I fidget, and I play with whatever object I can get my hands on to fidget. I have left an impressive trail of broken pen and mechanical pencil clips, springs from disassembled pen, and worn screw parts from being disassembled too many times. The battery compartment of almost every remote I have ever owned refuses to stay closed because I open it, spin the batteries, and close it multiple times a night.
I fidget. I never realized it until, of all people, a loan officer noticed us both playing with whatever object we happened to have in our hands during any lull – which we experienced a lot filling out the loan application. I sorta knew – again, many broken pen clips and ineffective battery doors throughout my life – but it never clicked with me until this complete stranger pointed it out.
I bought my car in 2015 – the loan officer for that car made the observation – and I now constantly notice myself doing it. Not in a bad way, mind you, but just an acknowledgement of, “Hey, that’s a thing I do.”
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary offered Transitional Ministry Week 1 online this year. To welcome us, they sent care packages with things to just make us feel better and set our learning spaces: colored pencils and mandala sheets, pipe cleaners, chocolates, a coffee mug, origami paper, Play-Doh, all sorts of things to help you focus no matter how it is you focus.
Including a fidget spinner.
It made me chuckle at first. I hadn’t seen one in a while – mine had gotten buried in the mess that became my home office when I stopped using it – and I never really used the one I had bought a lot. I also remember just how insanely popular they became – and how insanely judgmental and dismissive everyone became about them, writing them off as a distracting toy and fad. It became incredibly popular to hate on them, calling them a bad fidget solution and demanding people choose a different toy to fidget with.
(I will note that I always believed the light-up versions – and the Bluetooth speaker versions, because those existed – served no purpose and got designed to capitalized on the meme-like popularity of the object at one point. Please know I know things got out of hand, but also know money caused that, not the object nor their users.)
I chuckled remember all of this, then a thing happened: I stared using it during the first class session. A lot. I grabbed it out of my box and…just started fidgeting.
I have had a few meetings since – include a tense meeting or two. Every meeting since I first grabbed it has included me using the fidget spinner. It serves its purpose, and actually serves it very well; I even found myself using it while watching TV instead of constantly opening and closing the remote door on the new Google TV remote.
I find myself thinking about that fidget spinner more and more, but not the object itself or my use of it – though I mentioned the battery door thing to Nora and she gave me a knowing smile about all of our remotes.
No, I thought about how we just love to hate on anything the younger generations enjoy. We call their music, their cultural icons, and everything they like inferior. We call those who do not act like us immature – and those who do act like us mature – while ignoring both our own immaturity at that age and our own spiritual and moral immaturity now.
Like the fidget spinner, we condemn their idealism, their cultural influence, their learning about themselves and finding their identity, and their desire to move us toward a better and different world. We don’t understand it and, instead of trying to understand it, we just condemn it and write it off.
I can only speak so much for the secular world – it honestly never rejected me, but we never really got into a long-term relationship, either – but I can speak at length to the Church and its outright rejection of anything that questions the old guard and puts the onus for people leaving the church on those leading the church. I can speak to churches wanting youth but treating the youth like failed adults who would really love church and all it represents if they would just grow up. I can speak of the Church rejecting the teachings of Jesus – and acting like the disciples in Mark 10:13-16 – to make the Church serve their comfort and desires instead of serving the Body of Christ as demanded in Matthew 25:31-44.
I can speak to the Church being the Body of Christ in name only and not desiring to follow anything Jesus commanded that asks anything of them but a check or a couple of hours they will never miss.
Let me speak clearly: you do not have to enjoy the youth. You can dislike fidget spinners and have no desire to listen to BTS or…I have no idea; I didn’t even enjoy pop music in my youth. But condemning what the youth like as inferior and refusing to hear them when they speak, especially when they speak prophetically like Jeremiah, will do nothing but drive them away – and ultimately kill our Earthly expressions of the Body of Christ.
Some youth – and people – need things like a fidget spinner; because you do not doesn’t give you the right or privilege to call it pointless or bad.
Breathe in, breathe out, fidget.
Postscript: If you want something practical to take from this, I can actually use a previous thought to describe something you might take away. At the height of the “fidget spinner” craze, you could buy light-up fidget spinners, speaker fidget spinners, and all sorts of other pointlessly “improved” and “fancy” fidget spinners – including brass ones with high-dollar finishes and super intense bearings.
My fidget spinner is a 3D printed affair with a decent bearing – that did need a little bit of lubricant, but I had some spray silicone on hand – and weights on the points. Clean, made to do its job, and not distracting unless you find fidgeting distracting (which people do, but also…eh?). It does not need have things added to make it more attractive; its simplest and compete form does that already.
If you want to bring youth in and made them want to stay, making our faith into cotton candy and trying to make it more attractive by taking out the hard parts will not bring them in long-term – especially those from situations that actually afflict them instead of comforting them. No matter your age, you can only eat so much empty sugar before it makes you sick and you start rejecting it.
The youth know this, especially older youth. Adults had a year of their adult life shaken by the pandemic; kids and older youth had a formative year destroyed by the same pandemic. The youth see and hear the Church preaching love, kindness, sacrifice, and giving while its members – and often leaders – live vastly different lives. The youth read passages like Mark 10:13-16 while the church demands they be something other than what they are.
If you want youth to live in the Earthly expressions of the Body of Christ, you must listen to them, take them seriously, and treat them with the same respect and love Jesus treated with them. Because our culture no longer obligates them to the Church – and thank God for that – they have no reason to live with us if we do not follow the commands of our scriptures. In their maturation, they need spiritual food, not spiritual candy that adults so often demand of churches.
I truly believe using the unadorned calls of scripture – justice, love, and compassion lifted over proper worship – and addressing their faith and God’s call in their lives will bring youth into faith (even if it does not bring number to our Earthly expressions of the Body of Christ). Not cotton candy or “spiritual milk” but true expressions of faith without pretense or glitzing up.
And frankly, the youth see things we do not, and we must acknowledge their wisdom when they share it. If they call out our hypocrisy, we must confess to it and repent instead of getting defensive. If they see evil in the world, we must also see that evil instead of saying, “It’s always been that way.” If they mourn poverty and suffering, we must mourn with them, too, instead of callously misusing, “The poor you will always have with you.”
Jesus preached idealism, and I don’t hate that we decided realism plays better.
I cannot guarantee these attitudes and actions will increase your youth numbers – never had that motivation in my ministry – but I do know that not doing these things will drive away those who do not have obligation or built-in comfort in our congregations – it drove me away for many years. Do we desire to live as the holiest expression of the Body of Christ, or the church with the most Earthly success and hope that our programing will just make it happen?
Only you can answer that question, and only you can decide to change your heart and mind to the call of God. Know our youth see what you do and hear what you say, and they might have good and holy reasons to reject it.