Allison Backous Troy
July 12, 2013
Thanks for this, Allison. I think one way to approach this is to change how we think about what it means to be "adult." Some of the markers we've used in the past are harder to access or maybe less practical than they used to be. I'm glad to hear you found a church that valued you when your life felt unstable and uncertain to you. I did too, but I know many who don't.
Thanks, Bethany - I know many people who would benefit from this redefining "adulthood," or at least, not being held to the same milestones as thirty years ago. Not that those aren't important, but I know many a successful twenty something who isn't treated like an "adult" b/c they are not married, are pursuing school, etc. I'm a TCC grad, and many of my friendships there helped me through those days.
I appreciated your acknowledgement of the complexity (and simplicity) of how we 'lean in' on this. With more and more researching diving into this demographic and the growing acceptance of the 'emerging adult' I can not agree more that the church must ask and consider how we might respond.
But like a bandaid covering a gunshot wound, unless more difficult self-reflection by the church is done, attempting to get to root of the confusion and disconnection individuals are experiencing, we are only allowing it to 'bleed out'.
The sociologist out of Notre Dame, Christian Smith, has tapped into this with his research into how even we approach key things of our faith - the Bible, the 'gospel', etc. - and how they effect not only faith formation and but it's elasticity. We do emerging adults a disservice by telling them intentionally or not (with our words or actions) that a only role in the church, only praying properly, only submitting ourselves over the the 'will of God' is the solution to this stage in life.
Because there is not a simple solution to this - but I have to believe that there is power when we join with one another and say simply 'me too.' Because in that, we are taking a step together - we celebrate and we cry and we hope and we love one another when we can't do it alone.
Because like you said Allison, that's our opportunity to be community. That's church.
Reading this, I was reminded of debates I've seen in higher ed professional sites like IHE and the Chronicles, about the changing economic model of universities. (I'm a doctoral student in the humanities so I have some familiarity but won't claim expertise.) The thought as I understand it is, back in the '60s/'70s we saw higher education more as an investment in society's future, both in terms of having a well-educated populace (essential to a well-functioning democracy) and in terms of our shared economy. These days schools don't get the public support and so the economic model shifts to individuals making a good investment in their own future, through tuition and the accompanying loans or parental investment.
We could debate whether this change is a good one, or even whether it's real. But I have seen in my own students the way they perceive this change in expectations. I had one student say, the way his parents talked about college, by studying hard and setting himself up to contribute to his community he was already a part of that community. He was contributing as a student, and he would in the future contribute as a social worker (his major). But he'd come to realize that no one was investing in him, and conversely no one had any expectations of what he would do. Even his parents - part of being enlightened meant letting him make his own choices. It struck me that he was liberated in a sense from fulfilling his parents' or community's expectations, he was free, but that freedom left him utterly disjointed. If he succeeded it would be his own success, or conversely his own failure, and in the meantime he was not particularly connected to anything beyond himself. Few students have laid that out so explicitly, but I've seen these basic assumptions coloring the way a lot of my students think about themselves.
So what's the solution? As I've moved from undergrad to various shades of grad school, I've found I feel most connected not when I'm being served but when I'm serving. I think I would have felt less lonely in my undergrad years before I moved out of the dorms and got some neighbors, if someone had treated me like an adult and just expected me to contribute. I didn't have the money to give much in terms of tithes, but if rather than just being invited to dinner, if I'd been expected to bring a dish, even if it was just a plate of cookies. Or if rather than being pushed toward a book or social group, someone had nudged me toward the church nursery sign-up sheet. I think little things like that could help quite a bit because they send the message that you are part of the club of adults and are expected to act like one, but are also able to rely on that community when you need it as well.
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