Living For Eternity, Not For Immortality – The Rev. Morgan Allen – Church Building

Text and audio available

Last week I learned that sociologists date the “Millennial” generation to include all those born between 1982 and 1997, and, according to the Nicole Spector article I read,[i] these “Millennials” are ruining things! … ruining things that I, as a member of “Generation X” (born between 1965 and 1981) and that “Baby Boomers” (born between 1946 and 1964) have valued and treasured.  First on this list is American Cheese, which, if you have ever read the small print on a package of Kraft Singles, you will already know does not contain enough milk to be legally advertised as “cheese,” and, therefore, must be described as a “cheese product.”  Apparently, the Millennials, who, though they have less money at the same age than the two generations their senior, prefer to pay more for “artisan” dairy products … you know, the sort that are actually cheese.

The article continues, pointing to other market shifts that Millennial consumer habits have influenced, from the obsoleting of radio, to the declining interest in Yoplait yogurt, to the “boutique-ing” of weddings and hotels.  Spector observes, “Millennials aren’t marrying as early as their parents did, but … [when they do,] they’re likely to throw a big, pricey shindig that includes ‘total personalization and an unforgettable experience’ … Millennials look to smaller boutique brands[, vendors, and venues] that highlight uniqueness at any cost” … uniqueness at any cost.[ii]  On point, Sam Shank, CEO of HotelTonight, observes, “Millennials are twice as likely to book a boutique hotel, and 90 percent of our revenues come from … independent hotels … that have a [unique] décor and [a] sense of place, often with cool, nostalgic amenities.”[iii]  I thought to myself, “They should just save the money and come to my house! … a place of many ‘cool, nostalgic amenities.’”

Before the Millennials take warranted offense, trust that I, too, find all of this insulting.[iv]  No individual can be distilled into a set of stereotypes based on the year they were born, and, moreover, American Cheese is gross no matter one’s generation.  As one sociological observer[v] acknowledges of these trends, “We do see Millennials behaving differently than consumers 10 years ago, but in almost all cases, we also see Gen-X’rs and even Boomers … making those same shifts at the same time … The change is happening throughout all cohorts, it’s just being ascribed to Millennials because they’re the biggest of [them all].”[vi]

As hinted, while these trends may mark an innovation in consumer behaviors, Millennials did not invent the pursuit of “uniqueness.”  Indeed, in high school, I sought any number of cringeworthy ways to distinguish myself from the mainstream.  In North Louisiana during those awkward, Gen-X years, that meant me growing my hair well past my shoulders (while keeping it shaved underneath), and that meant my summer-camp cabinmate piercing my ear with two ice cubes, a cork, and a sewing needle [POP].  I wore ridiculous clothes, read the small print of Spin magazine to find the most obscure bands to follow, and generally tried too hard.  Looking back now, I view such “uniqueness” as nothing more than another consumer lie, a strategy derivative of that venerable quest to be memorable, that ancient pursuit of immortality.

This morning, as we commemorate the Feast of All Souls, or “All Faithful Departed,” we affirm both our mortal nature and our eternal identity.  By remembering our family and friends who have died – “that vast body of the faithful” – we confront both the inevitability of death and the endurance of love.[vii]  The Book of Common Prayer explains, “We pray [for the dead], because we still hold them in our love … Our assurance as Christians is that nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[viii]

Thereby, in our All Souls remembrances we celebrate our commonness, abiding with the dead in the same Divine Love we shared in life.  Indeed, the gift of Love Eternal is not the exclusive possession of those who have died, but of us who still share in their fellowship as members of the same Communion of Saints, that one Body stretching from before time and forever.  We remain in loving relationship with the dead because of Jesus’ life-claiming triumph, and, for all of us who still love one who has died, today’s devotions testify to Love’s resiliency, and, by God’s common love of us, keeps us bound to one another.

