modern world

Be ProLife for Millennials’ Sake

There is no end of opinion pieces proliferating the internet which decry millennials for their unique faults or puzzle over what exactly made them the way they are.  Poisoned by their parents’ failures to respect life, marriage, and children, they have no real concept of what makes healthy, stable families and relationships; porn and the hookup culture is the perpetual context for their love. Dealt a losing hand, they are often understandably dragged down by apathy, immaturity, and a myopic self-centeredness. Little or no social guidance and much cultural hindrance is offered to millennials trying to climb their way out of this quagmire.

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And that is why millennials are especially in need of a prolife culture. It is not just that babies in the womb deserve life, though of course they do; it is not just that abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women, though of course it is; it is that my generation needs these children who are most vulnerable, most at risk, most expendable and disposable in the eyes of the world.

Society asserts that children are to be regarded as an accessory: to be obtained, customized, or flaunted when desired, but absolutely not to be had about if inconvenient, and certainly not at the expense of other things, like careers or checkbooks, which bring more immediate gratification. This pervasive disregard for the broader value of human life has largely been adopted by my generation. Some millennials, in fact, are vehemently anti-child, opting not simply for child-free sexual relationships but demanding child-free lifestyles where children, with their noise and inconvenience and unpredictability, are forbidden to disturb the settled, manageable atmosphere of adulthood.

This is the darkest kind of ignorance about human reality. In insulating ourselves from the realities of childhood—just as, indeed, we often insulate ourselves from the realities of old age and death—we become hardened, blindly self-centered. No matter what else our interests or pursuits, such an anti-human attitude betrays a dangerously misanthropic turn of heart. If we cannot love children, we will never truly love Mankind.

Children are living contradictions to the millennial culture of cynicism and selfishness; they are both an unshakable sign of hope and a reason to keep fighting for ideals. Their innocent honesty and sense of wonder alone is a powerful antidote to the cloud of apathy that can settle around a millennial heart. Even the cries and annoyances of a baby challenge us to come out of ourselves; to pull out our earbuds, put down our phones, and attend to the needs of someone who is unable to help himself.

That is a challenge millennials especially need to hear.

Children, uniquely innocent and vulnerable, wake us to the tragedies and horrors we commit on other adults. When a child is caught in the crossfire of our petty political strife or serious worldly conflict, it shows up in one vivid flash our cruelty and hypocrisy for what they truly are. A hundred men may die in a given crisis before the world looks up from its agenda to do something about it; but the image of a toddler killed in their midst makes us stop in our tracks, reassess, question what we have done and are doing. Adults may be dying from starvation in a far-off country, and we will turn a blind eye; but the sight of a child dying from starvation is too tragic a thing for even the casual observer to really ignore.

Parenthood likewise demands that parents grow in maturity and responsibility; it challenges human vanity and pettiness. And the unpredictability or uncertainty that children bring—the personal struggle and commitment which raising them entails—is certainly something millennials need more of.

I do not mean by this that all millennials must get married and raise a family. For many this is simply a present impossibility. No, it is not only the potential millennial parents who need children in their lives. It is their millennial neighbors and siblings, their teachers and office workers, their relatives and friends. Single college students, busy young doctors and lawyers and contractors, and society at large all need children—to see them often, have them as part of their extended if not immediate families, and learn from their very existence that human life is at once both small and beautiful, needy and giving—and, most importantly, that we must bear always in mind what kind of world we will pass on, because there is a generation coming after us. These others, working in single vocations, need a world in which children are a real and powerful presence—whether or not they ever marry and make some of their own.

Neither do I mean to say that having children will instantly repair the damage done to millennials or cure them of their problems. There are, to be sure, wicked and foolish people who remain wicked and foolish after having children. This has always been the case in human society. But the transformative value of children in rooting human families, in strengthening family responsibility and morality, in shaping communities to regard the whole of human life, cannot be denied. Children challenge us to live better, more purposefully; we must blame ourselves, not children, if we fail to respond accordingly.

