Millennial Speech and Gospel Truth
OCTOBER 16, 2018
Millennials (people born between the early 1980’s and late 1990’s) are the largest generation in American history.
And although I am not quite one of them, I am cheering for them. The world is now becoming theirs, and I pray that they will exercise their influence with grace and truth. I want to speak their language, but I admit I am sometimes perplexed by it. Christians use human speech carefully, neither sloughing off every modern bon mot nor unreflectively going with the flow of the latest jargon. To that end, here are ten common expressions in modern American life whose deeper meaning Christians ought to think critically about. Many of these are the provenance of today’s ascendant generation.
- “You do you.” God knows you better than you do, and he calls you to love your neighbor as yourself. St. Augustine, who tried to “do him” for a long time before surrendering to God, puts it famously: “You were with me, and I was not with you.” If I don’t even know myself without God’s help, I better let him take control.
- “Sorry not sorry.” In my tradition we say at each celebration of the Eucharist, “we are truly sorry and we humbly repent.” Everything is broken, very much including ourselves. We “choose this day,” relying on God’s grace to help us know right from wrong and say definitive “sorrys” again and again. We also welcome that same grace to transform us into creatures that do things differently. Fortunately, Millennial speech polices itself a bit on this front, with a whole lot of things that are simply “not ok.” It is hard sometimes, however, to know which things they are.
- “Sipping the tea.” This one comes from a viral meme of Kermit the Frog enjoying a hot beverage and telling people to mind their own business. But Christians live lives of deep connection. We sometimes need to be in other people’s business rather than staying in our own lanes. We preach the Gospel, not as aggressive jerks, but as loving ambassadors of the world to come. We prepare ourselves “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). We sip our tea together.
- “I can’t even.” Because Christians approach challenges in the posture of Christ, we cultivate humility in the face of disappointment, and we do not make much of our inconveniences when we can help it. “Take up your cross and follow me,” Jesus tells us. Or to paraphrase, “I could even, and you can even too, with my help.”
- “FOMO/JOMO.” Apparently “Fear of missing out” is passé and “Joy of missing out” is au courant. In either case, in the end, Christians are confident that they have a clear path towards full inclusion in life with God, and they have no delusions about the possibility of joy without him. Life in the Church is the foretaste of this ultimate belonging. Jesus tells us, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).
- “Humble brag.” This is a fascinating one. It both affirms and undermines the uniquely Christian virtue of humility. It is, therefore, an invitation for clarifying basic Christian teaching. In the Bible, success is not kept secret or swept under the carpet, but its source in God is made explicit. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Acknowledging both my powerlessness on my own and my great potential with him is basic life in the communion of saints. Abraham, Moses, David, and Solomon were never ashamed of their success; but they paid the price in small and large ways when they forgot who was really in charge.
- “Pics or it didn’t happen” Does anyone else remember when taking a picture was a relatively rare thing? Much of life was left up to our imagination, and indeed our words, to describe to others what we had seen and done. There is nothing at all wrong with documenting our lives, but we must recognize that photographic evidence is the tip of the iceberg of a reality that includes an infinite number of things seen and unseen. Jesus’s words to Thomas put it starkly, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
- “Adulting.” Jesus himself “increased in wisdom and in stature,” (Luke 2:52) and the Christian life is one of maturing in the direction of God, who gives us our identity. Paul encourages the Ephesians to look forward to the day when we “attain…the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13) and “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). Let’s not make a big deal about paying bills, going to work, and raising kids. It’s normal and good.
- “The struggle is real.” While this saying is a refreshing change of pace in a culture that takes itself too seriously much of the time, it runs the risk of belittling the real difficulties Christ has overcome for us on the cross and in the empty tomb. “The strife is o’er, the battle done,” a great hymn proclaims. This is the hope of people throughout the world toiling under oppression and facing persecution for their beliefs. Broken iPhone screens or limited food options are pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
- “Netflix and chill.” We can call it whatever we like, but what we mean is plain-old fooling around. Paul asks the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19a) Then he hammers it home: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20). Hold off on the intimate couch time until God has put you in exactly the right relationship to glorify him.
Next time you see a group of 20 and 30-somethings taking selfies at brunch, listen carefully. You may hear various feelings about ‘Merica or amazement about the latest thing to break the Internet. Some of it may delight you, but some of it should trouble you. If you are a Millennial yourself, maybe you have a word to challenge your peers. If you’re a jaded Gen-Xer like me or older, maybe you can muster up an encouraging YAAAAS! to a generation with many gifts to offer the world for the sake of the Gospel. Maybe then they’ll be ready to listen, get over the ideas behind a few of these expressions, and boldly speak the truth in love.
For more from Andrew, check out his new book, Truth Matters