You’re smart to take Labor Day lying down. Being horizontal is holy, since God tells us to periodically kick up our feet and take a break (Leviticus 23:3). But there’s another reason to ‘go horizontal.’ Today’s teens, twenty- and thirty-somethings think horizontally. Those who communicate a horizontal faith will connect better with younger Americans who appear to be increasingly resistant to Christianity, but not to spirituality.
Thinking horizontally is one example of a cultural divide between geeks (those under 40) and geezers (boomers over 40), according to Warren G. Bennis, a professor at the University of Southern California and Robert J. Thomas, Executive Director of the Accenture Institute for High Performance Business in Boston, Massachusetts. For instance, geeks are more “willing to talk about bringing their faith to work… However, they speak of ‘spirituality’ and ‘meaning,’ not ‘religion’ and ‘God.’”1 They don’t look vertically for truth, they look horizontally to shared stories.
Younger Americans embrace “plane” truth because they’ve grown up in what Charles Taylor calls a “secular age.”2 It defines morality by looking sideways rather than looking up. Most teens, twenty- and thirty-somethings are saturated in this secularism and flinch at a faith that looks up. Yet geeks forget that all horizontal activities (i.e., a society) used to be ordered by a vertical authority (i.e., the sacred). Our modern age has become a “deathwork” because it denies an absolute morality and makes it impossible to say, ‘Thou shalt not,’” wrote sociologist Philip Rieff.3 For example, when you say, “The Bible says…” – a vertical authority – younger people will retort: “Who made you God?”
This, however, could be good news. For too long, geezers have been infatuated with vertical proofs and PowerPoint presentations. This includes Christians. Geeks, on the other hand, are open to patterns. The “four chapter” gospel teases out patterns, not proofs. It turns the Bible horizontally to the landscape orientation and stitches together stories stretched from Genesis to Revelation. Work and rest is a good one for Labor Day. Work was designed in creation as a good thing, along with rest. Yet our default, because of the Fall, is that we often feel guilty when we rest. The Sabbath reminded the Jews that, when they never rested in Egypt, they essentially became pack animals. What can you do to enjoy work and rest? Turn your Bible sideways, “…there was evening and morning, a day” (Genesis 1:3, 6, 13, 19, 23, & 31). Catch that? Every day begins at sunset, when we go to sleep. God created us to first enjoy rest. It’s our destiny in eternity.
What if you told your geek friends a horizontal story explaining why we like to kick back and look forward to Labor Day? There’s nothing wrong with thinking vertically. But Baby Boomer Christians (geezers) have made it an art form, which might be why younger Americans are becoming more resistant to Christianity, according to Barna Research Group president David Kinnamon. “The nation’s population is increasingly resistant to Christianity… the aversion and hostility are, for the first time, crystallizing in the attitudes of millions of young Americans. A huge chunk of a new generation has concluded they want nothing to do with us. As Christians, we are widely distrusted by a skeptical generation. We are at a turning point for Christianity in America. If we do not wake up to these realities and respond in appropriate, godly ways, we risk being increasingly marginalized and losing further credibility with millions of people.”4
I think a horizontal faith is an appropriate, godly way to connect Sunday to Monday. When you point out that people live by a common code of ought, is, can, and will – or design, default, do, and destiny – you’re starting with a horizontal authority. It’s a short step from there to the “four chapter” gospel of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.
On May 7, 1963, in Cambridge, England, C. S. Lewis gave his last interview before succumbing to cancer. He said that his faith was most helped by his studies of the literary men of the Middle Ages, and by the writings of G. K. Chesterton – storytellers all.5 Perhaps this is why younger people continue to enjoy reading Lewis. “I suggest that we should also do what C. S. Lewis did so very well,” writes Catholic commentator Richard John Neuhaus.
[W]e should tell better stories that winsomely, even seductively, reintroduce the Great Story; being confident, as Lewis was confident, that the pagans then and now, in the fine phrase of Edward Norman, got it “broadly right.” We must help them to tell their story, for, whether they know it or not, their story is the story of God’s ways with His creatures, the story of salvation.6
When Jack Nicklaus won the 1965 Masters with a record-breaking score of 271, Bobby Jones, the Masters’ patron saint, remarked, “He plays a game with which I am not familiar.” If you’re not familiar with the “four chapter” gospel, don’t worry. It might be easier to see while you’re lying down this weekend. Turn your bible to the landscape orientation and discover a horizontal faith that connects with young and old alike.
1 Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas, Geeks & Geezers: How Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2002), p. 57.
2 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).
3 Philip Rieff, My Life Among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority, Kenneth S. Piver, General Editor, Volume I, Sacred Order/Social Order (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2006).
4 David Kinnamon, unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), p. 39.
6 Richard John Neuhaus, “C. S. Lewis in the Public Square,” First Things, Vol. 88, September 1998, pp. 30-35.