Talkin’ ’bout our generation

Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma

Rob woke me up last night after I had just fallen asleep to let me know that our second donation had come in for Imagining Space–our first donation, really, since the initial one was our own. My first thought, and last one before falling happily back asleep, was, “Wow–the first three donors for this project are under 30 years old.” Then, this morning, I woke up at 5:30 to take our housemate to the airport thinking about how truly incredible the age factor is. “Maybe this is our project,” I thought, “a project for our generation.”
Some background: during the first couple of years of college, Rob and I were pretty disillusioned with the Church. When we weren’t at home with our families, we rarely attended. And yet, we count those years among some of the most fruitful years in our awareness of God working in the world and in us. We were learning all kinds of exciting things about theology, discernment, the arts and community, but the center of experience was not a church–it was a group of college friends and professors. We became cynical about the Church in general. The potential for connecting faith and everyday life was so endlessly amazing and the Christian witness that was really compelling to us was far more radical than what we’d experienced growing up in our ethnic denominational circles. Why didn’t more people see what we saw?
Admittedly, *culture is not optional was partially born out of this cynicism. We were under the impression that if we could just make a sufficient rational argument for serving the poor, living in intentional communities, buying fair trade, driving less and so on, everyone we knew would change their ways and do things the way we thought they should be done.
Through several important and merciful encounters, Rob and I have come to love the Church, in all its broken beauty. We’ve come to have a deeper understanding of how ritual at its best is not an empty gesture performed out of guilt, but the fullness of centering our stories in Christ, performed out of love. However, this doesn’t mean that we’ve abandoned our call to a prophetic role or settled comfortably into “the way things have always been.” Today, we are friends with many people in high school, college and beyond who have gone or are going through an intense period of disillusionment with the Church, and we identify with them. In fact, *cino exists in part to serve those who find themselves on the fringes of Christian faith.
Fortunately, *cino was also born out of another…dare I say, “holier” spirit, and that was the conviction that experience changes people. Over time, the focus of our publications and events has shifted away from arguments and toward toward gathering and storytelling. One of our core desires is to dismantle the false choice between “thin” Christianity and no Christianity at all, which is a very real but false dichotomy facing so many people our age. We have found that one of the best ways to do so is to show people what faithfulness in some small part of life might look like in a particular time and place. And so we gather around a table for a meal of locally grown foods or invite people up to Russet House Farm for a week or publish an interview with someone who runs a hardware store in a town many have abandoned.
A key realization for us in this process has been the difference between criticizing the Church–anyone can do that from inside or out–and throwing ourselves heart, mind, body and soul into being the Church. We can make a rational argument that this is simply a better approach, but we can also make an experiential argument that things are just so much more fun this way! Instead of spending our time whining and complaining, we can seek to be invitational, joyful and creative. As Andy Crouch would say, we’re changing culture by making new culture.
Of course, this process of joyful practice, instead of despairing condemnation, is ongoing for us and for *culture is not optional. We’re attempting to counteract some pretty powerful tendencies within ourselves–and sometimes complaining is just so immediately gratifying! But as we continue to shape a different approach to being the change we wish to see, creating a space for *cino where people can see what the Gospel might look like lived out in a particular time and place seems like a natural next step. That’s why I’m compelled to consider this project one that’s uniquely by and for our generation.
Now, I don’t consider “our” generation to be necessarily limited to people in their twenties and thirties; it’s a designation that goes beyond age to ways of being and thinking that represent a shift from the dominant spirit of the first half of the twentieth century. Perhaps I’m referring more to a multi-generational group of kindred spirits that loves the Church too much to see it fail; that deeply desires a robust faith practice infusing all things ordinary with extraordinary significance; that seeks to experience God as more than an argument or a list, but as a living reality who shapes communities in life-giving ways. Does that come close to describing you? If so, I hope you’ll become a part of the Imagining Space project in some way. We’re certainly swimming upstream here (pick a stream) and we need all the help we can get.
By the way, our second-but-really-our-first donor to this campaign? A 24-year-old who will be heading to grad school next year. Surely he could have used $500 to help fund his living expenses for the next few years, but instead he grabbed an opportunity to be a part of something that gives him hope about where we’re headed as a Church and as human beings, something bigger than himself. We are so incredibly humbled and grateful to be vessels for a vision he sees fit to support.

Author:
Kirstin is a member of the *culture is not optional core community and is the Head Caretaker at GilChrist Retreat Center.