This eternal Love opposes a desire for “uniqueness at any cost.”  As Cameron Crowe rightly indicts the root of such pursuits, “being young is … believing secretly that you [will become] the one person in … history [to] live forever,”[ix] and our “total personalization,” boutique inclinations are parcel to this – ultimately futile – turning away from life’s most fundamental truth.  More damagingly, in refusing to confront our finitude, we turn away, too, from Love’s endurance.  See, only through our mortality can we discover God’s promises – not around this world, but right through the thick of it all.  Today we read those hundreds of names during the Necrology as an act of resistance, a refusal of those facile answers[x] to the inscrutable questions of how, and why, and what it all means.

Echoing images of Isaiah and Ezekiel, this morning’s appointment from Revelation imagines this commonness of Love: “There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”[xi]  Note that despite all the specifics named – nations, tribes, peoples, languages – everyone stands in common before God, their personalities and particulars robed, as with a pall.  These multitudes gather before the throne of heaven, bound not by their uniqueness, but by their love of God, and by God’s love of them.

We, too, stand before God this way.  In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis writes, “Heaven is not a state of mind.  Heaven is reality itself.  All that is fully real is Heavenly” … All that is fully real is Heavenly.[xii]  That is, Heaven is not a way of thinking, but a mode of being, of dwelling deeply in the mystery of what it means to be at once temporal and eternal, and our experience of Heaven can begin in this very moment.  We need only recognize that every one of us is a universe of hurt and hope and beauty and burden, at once subject to this world and, yet, so full of God.  Therefore, no matter one’s generation or season of life – indeed, whether at birth or at death or at any time between – by these promises “we make our song, ‘Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”[xiii]

Let us pray:

O God, the King of saints, we praise and glorify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in your faith and fear: for the [Holy Family]; for [matriarchs and] patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; and for all your other righteous servants, known to us and unknown; and we pray that, encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.[xiv]

Amen.

[i] Spector, Nicole.  “Weddings, Cheese, Radio – What Will Millennials Kill Next?”  NBC News.  October 20, 2018.  Spector, a Gen-X’r, is the daughter of iconic Baby-Boomer record producer Phil Spector.  In 2009, her father was convicted of murdering Lana Clarkson.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] In response to these trends toward uniqueness, have you noticed Bud Light’s new tag line?  For the many, not the few.  In opposition to the Millennials, Anheuser-Busch has chosen to court righteously indignant Boomers and X’rs, not because their beers are better, but because they stand against the junior generation.  I suggest they would be better served to make a decent draft.
[v] “Jason ‘RetailGeek’ Goldberg, senior vice president for commerce at SpientRazorfish,” as quoted by Spector.
[vi] Spector.
[vii] “All Faithful Departed.”  Holy Women, Holy Men. Church Publishing, 2010.  “Beginning in the tenth century, it became customary to set aside another day – as a sort of extension of All Saints – on which the Church remembered that vast body of the faithful who, though no less members of the company of the redeemed, are unknown in the wider fellowship of the Church.  It was also a day for particular remembrance of family members and friends.”
[viii] From “The Catechism” in the Book of Common Prayer, p. 862.
[ix] Vanilla Sky.  Screenplay by Cameron Crowe.  Paramount Pictures.  2001.  Super-Boomer Crowe adapted the Spanish film Abre Los Ojos (with Penélope Cruz starring in both versions).  I’ve always attributed this quote to Almost Famous, but recently discovered it hidden here.
[x] A refusal of gross and unhealthy, “cheese-product” theologies.
[xi] Revelation 7:9.  Revelation is a mess, but this principle in the vision holds.
[xii] Lewis, C. S.  The Great Divorce.  Harper-Collins, 2001.  p. 70.  On the previous page, Lewis proposes that living in what is real – that Heavenly reality – transforms and redeems our memories: “Not only this valley but all their earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on Earth, too, will then be seen but the damned to have been Hell.”  In Lewis, who had suffered terrible grief in his life, these ideas are especially powerful.
[xiii] From “The Commendation” in the Book of Common Prayer, p. 499.
[xiv] Adapted from “The Burial of the Dead: Rite II,” in the Book of Common Prayer, p. 504.