We don’t get traditional television at our house, so the only place I see commercials is on Hulu. Currently there have been commercials pitting Apple’s iPad against Microsoft’s Surface. The commercial is put out by Microsoft so it of course highlights how the Surface is better than the iPad. This kind of commercial is what happens when two brands are battling each other in the market. It’s a head on strategy that you can see in a number of places out there either in official advertisements or in the community who follows a particular brand.
Coke vs. Pepsi.
Nintendo vs. Sega
Mac vs. PC
Nintendo vs. Microsoft vs. Sony
Canon vs. Nikon
These are all examples of brands that are at war with each other. They are competing for our money, our loyalty, and our business. This works well when you have cut and dry products to sell. You can compare the taste of Coke with Pepsi. You can compare specifications and aesthetics of a camera, gaming console, or computer. However, this gets more difficult to do when you take this battle into the realm of ideas.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the cloud of dust that Rachel Held Evans CNN Blog “Why millennials are leaving the church” and something has bothered me about the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong I didn’t really have much of a problem with what she said. I guess my problem is wider in scope than just this article. It’s really about a lot of people who are blogging about religion. I feel that all too often we’re trying to set up our own brand wars, but that we don’t really have a coherent product to ship or compare.
I left reading this article and the various response articles not so much mad or concerned about it, but wondering “Am I a millennial?” I didn’t really know the answer to that question. From what I’ve been able to find out I think I am. I saw one post that put the millennial generation as being cut off around 33, so since I’m 30 I make the cut. This however introduced a flaw into articles like this for me. How many people really identify themselves as millennial or even know that they are one? Does everyone package the product “millennial” the same? Are millennials narcissistic or do we care about equality for all? This depends on who you ask it appears. Is it possible that we could even be both?
My point is, it gets difficult to present a coherent product. Statistically, I’m a millennial. I haven’t left organized churches, but I can also understand some of the concerns that people like Evans bring up, at the same time though there are ideas that I don’t share. So there is resonance and dissonance at the same time. This isn’t just a problem with the word Millennial either. I find the same difficulties with many words used in Christianity today. evangelical, Calvinist, reformed, progressive, feminist, complimentarian, egalitarian, post-evangelical, and I’m sure there are others I can’t think of. They all just leave me pondering, what do they mean by that? The problem is you ask different people you’ll get different responses. This makes it really hard to self-identify with any of labels that get tossed about.
It also makes it hard to talk about any of the groups with any kind of accuracy. It is too easy to point to the negative (or positive) examples that hold a certain label and categorize the entire label by that. On the other hand it is also too easy to dismiss that negative (or positive) example too quickly by saying that “Well, real ________’s aren’t like that.” Ultimately the label does little good, and you have to weight the person for who the person is, what they say, and how they act. Not just when that person is saying something you don’t like or they’re openly disagreeing with you. Not just when they’re saying things you agree with or openly agreeing with you. It’s about taking the whole person for where they are. Shedding the need to be identified by labels, brands, or tribes and to be known by their name. Even that is tough, since so often we barely have a grasp on knowing ourselves completely, let alone having others know us.
I wonder if there are ones out there who share my discomfort? It seems like I’m in a world trying to suck me into labels so that I can do battle with other labels. It often feels like I’m being told to tilt at windmills and forget about the real people that are inside them. It feels like we’re trying to bring the consumerism of brand wars into our identity. We have to have a brand to really be important is the lie I feel whispered to me underneath so many articles and so many blogs. To raise the rally cry when someone says something we disagree with, identifies with a label that we’ve deemed as a hostile, or pushes back against our own ideas.
The truth is I don’t know how to identify myself very well. Perhaps I’m best described as a mess. I am full of contradictions, probably many that I’m not even aware of. I’d also call myself a Christian, despite knowing all the baggage with that term. Beyond that, I’m not really sure. As I’ve mentioned before I’m not even sure I want a bunch of labels. What I do know is that a mess isn’t all that marketable. It’s not a brand people will flock to, but it’s really all I’ve got. A mess who’s trying to follow God. It may not be very attractive, but it’s very real.