Roadblocks on the road to change: Why I am not (yet) all I could be

by Kate Henley Long (b. 1982)

Millennials believe that we, like the civil rights activists and suffragettes who were pictured on our classroom walls, can be agents of change. We volunteer at a high rate and, according to academic studies and market research, we're "civic-minded and socially conscious as individuals, consumers and employees." And to prove (to older generations, and perhaps also, to ourselves) that we could, as a generation, rally for change, we turned out and voted overwhelmingly for Obama's change agenda in November. We believe we're capable of anything, including making change anywhere we sense the presence of unfair limits on ourselves and society.

I fit squarely into this demographic. I've been involved in community service and social justice initiatives since high school. Not only do I, like my peers, feel "personally responsible for making a difference in the world,", I would even go as far as to describe this feeling as a calling, one that is inseparable from my Catholic faith. Catholic teachings on interconnectedness, responsibility for each other, and the evils of poverty and oppression are at the core of my worldview. Following this call, I spent a year after college working as a Catholic youth minister and then, as I had hoped to do since my sophomore year, I began my Master of Divinity at Harvard, which I completed this past June.

But in discerning what "ministry" means for me, I have hit so many roadblocks. However, within my faith tradition, as a woman, and as a queer person, most of the more traditional ministry options are closed to me." And while I loved working with middle school youth in my one formal "ministry" job, I felt spiritually constrained, and even stifled, by the Church. Every time I bit my tongue rather than give an honest answer to a student's heartfelt question about Church teaching on sexuality, every time I left out information or intentionally misrepresented myself to avoid coming out to my faith community, every time I gave up in another pointless and exhausting conversation about women's ordination, it felt like pieces of my faith were being chipped away. Maybe it's the inevitable outcome of a change-minded Millennial coming into contact with an old, slow-to-change institution like the Roman Catholic Church, but being in an environment that I feel so strongly needs change, and yet being unable to do anything to effect that change, is suffocating.

So what do I do? I know I can't change the institutional Church on this point. How then, do I even begin to make change in the world, and change in the Church, to make it a place where queer kids don't feel an ounce of self-loathing and queer adults aren't made to feel sinful, alone, and silenced? As a result, the way I engage my faith in the world - my "ministry" - takes strange and new forms. I choreograph politically minded dance theatre that deals with queer and Catholic issues. I write, and I write, and I write. I talk to anyone who will listen, and even when nobody is listening, about these things about which I am passionate, and by which I am driven. I don't go to Mass very often, and while I mourn that loss, I know I can't do good work feeling constantly worn-down and weary.

I suspect that, among Millennials, I'm not alone in feeling frustration with the seeming stagnancy of my faith tradition. Will this make us a less religious, or less faithful generation? Or will we produce new ways of engaging with our spirituality and religious beliefs, redefining what it means to be religious?

Kate Henley Long has her MDiv from Harvard University and is, among other things, a queer Catholic. She refuses to feel sinful, alone, or silent, and in fact has a lovely circle of queer Catholic friends with whom to make lots of noise.

No, God is not dead

This post is in particular response to Patrick Mongeau’s recent post, “Is God Dead?”

by Ingrid Rodrick Beiler (b. 1981)

The title of Patrick’s post of course alludes to Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous quote, “God is dead,” which first appeared in print in 1882, one hundred and two years before Patrick was born. I will leave it to those better educated in philosophy than me to elaborate on the meaning of the quote. My point in citing its date of origination is simply to highlight that the idea of religion’s imminent disappearance is not new.

While I agree with Patrick that a large segment of our generation in the United States and the Western world has concluded that all faiths or religions are in essence the same, I think the prediction that these views will soon hold sway among everyone overlooks the diversity of our generation.

First, to my own experience with faith: While some Christian denominations are losing many of their young members, evangelical congregations and ministries tend to be very young. At my own church, I estimate that half or two-thirds of the members are in their thirties or younger. My previous church experiences have been similar—and these have been in Norway and Massachusetts, that is, solidly outside the Bible Belt. Moreover, evangelical denominations in general are experiencing growth in the United States and elsewhere. I state this not as an endorsement of everything evangelicalism represents, simply as evidence of a trend.