And what of the worst of circumstances, those truly heartbreaking situations of poverty or abuse where one is tempted to see abortion as the only way out? It is precisely those challenges which millennials deserve the chance to meet, to solve, to aid. If abortion was taken off the table for my generation, we would no longer be able to think of killing children as a “way out.” We would no longer be able to suggest abortion to struggling young mothers, shrug our shoulders, and move on. We would have to remain in the thick of it, get up to our elbows in the gritty reality of dealing with these terrible problems. We would be forced to find other solutions—or at least to really try. We would be forced to face our fears, to take on the sobering burden of responsibility for our actions and uncertainty about the future; to step up to the plate and help those who are caught in desperate circumstances, instead of offering them permanent tragedy in exchange for temporary relief, under the excuse of convenience or the veneer of compassion.

There is no life free of personal suffering. There is no life in which human fulfillment can coexist with selfishness. Children interrupt and flatly contradict these two great lies, of escapism and selfishness; lies on which many millennial lifestyles and worldviews rely. Such lies are the crutch which enables my generations’ clinging to childishness; the foundation on which our self-centeredness and apathy rest. But such lies cannot last an hour in the same room with a living, breathing human child.

Be prolife for sake of all women and children; but also, let’s be prolife for sake of the millennials.

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“Good Thoughts Lead to Good Things,” and Other Lies

my latest over at The Mirror!

Last Saturday, in a fit of DIY fervor, I decided on an impulse to drive to an unfamiliar part of town in search of a particular fabric store. Half a mile down the road, suddenly I realized that the blinking gas tank light I had been responsibly ignoring the last couple of days was sinking to abysmal predictions: “Three miles to empty.”

Already locked into rapid traffic on a strange street in a suburban city, I decided to take a chance. Surely, I thought, there would be a gas station in a couple miles—surely before I have to turn onto the highway and start going at high speeds, anyway.

At first, quarter mile by quarter mile, I wasn’t too concerned. But as the ticker sank lower and my chances were running out, I began to scan the road ahead for the slightest glimpse of a gas station sign.

Then, I saw a sign that was meant to give me hope. Not for a gas station—for a church. The “Chapel of Metaphysical Thought,” in fact. Below it, on a billboard, black and white letters proclaimed this little church’s message to the busy city drivers: “Good thoughts lead to good things.”

It’s a popular—if somewhat empty—sentiment, and it didn’t surprise me to see it plastered on the billboard of a startup church in a bustling city of modern Americans.

Now, the sign itself was sufficiently vague that it could have applied validly to any number of things. Positive thinking is popular in America, and it has been since the 50s when Norman Vincent Peale wrote The Power of Positive Thinking. And certainly the idea has an appealing premise: think “good” thoughts, and generate “good” results. Who wouldn’t find that appealing? It leaves the definition of “good,” on both ends, entirely up to the thinker.

But beyond that veneer of positivity, the sentiment had little to offer. Thinking good thoughts could lead to good things: if, for instance, everyone in this country started thinking rightly along the lines of “Marital fidelity is good. Pornography is bad. As a society we should encourage chastity,” then undoubtedly an abundance of wholesome sociological changes would result. If people would stop thinking the objectively bad thoughts all too prevalent in the modern mind—that porn is harmless, or that materialism will make us happy—then, indeed, surely good things would happen.

But I’m not sure that that is what is meant by the concept “good thoughts.” If we are to take our cue from the title of this optimistic church, then the sentiment is meant in a more metaphysical way—that is, that positive and optimistic thoughts can bring in to being a whole order of good things—make them happen, make life be a certain way—sort of the way Luke Skywalker just has to think and feel the force hard enough to lift a battleship or mind-trick a storm trooper.

And this, indeed, is where the real seduction of this coquettish sentiment lies. Everyone would like, by merely thinking and willing hard enough, to make “good things” happen. To find a job or spouse or good school. To smooth over longstanding family feuds; to erase mistakes and their consequences. To conquer a major project, or make our life plans sort themselves out in the best possible way with a wave of our positive-will-power wand.

This is the stuff of office motivational posters—and it is the temptation of the worrier. Of the scrupulous. Of the controlling, over-planning type: that if you wish for something hard enough, if you think about it the right way, you can make it happen. And in the end, this is just another form of the whisper of the tempter—”You shall be like gods.”

It is hard and humbling for human beings to accept that much in life is simply out of our control. Both pernicious anxiety and “positive thinking” are, effectively, our grasping attempts to be in real control—as if our mere thinking or stressing could bring about happy resolutions. And it is harder still for us to accept that we may be mistaken about what is good right now or as part of God’s grander plan.

