There is excitement in being sure and unsure at the same time. To enjoy ritual and tradition while dipping a toe into waters creative and fresh. And to be in seeming contradiction on purpose, with intention, that is most exciting at all. That’s what it is to see one as living the life mosaic.
Around a year ago I read some material for a course on young adults and the church. Sociologists studying trends in and outside the church sought to answer to a big question: “What is young people’s relationship with the church?” Some churches congregations see many young adults but overall, many young adults simply don’t “do church.” That’s a subject for another time. Today I want to focus on some language these writers used to describe young adults.
- In You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… and Rethinking Faith by David Kinnaman of the Barna Group, he describes how his firm defines what is often referred to as Millennials or Gen Y as “Mosaics” because “it reflects their eclectic relationships, thinking styles, and learning formats,” and so on. Kinnaman further explains mosaics, amongst other details, also value relationship, seek meaningful vocation, don’t often share “cultural identification of previous generations,” have a love-hate relationship with institutions, and think every story matters1
- In his book, After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion, Professor of Sociology at Princeton, Robert Wuthnow, writes that it all comes down to one descriptive word for my generation: tinkering. To explore this perspective further, a quote:
A tinkerer puts together a life from whatever skills, ideas, and resources that are readily at hand. In a culture like ours, where higher education and professional training are valued, tinkering may have negative connotations. But it should not. Tinkerers are the most resourceful people in any era. If specialized skills are required, they have them. When they need help from experts, they seek it. But they do not rely on only one way of doing things. Their approach to life is practical. They get things done, and usually this happens by improvising, by piecing together an idea from here, a skill from there, and a contact from somewhere else.2
Wuthnow goes on to explain the tinkerer will mull an issue over, seek out various opinions, explore options, and risk different approaches rather than immediately purchase Solution A to fix Problem B. He reminds the reader that French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss wrote of the tinkerer as the bricoleur, one who was a skilled trade- or craftsperson in the preindustrial age. He considers the (post) modern-day tinkerer shares much in common with the bricoleur in that both connect together “seemingly inconsistent, disparate components.” In short, a tinkerer thrives on taking the established and the new and creating something personally unique.
The more I read, the more I realized this is exactly what I am: a mosaic, a tinkerer, a cobbler. A bricoleur. And the best part? Each of these terms, to me, represent something positive. They don’t come with baggage or pejorative connotations (this is what, I think, “Millennial” has become to many in the US) and in fact, are perhaps respected and admired qualities. Yes, there are risks involved with rejecting establishment and seeking out one’s own cobbled path (Kinnaman points out that with more information at one’s fingertips than ever, discerning true wisdom becomes more difficult and outright abandoning institutions, ideas, and ideologies that have stood successful for a long time isn’t necessarily the healthiest of attitudes). And yet, the more I considered where I am today, I know I am a mosaic.
I’m 33, married for 4 years to my best friend, and trying to be the best father I can be to our one-year-old. The passions, interests, and priorities that have brought me to living a better life are varied, mixed, jumbled. I’m a veritable cornucopia of stuff all stuffed inside. Some stuff contradicts other stuff. Some stuff rises to the surface, other stuff is forgotten, still more stuff is abandoned, and even more stuff is reclaimed. Each bit of this “stuff” is yet another piece in the mosaic I am creating.
And I’m exciting by that. Identity is one part determinism and one part free agency. Can’t say which has or should have the upper hand across the board because that all depends on the individual. As for me, my social location will always play a role in how and why I tinker. And I also choose to embrace what it means to tinker. And there are few better ways to tinker than to explore through writing.
And so this platform, The Life Mosaic. I have some pretty good ideas about what drove me to re-enter the river of reflective writing online again. And I have a pretty good idea of where different topics may take me. However, there’s a lot up in the air. With this mix of being sure and unsure at the same time, I hope you will offer me grace in my journey and I will do the same for you.
For if not grace, what else is there to offer each other?
1. Kinnaman, David. You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church… and Rethinking Faith. Baker Books. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2011.↩
2. Wuthnow, Robert. After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Somethings Are Shaping the Future of American Religion. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey. 2010. 13-16.↩