Last week my dad and I travelled to North Carolina to attend the yearly Wild Goose festival. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Wild Goose is a four-day event based in Christian spirituality, but with a focus on social justice, art and intentional practice. To quote the website:
We dream of a movement where everyone is welcome to participate. We are intentionally building a space in which we invite everyone to value, respect, and fully affirm people of any ethnicity, age, gender, gender expression, sexual identity, education, bodily condition, religious affiliation, or economic background, particularly the marginalized. We are committed to fair trade, gift exchange, ecological sanity, and economic inclusion. We strive for high standards of mutual respect, non-hierarchical leadership, and participative planning.
As someone who has grown up in a very intentional Christian household, but whose experience with “the Church” is very limited, Wild Goose offered a unique, faith based communal experience that was far more my speed than more conventional or traditional religious gatherings. To put it simply, the event was very San Franciscan-friendly, which gave me a space to reflect upon my own desires regarding faith, community and how my spirituality influences what I want to see and create in the world.
At Wild Goose I attended a meeting of millennials, intended to be a short meet-up. The discussion quickly turned towards the future of Christian spirituality, how the current and past structures affect our generation, and where we long to see change. I know that there are many opinions floating around about millennials, especially on the internet; we’re lazy, selfish, entitled, overly-idealistic, apathetic, you name it. Some of these opinions conflict, there are millennial defenders and there is anger and tension on both sides of the generational gap. I would like to point out that this is nothing new; every new generation finds a seemingly unbreachable gap between themselves and the previous generation. I heard many complaints not only about how we, as a generation are viewed by our elders, but also about the areas of existing institutions that many of my peers long to see “fixed”. Simultaneously, I heard a lot of talk about working towards the center of existing institutions. Now, maybe I am able to hold this opinion because I have a fair amount of privilege, but I wonder if the path for many millennials lies not in fixing broken systems to make a place for ourselves, but in creating new spaces that provide what we need now, not what our parents or grandparents needed.
However, what I would like to reflect upon is not the dynamics between newer and older generations, but instead on what I heard at that meeting and what I continue to hear from members of my generation regardless of religion or lack thereof, and that is passion. I see passion and a tangible sense of longing for connection with others and with the world as a whole. These people are full to the bursting point with hopes, dreams, ideals and a zealous desire for justice and equality. I looked around the circle at the Wild Goose meet-up and I saw eyes on fire, hands gesturing fervently, and an intense, earnest desire for change and belonging. “So, why don’t we mobilize and DO something?” a voice in the back of my head asks. And I wonder. I think that maybe our downfall is that many of us care deeply about so many things and have access to knowledge about so many issues that it can be completely overwhelming and paralyzing. We are so inspired to save the world that we don’t know where to start. There is something to fix in every facet of life. There is something to change in every system that exists and we can’t do it all. So, far too often, we do nothing. Sometimes life gets in the way, very real practicalities weigh us down. After all, how do you save the world when you have forty thousand dollars of school loans to pay off? You want to work at a non-profit, or volunteer your time, but that dollar amount will only get higher the longer you wait. You feel like you have to either postpone living, or postpone freeing yourself from debt.
I recognize that in this discussion I come from a very unique and privileged standpoint; I have grown up in a faith oriented family with parents who believe in living intentionally into their values. I have grown up outside of institutionalized religion and have no desire to define my own spirituality by rebelling against the tradition I was taught as a child. And I have grown up in a city known for its art, social justice and marginalized community. However, I do passionately share the longing for justice, community and fulfilling lifework that I see in my fellow millennials. I think that a huge first step for us as young people is to recognize that how we live our lives does matter a great deal even when we have to work our non-dream-jobs in order to pay off those loans, or when we have to remind ourselves that dropping out of college halfway through to start a non-profit probably isn’t wise since we DO actually want a degree, or when we can’t see how we fit into the larger picture of what we want to see in the world. Living in line with our values by making every day choices that promote justice and love in the world is important, not only because it may be all we can do for the time being, but because making intentional choices that align you with your values on a daily basis takes practice. If we establish intentional rhythms while we are in the process of transitioning to adulthood, those practices will be easier to maintain and reassess throughout our lives. Deciding what you want to be about and finding small ways to live into that on a regular basis is a key action towards being the change you want to see in the world. Your choices matter, whether they are good or bad. The way you live can inspire others to live more intentionally, creating even more change and a sense of community.
Growing up in various forms of intentional community, I have observed that it is these shared practices and common intentionality that brings people together. However, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to cultivate a sense of community and belonging. I know that for me, personally, I struggle to accept the fact that I matter, that I have a purpose, and that I am exactly where I should be right now. But I am. I believe that all of us already belong. We share this planet, we share resources, we share pain, we share hope, we are all here. Where else would we belong? I believe that each of us were placed here intentionally by a Creator, thus the basis for our belonging. Even if you believe that the human race is one big accident, we are all one big accident together, and no one belongs more or less than anyone else. However, we don’t always treat one another with that sense of belonging, and often feel isolated by our own and others’ criteria for belonging. Learning to accept our own belonging without relying on other people or institutions to validate it, helps us to understand that the people we encounter belong too. For me, recognizing and living into that sense of belonging is a huge part of becoming who I want to be. If I belong, then I have a purpose; if I have a purpose, then I have a choice to either live into it or disregard it. Either way, my choice matters.