So, perhaps, in some sense, good thoughts will indeed lead to good things—inasmuch as we may change our lives or our actions if we begin to think rightly about them. And this is not, of course, to say that positive attitudes are a bad thing. It is a lie, however, if we tell ourselves that we can change the world merely by willing it to be a certain way.

But that day, when I was driving by the little chapel, I really, really wished that the sign was actually right—that in a vague metaphysical sense good thoughts would miraculously lead to good things—like a gas station in front of me. But alas, no matter how positively I thought about finding a gas station, none materialized merely by my willpower; and no matter how much positive energy I put into finding fabric at the fabric store, the perfect swatch of cotton didn’t manifest during my shopping trip.

Good things, I’m afraid, don’t come to those who merely think.

A Society of Shawn Spencers

–my latest over at The Mirror 

When Psych aired its last episode ever in 2014, it finished its career as one of the most popular TV shows of the past decade. Following the hyper-observant Shawn Spencer and his friends as he fakes his way around Santa Barbara pretending to be a psychic and solving crime, the show was heavy on the laughs and light on the morals. Predictably, as the central character, Shawn pretty consistently reflected the image of what many modern millennial Americans think of themselves: fun, hip, informal; independent and free-spirited and not bound by the traditional rules of operation; but basically good at heart.

But if that’s the case, then it’s also the case that Shawn Spencer reflects a lot problems common to the modern 25-to-30-something American guy. He comes from a dysfunctional family. He’s immature and struggles to comprehend how to be responsible. He’s scared of commitment. He doesn’t know how to hold a serious conversation with the people he loves. And, in his own words, he totally sucks at relationships. The climax of Psych takes place when Shawn finally brings closure to all of the many broken and problematic relationships in his life; when he takes the time to apologize, to come clean, to admit love, and to propose marriage to the woman he’s cohabitating with.

Other popular shows (from Friends to Burn Notice to How I Met Your Mother) frequently feature characters that share similar personal dysfunctions: broken home life and a terrible track record when it comes to relationships. It seems to be the standard for our generation. Want a character the millenial audience can relate to? Give him a terrible relationship with his (divorced) parents and a crippling inability to commit himself to a loving and fruitful relationship.

This repetitious stereotype of the millennials might have more truth than appears at first glance. Although men often bear the stamp of the stereotype more heavily, the women are typically no better than the men. They often give their boyfriends sex without even introducing the responsibility of fertility or even expecting the commitment of marriage. They vaguely hope for marriage “someday” or tacitly expect that their live-in boyfriends will get more mature with time, but they have no problem inviting them into the bedroom until then.

And why would they? Why would millennials seek or expect a more faithful and permanent kind of love? They simply don’t know a better functioning way to relate to one another.

The popular TV show characters aren’t so much encouraging a stereotype as they are simply reflecting a modern reality. As Shawn in Psych confesses his faults, we get a picture of his generation: a generation that sucks at “the important stuff,” at “engaging,” at relationships; a generation terrified of commitments. Generationally, millennials are putting off serious life commitments further and further or forgoing them altogether—because this generation has “commitment” issues. Hookups and cohabitation are the norm, not because this generation is particularly cowardly or lazy, but because dysfunctional families have become ordinary to them, and they don’t know to expect something better.

The fact is, most millienials have grown up in a world practically devoid of real examples of functioning, successful, committed relationships. They just don’t know at all what it looks like in practice.

Our parents and grandparents’ generations used contraception and divorce to take the responsibility and permanence out of the stable relationships which form the building blocks of society. They took life out of sex and love out of marriage and splintered and fractured the family unit in a million ways. For them, contraception and divorce made sex possible without permanence, without fidelity, and without consequences. Then, as millennial children were left behind to sort through the wreckage of these kinds of relationships, the digital revolution threw another stumbling block in their way. The widespread rise of porn made sexual pleasure possible without human relationship: sexual pleasure without any relationship to another person at all became a cultural standard.

But they know they’re not happy. They know these imperfect, even pathetic attempts at human relationships are not enough. Shawn (and his millennial fans) know the show can’t end without a happily ever after. They want love, and they want stability, and, somewhere in their hearts, they know the two need to go together.

Light in the Darkness: Why Have Kids in A Messed Up World?

My latest over at The Mirror! 

