nagging feeling that you should try something else for your career. These are just trademarks of your selfish entitled generation. The people who came before you could ask those questions and take those risks, but that’s because they weren’t Snapchatting with their shirts off and Instagramming their meals.

Your generation is a lost cause. Take a good look around this coffee shop. I hope you like it. This is probably as good as it’s going to get. Every other generation had the ability to consider ways to advance themselves, to escape the drudgery of cubicles, and to build a career of their own choosing. That stops with you.

You Millennials don’t get to make the same choices as previous generations because you’re not just self-absorbed, you’ve painstakingly documented your selfishness in unique ways that no older generation can replicate or relate to. We can hide our own self-centeredness and avarice behind your massive social media profiles as we convict you of being the worst generation ever.

And if you want your tip to stay at $.50, I suggest you “chop chop” and fill that half and half when I’m ready for a refill. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a number of freelance writing projects to work on with that cup of coffee you just poured. Pursuing my dreams of becoming a writer takes a lot of caffeine, and I need you Millennials to keep serving it.

 

For further reading on this topic from a non-sarcastic perspective:

http://reason.com/poll/2014/08/19/65-of-americans-say-millennials-are-enti

http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2014/11/18/ask-laura-follow-my-passion-where-exactly/35086

 

Do you prefer sarcasm? Check out this related post from my previous blog:

Millennials Need to Know Church Must Be Boring and Irrelevant