When I was a good little Catholic 14-year-old, attending an all-girls boarding school to learn how to become a nun, we had something called Spiritual Direction. It was 15 minutes set aside for us to have a talk with an assigned superior. We were expected to rely on these women to guide our spiritual growth and we were to bring them our thoughts, questions, failures, and triumphs. We were given little pads of paper on which to write “dependence memos” during the week, to keep her apprised of all that was going on in our sheltered, boring, little lives.

I don’t remember much from the 3.5 years of weekly chats.  I think it was mostly exhaustion induced weeping, on my part. But I do remember an early session that set the stage for the rest of my experience with religion. I was a newly minted PC (short for precandidate, because we were not yet candidates for religious life), when I had what felt like serious and valid concerns about some of the details of the liturgy we celebrated daily. We were asked to stand at a time that I was accustomed to kneel. Since my parents had taught me that kneeling at that time and place was a vitally important sign of deference to God, I knelt while my peers stood.

I was barely over 5 feet, and we filled the chapel by height – short girls at the front, and the tallest girls at the back. My spiritual director was sure my antics were distracting from the mass, and wanted me to cut it out. Being an omniscient, unimpressed teenager, I told her that they should change if they were distracted, because I was doing it right. And I meant it. I was much too self-righteous to joke about the mass. I’m sure she wanted nothing more than to strangle me, but instead, she carefully explained that Regnum Christi  (our religious group) followed the Pope’s example, and that he wanted the faithful to stand at this particular point in the mass. “This is how it’s done in Rome, at St. Peter’s!” She was sure this was a trump card. But I wasn’t buying it. The Catholic church is unchanging, I told her, because its doctrine is based on principles, not the arbitrary whims of a human ruler. The Pope is only infallible when he speaks on faith and morals, and we should be grateful for that, because there have been corrupt and evil popes who had terrible ideas and philosophies, and who committed terrible sins. If we followed their personal examples, instead of only heeding their words when they spoke formally and infallibly, where would we be? Her response was an open-mouthed guffaw. “You know better than the pope? Who do you think you are, to believe that you are capable of understanding better than the Holy Father – the representative of Christ on earth, what God wants?”

Then she helped me write a Program of Life, which was something like an in-depth New Years resolution, to cure me of the malignant, festering pride that would lead me to worship God authentically rather than to obey my betters.

Despite her attempts and other authority figures’ later attempts to mold me into a proper entrant to religious life, I had this innate feeling that the whole thing should be a system of growth and moral action, based on immutable principles. I thought it was something that should make sense and serve my need to draw closer to God. My spiritual director’s appeal to authority felt like a betrayal of true religion, as I had come to know it. I didn’t want to imitate the pope, I wanted to be a better person. It seemed to me that following the Holy Father fell far short of following Christ.

Every time I see another article or sermon about the waning of religious adherence in modern America, I remember that interaction I had with the woman whose job was to bring me closer to Christ. What I saw in her insistence on conformity was an effort to draw me away from my spontaneous act of worship, and re-direct me to allegiance. I see some of that frantic press for allegiance in these hand-wringing articles and sermons about where people sit on Sunday mornings. It feels weirdly divorced from any concern for the things that Jesus told us hold up the entirety of religious practice, namely, love for God and neighbor.

When I read things like Greg Trimble’s soaring piece on the coming revolution in the LDS church, it sounds a bit silly. It feels like we’re being told to manage our hunger for a while longer, because porridge is coming, while we’re sitting and waiting, frail and ill with deprivation, at a table that groans under the weight of an opulent feast.

In Greg’s words, “This revolution will be against those that judge, those that hate, and those that refuse to see past their narrow, regurgitated, cliche point of views. This revolution will be a revolution of love… I think we’ll see a time where programmatic meetings are cut by 50% and where the efficiency of those meetings are increased by 50%. We’ll spend less time behind closed doors meeting about all the stuff we should be doing, and more time ministering to the proverbial fatherless and the widows. We’ll get back to true religion and root out any programmatic religion.

Does sticking around a place that admits it’s full of hate, unfair judgements, and unoriginal points of view, waiting for the gospel to find it, sound like something the Son of Man would have us do? Would the teacher who called us to let the dead bury their dead ask us to wait for a 50% improvement in the godliness of our lifestyle, sometime in the future? He told us who our neighbor is, and chided us for being too righteous to stop our busy church work and love like the Good Samaritan loved. He told us, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” (Matt 25:45) How does that square with spending hours behind closed doors, compliantly waiting for someone in authority to open them, so we can go love God and serve God’s children? Where should I get all this time for sitting around waiting for somebody to tell me it’s OK to leave my nets and go follow Him? Why would I sit at the feast God made for me, refusing to eat because someone told me that God told him to make me porridge some time, maybe soon – it’s definitely coming?