Lately, I’ve run into several young adults who are very vocal about the fact that they never, ever, want to have children. Many cite reasons ranging from overpopulation (a disproven myth) to children impeding their material life plans (how could they live out their own personal Eat, Pray, Love story with children to care for?), to finding baby humans unutterably gross (an odd position, considering they often gush over baby pandas, baby cartoon characters, or anything else that is cute but not human).

But many, it seems, are almost forgivably moved by a seductive and disturbing reason—and it seems to be the one most frequently recycled and regurgitated: false compassion. Why, they ask, would anyone want to bring a child into such a messed up world, where they’ll have to face suffering and evil?

Read the rest over at The Mirror Magazine. 

Love Is Here to Stay

On Brittany Maynard and George Gershwin 

In 1938, George Gershwin, gifted composer and songwriter with his brother Ira, died at a tragically young age of brain cancer. His death was sudden, and Ira was devastated. George had left one song melody to which Ira had not yet written the words. When he finally sat down to write them, he entitled it, “Love is Here to Stay.”

In the sentimental lyrics, it’s easy to hear the echoes of Ira’s grief as he copes with George’s death. Most renditions don’t include the intro, but it speaks poignantly of a search for stability in a tragic world:

photo credit: wmky

The more I read the papers
The less I comprehend
The world and all its capers
And how it all will end.

Nothing seems to be lasting—
But that isn’t our affair
We’ve got something permanent,
I mean, in the way we care.

The song then enters its main theme, the theme of everlasting love:

It’s very clear,
Our love is here to stay
Not for a year
But ever and a day.

The radio and the telephone
And the movies that we know
May just be passing fancies
And in time they go—
But oh, my dear, our love is here to stay. . . .

In time the Rockies may crumble,
Gibraltar may tumble;
They’re only made of clay,
But our love is here to stay.

Of all the songs the brothers wrote together, this posthumous one touches the most powerful truth: that human beings, in the midst of suffering, want a love that doesn’t end. They don’t want a world that constantly changes, that gives only to take away, a pain-filled world that crumbles around us leaving us empty and longing for something permanent. It’s hard enough to cope not only with “the world and all it’s capers,” but, like Ira Gershwin, with a more personal—we can even say, more painful—loss. Even surrounded by a disintegrating world, the human heart finds solace in the permanence of love and in knowing that love makes perseverance through suffering valuable.

Yet, not everyone sees value in suffering with love. For some, love is a many-splendored but totally temporal thing, which suffering renders impotent and death cuts off with finality. To them, heartache, pain, and suffering are simply to be avoided at all costs, and ultimately an invitation to despair.

I was reminded of this sadder perspective when I encountered the recent buzz over another individual suffering from brain cancer—Brittany Maynard, a woman who has very publicly decided she would rather commit suicide than accept suffering for herself or her family. Her response—at root a pitiable but also selfish one—stands out in particular contrast, for me, with the other people I know who have battled similar illnesses.

One woman, Elise, who is battling breast cancer, has five children, one of them an infant, and is facing this battle with a radically different attitude: an attitude of loving trust, of confident surrender to the Providence of God. Or I think of Andre, a 14 year old hero, who lived every day of his short life to the fullest even though he spent his final years suffering in a hospitable bed with a very low “quality of life.” His suffering, his sacrifice, his courage and joy, and especially his faith in God, fundamentally impacted—even sanctified—the people around him.

This is the difference: people like Brittany see no value in suffering that is offered up in love, but people like Andre and Elise really live their belief in a loving God who can bring goodness out of the worst heartache or most devastating medical diagnoses. They really live the love only hinted at in the sweet 1930s love song—that real and perfect love, the love of God, which is here to stay. It is a permanent, life-changing event, in the face of which death and suffering have lost their sting. Unlike Brittany, they face the painful, frightening battle or suffering and death with a response of love—a love that fills their suffering with significance far beyond the comprehension of the world.

And that mystery is why, while everything may indeed be going to hell in a handbasket and maybe after all the world is coming to an imminent end around us, Christians live differently. “We’ve got something permanent—I mean, in the way we care.” We don’t face radical loss the same way as other people do. We face it with the confidence that no matter what comes, this changing life is not all.

Christians live differently, because for us, this life is just the beginning. As impermanent as this world is, we know we’re destined for something more. This life is only the prelude, the intro to the final love song—when Love will be here to stay.

photo credit: classicfm