Second, to my experience with friends and acquaintances: Through a friend who is a French Muslim studying in DC, I have had the opportunity to attend some Muslim student events locally. Representing immigrants and native-born Americans, these students may interpret their religion in varying ways but continue to identify as distinctly Muslim. At least the ones I know personally also hold onto Islam as uniquely true rather than equal to all other faiths. In addition, as an ESL teacher who lives in a primarily Latino neighborhood, I meet many Catholics, young and old, who help to sustain their local congregations. Latinos are of course a growing demographic, who play a significant role in shaping American Catholicism.

So, in conclusion, I don’t think we have seen the last of religion defined by distinctive beliefs. While religious beliefs and institutions will continue to evolve in the 21st century, I don’t expect Nietzsche’s declaration to reach fulfillment in this century any more than it did in the last.

Ingrid Rodrick Beiler is an adult ESL teacher and M.A. TESOL student, who lives in Washington, DC. She is from Oslo, Norway, and Chelmsford, MA.

Is God Dead?

This post is the first in an occasional series about Millennials and faith, or lack thereof. I am actively working to enlist multiple viewpoints on this issue, so if you feel yours is not yet represented, please submit a new post on the matter to! [FYI: One of our regular posters, Kate H Long, regularly posts about being young, female and Catholic on the Blog From the Pews in the Back. Check it out in our blogroll.]

by Patrick Mongeau (b. 1984)

My television has shown and shouted to me more than once some variation of the phrase, “The Future Is Now.” Whether it was used to promote a new brand of four-blade razors or advanced technology in surround sound, it’s a pretty regularly received message for all of us. If now is the future, though – what is tomorrow?

I have no answers, but a few ideas. If you ask someone my age about the end of the world, they will likely say, “Do you mean 2012?” It’s a well-known fact among Millennials that the year is signified to be the end of times on a Mayan calendar.

There are several other myths to back up the nearing of the end. The Catholic Church puts the faces of the pope in a circle around the dome of St. Peter’s basilica. After the current pope, there will be one space left. Ominous, no? I’ve heard other tidbits, though I forget them.
The shift that I predict will not be great and destructive, but constructive and sanctifying. I believe that there will soon be a major shift in the way the world thinks about God. No longer will we believe that different constructs of the universe are mutually exclusive. Instead, we’ll see that they are inclusive in many surprising ways. Faith is faith is faith.

Take the example of an all-encompassing power:

In Judaism, Muslim, and Christianity, there is a human-like deity which knows and sees and creates all. Yahweh, Allah, and God.

Eastern forms do not humanize the energy. Chi and Zen are energies that bond and form all things.

When there is a non-humanized power, the religion often names humanized spirits to deliniate properties of matter and explain phenomena. Theologians draw your eye to the differences, calling one thing “Monotheism,” and the other, “Polytheism.” The constructs are the same, only the side of the equation (energy = matter) which is humanized has changed.

Both views show surprising agreement with Science, which simply dehumanizes both sides of the equation.

One day, paradoxically, the Future will be in the past, and a new era will begin. The end of days will not be a horrible destruction, but a death of “God.” Peace will fall down to man from on high, and we will all see that we have been worshiping one thing. Faith.

Patrick Mongeau is a screenwriter, poet, songwriter, joker, thinker, friend, brother, son, cousin, movie critic, bike commuter, bus rider, babysitter, futon seller, pedi-cab driver, temp worker, production assistant, guitar player, and all around good guy. He lives in the world.

Millennials and alcohol

Read my latest mY generation column in The Oregonian! It's about Millennials and alcohol and whether or not we're smarter than Boomers in our drinking habits. What do you think?

There are no new ideas...

One of the truths I've always struggled to accept is that there are no new ideas.  How could that be true?  And yet, how could it not.  People have been around for thousands of years.  Even if your idea is the first of it's kind to get noticed, it is likely not the first idea of it's kind ever.  Lately, I have come to some peace with this.  The best one can do is try each new idea and enjoy oneself along the way.  Because, even if there are no new ideas.  There are plenty of exciting ones that will be new to you.

On this note, I have begun trolling the "Gen Y blogosphere" as it is called by Jaclyn Schiff of The Schiff Report.  There is a lot of junk out there to be sure, but there is also a lot of brilliance.  As I am always looking for new voices to add to my site I am going to begin recruiting this week.  If you haven't already, I hope you'll consider recruiting for me too.  to make THIS idea take off we are going to need more than just our current, though very insightful, authors, we are going to need to reach a critical mass of millennial voices, shouting, whispering, cajoling, and joking.  

It's our turn.  What's your idea?