Based on his other work, I assume that Greg would respond to my questions with a guffaw similar to my spiritual director’s, all those years ago, and a reminder to look for guidance from people who have a closer connection to God than I should ever expect to have. He begins his post, not with acknowledgement and loyalty to the name on the church building, but to the men Greg believes speak for Jesus Christ. He wants to make sure that we all know where his loyalties lie. I find myself wondering again, why is spontaneous, unapproved worship a problem to be corrected? Why is this system guiding us towards allegiance to men rather than a connection to God?

And this is where it breaks down for a lot of Millennials who have a desire (as did self-righteous, 14-year-old, me) to reach out to God in community. We don’t see a good reason to keep doing something that’s not working for us. We value the result more than the process. We’re looking for fruit, not pretty leaves. If we don’t find a meal where we’re told to expect it, we’re perfectly happy to go elsewhere, and let the fruitless tree wither away. We don’t recall Jesus sitting under the fig tree, waiting patiently for the coming revolution of fig season. He cursed the tree and left.

Many of my religiously unaffiliated friends have gone to the bible with new eyes, and found a Jesus who is markedly different from the one religion presented to them. Instead of an all powerful being who deigned to lower himself to our level on certain conditions, and must be continually appeased, we see a very human person who loved his friends, who stood up for the weak and the sick and the poor, who irritated the religious leaders and authority figures of his day, and who was killed for daring to make God accessible without intermediaries.

And Greg obviously sees that disconnect. He knows we can do better than our current church culture. He dedicates the middle section of his article to all the kinds of sinners we should be accepting into our lives and our church houses, with the grand assumption that these masses are staying away from church because they feel unworthy to approach the throne of God. I have no doubt that his personal accounts of having met and counseled with such sinners are all genuine and shared in good faith, in love, in acceptance, and understanding. But I also wonder if he knows or cares about the other empty spots in the pews? Does the coming pivot away from unjust judgement include making space for people who don’t think they’re sinning, but who simply have a different way of reaching God?

I am aware that I have an unusually anti-authoritarian personality for a stay-at-home mom with 7 children and 0 recreational substances in her home, but I think that I’m not alone in this feeling that the gasping of church ladies is not so impressive. I think that many Millennials are, quite simply, done hustling at Authority’s beck. We found out that the pediatrician isn’t going to her office, mid-appointment, to consult with her colleagues. She’s checking google to see what that mystery rash might be. We found out that going to college isn’t the golden ticket our teachers and parents promised it would be, no matter how perfect our grades were. We found out that news anchors lie, even when there’s no good reason to do so. We found out that cops are not liable for their behavior, and that racism is systemic in the nation’s police force. We found out that that there are some problems with claiming that the bible, or other scriptures, are the literal word of God. Our trust in Congress is so low, it apparently defies numerical quantification.

This lack of trust in institutions does not indicate a universal inability to trust anyone or anything, it’s simply a redirection of trust, from what we view as unaccountable behemoths, to answerable individuals. We have a hard time supporting wars on foreign soil, because we’re friends with foreigners. We are comfortable with the sharing economy, because we see reviews as a much more effective accountability tool than a huge company’s reputation, making Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, Taskrabbit, and Etsy increasingly popular. We aren’t afraid of our neighbors, be they gay, foreign, drug users, atheists, people of color, or, surprisingly enough, bible-believing Christians. We seem to think that individuals are generally good folks, and that our differences are no cause for fear.

I hope Greg is right about his revolution’s imminence, and I hope the revolution includes making space for those who approach God directly, rather than conforming to Authority’s whims. To avoid losing a generation, churches and church people are going to need to open their eyes to the feast that’s before us and encourage people to eat, rather than hassling them to wait out an imaginary famine for the coming gruel. The guffawing and the appeals to authority will need to stop, because Millennials “know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister. And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:25-28)

Those who chide and scorn should know that my generation does unacceptable perfectly. We cheerfully disregard unwieldy bureaucracies and get the job done ourselves. Our ability to share and create with our neighbors is a curse on the tree that fails to feed us.

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