“The Me Me Me Generation: Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists, who still live with their parents.” Ouch. This harsh characterization of the generation that includes the college students with whom I minister appeared on a recent cover of Time Magazine. We’ve all seen and heard this before. Teens and 20-somethings are berated by older generations for being incessant texters, materialists, and technology addicts. And based on data, that’s not untrue.* But it’s also not the whole truth.
It’s not the whole title of the Time article either. Writer Joel Stein proposes that there’s more to consider with his subtitle, “Why Millennials Will Save Us All.”
While I’m not sure the idea that one generation will save another is a healthy or helpful one, I do appreciate Stein’s effort to lift up the strengths of millennials and his suggestion that they have something to teach all of us. There is something “great” about this new generation.
Stein writes, “A generation’s greatness isn’t determined by data; it’s determined by how they react to the challenges that befall them.” Jesus also had something to say about what determines greatness; “The greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves” (Luke 22:26).
This gives me hope for the Presbyterian Church (USA).
We all know the data and it isn’t good. In fact, it’s downright terrifying because it puts us in touch with how drastically different our challenges are today than they were just a few years ago. But we don’t have to let the data determine who we are. What if what really matters is how we handle these challenges? Will we let fear and anxiety persuade our decisions? Or is there another side to the story? Who, then, are our servant leaders?
This summer I am meeting with college students once a week for “Holy Happy Hour.” We gather at a local watering hole, talk theology, and share the ups and downs of our lives. Every week I leave feeling energized and inspired by the students’ questions and musings about faith and scripture. They are just so thoughtful and smart! This past week was no different in that regard, but I was especially struck by our casual conversation as we waited for everyone to arrive.
Two students shared experiences from their weekend volunteering with the Special Olympics in a nearby city. Another had just come from volunteering at a refugee center where she taught English to an older Iranian man. Still another talked about taking swimming lessons and how proud she was that she swam under the water for a few feet when just last week she was afraid to get in at all.
Everyone chatted, laughed, and encouraged one another. They weren’t sharing these stories to impress but, nonetheless, I was inspired. These conversations moved me to reflect, When have I embraced a new experience that stirred up fear or anxiety within because I believed in it? When was the last time I did something that required such courage?
We all have heard one side of the story. But, these college students are the PC (USA). They face new territory with fierce courage because of their faith – not in that they alone can save us, but in someone greater than us all:
“Take courage.” Jesus said this over and over again, “Do not be afraid.”
“I am with you.”
“I am with you.”
And together we can be courageous. We can be great.
Ginny Taylor-Troutman is the Presbyterian Campus Minister at Virginia Tech where she finds great joy journeying with college students. She lives in the beautiful mountains of Southwest Virginia in a tiny town called Dublin with her husband, Andrew (who is also a Presbyterian pastor), infant son, Samuel, and dog, Nikki Giovanni Bob Dylan. Ginny loves hiking, music, a good cup of coffee, festivals, and just about anything she can do outside with her family and friends.
* Stein claims millennials send and receive an average of 88 texts a day, and that both wealthy and poor members have higher rates of materialism than older generations (Time, 29).