“What do I stand for!?” Seeking what’s next in music, theology and community

There are few things that I find more intellectually thrilling than recognizing theology coming out of my radio when I turn it on. Whether it is coming from Regina Spektor, U2, or scattered profusely through almost everything Arcade Fire puts out, it hits me like a welcome splash of cold water to the face. Theology is nothing more than the convergence of theo (God) and logos (words), and so is something that anyone is capable of creating – words about God. Then we attach descriptors to it – Orthodox theology, Post-Modern theology, Liberation theology – and we categorize it and study and systematize it. And the vast history of these organized recordings of people’s words about God is what we call Tradition – one of the four things that United Methodists value and turn to in order to understand our faith, along with Scripture, Experience, and Reason.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Tradition, in fact I’ve spent the past week reading one of the newest tomes submitted to that genre, J. Kameron Carter’s Race: A Theological Account. But at the same time, what I really find refreshing is the raw theology that I hear when I put my key in the ignition of my car and crank up the volume.

There is something about theology delivered through the medium of music that makes it so very honest and invests it with the power to pierce through listeners and reach a point of connection. Whereas I strain my mental muscles to ascertain what a theological tome is trying to convey, I hear two lines of india.arie’s “There’s Hope” and a smile spreads across my face as I realize there really is hope.

The theology that I hear my generation creating today, however, is often more of the searching kind than the confident kind that arie presents. And in it I hear what is at the heart of our struggle – an intense sense of urgent calling to do something, to be a part of something, to change something… without quite being able to grasp what those somethings are just yet. Clarity lying just around the corner, just beyond the horizon. Most clearly I hear that sentiment expressed as Nate Ruess, lead singer of Fun., belts out the lyrics to “Some Nights.” Few people can resist identifying with his repeated and impassioned query, “What do I stand for?! What do I stand for?! Most nights, I don’t know.”

As a generation we struggle with life in what I see as a uniquely communal fashion, texting one another to ask what class to take, what to wear for the job interview, or where the best restaurant in town is. We move through life posting pictures of what we are eating to Instagram, and our smallest thoughts to Twitter, while telling everyone where we are at all times on foursquare. It is my conviction that we also harbor within us the often unexpressed desire to struggle with our theology and calling in community as well.

That is part of what we are doing when we set it to music and we put our thoughts out there for the world to respond to, “What do I stand for?! What do I stand for?! Most nights, I don’t know.”

Too rarely we are given the opportunity to struggle with these big questions in community and solidarity. To ask, “Where do we go from here?” and “What’s next?” The United Methodist Church is striving to create more opportunities for young adults to do this corporate, theological, practical, life-changing, struggling together. A lot of the work that we do at Young People’s Ministries has that as the aim as we put our hearts and souls into bringing much needed connection and resources to our generation.

In addition, I am excited to see other parts of the connectional church working towards that goal, particularly fellow members of my generation. It seems timely to note that GBHEM’s “Imagine what’s NEXT” event is taking place for the first time a little over a month from now, November 9-11, to create a space for college students to struggle with these questions together. If that is a conversation you want to be a part of, their Facebook page says they are still accepting registrations through October 10. We are a connectional church, so always let your Conference know if you feel like you need to be at the table for a conversation, but don’t know how to get there.

Whatever answers we find over the next decade, I am grateful to be part of both a generation and a denomination that believes in seeking those answers together. Thank you for being a part of the conversation.

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