GIVING TO THE POOR AND WALKING WITH THE OUTCASTS IS PUNK ROCK. If Jesus were a millennial he would be a punk socialist and nothing anyone will ever say with convince me otherwise. Mary Magdalene with artfully placed runs in her black stockings leading down to her studded Doc Martens, are you with me?
When I first read this enthusiastic response to a Tumblr post I had made, I had no idea it was the seed of a 1,600 follower-strong virtual faith family and brew-house of creativity. I just knew it excited me.
The enthusiast in question was Alice, who would become co-moderator of the Millennial Gospel Project, but at the time she was just an internet friend in Alabama with a literature degree and a complicated relationship to her Catholic upbringing. I was eighteen, tentatively shaking off the trappings of mainline Christian evangelism, and trying to assemble a faith walk that fit the fraught Thing I had with God.
DID SOMEBODY SAY PUNK GOSPEL AU? I typed with a grin, and added my own embellishments.
Peter as that Marxist kid with patches on his jacket who usually gets arrested at protests, Mary as a sassy Gen X mom: “I didn’t get slut-shamed by all of Georgia for having you at sixteen so you could grow up to wise-ass me, Jesus Emmanuel.” Jesus is a total introvert (please forward all unexpected social events to Peter or Mary, and don’t do the whole kiss-the-hem-of-his-jeans-in-prostration thing, it makes him uncomfortable) but super fun when you get him to loosen up (Remember that wedding? Water into wine? Best party ever). And his message? Life changing.
When Alice shot back with Gabriel with a lip piercing and a twitter account (@Gabe’sHorn), tweeting all of the prophets with #ispeakuntothee I was hooked. So, it turned out, were plenty of other people.
Alice and I kept the game going, eventually typing up long form pieces of Bible fanfiction and making photosets to illustrate the way we were trying to fit the gospel into a modern, millennial frame. When people starting requesting new art pieces and asked if they could submit their own, we launched a separate blog to accommodate the virtual traffic. We had struck onto something accidentally, something that I felt taking root in my own life as well as in the lives of others. Re-claiming the Jesus story from the privatization and commodification of the mainstream American church felt good, really good.
Moreover, re-framing these familiar stories allowed us to open up to what Jesus might have been trying to teach us all those years ago about equality, moral responsibility, charity, and social justice.
So many people think they don’t get a say in what the church looks like, and that the stories in the Bible don’t belong to them and aren’t theirs to explore or question or re-invigorate with creativity. Alice and I wanted to push back against these boundaries, and create a space in which young people could come and get their hands messy playing in the Biblical sandbox. That was it. No agenda. No mission statement. No hidden evangelical motive. Just an opportunity to start a conversation with some long-dead folk heroes and have fun with it, for God’s sake.
As the MG, as it is affectionately referred to, took off, Alice and I started fielding requests for LGBTQ affirming congregations and Bible verses that supported women’s ordination. We uploaded articles about Arab Christians protecting Muslims at prayer, nuns battling church corruption, and rabbis standing with water protectors in North Dakota. I shared songs that expressed messy feelings about God, and Alice quoted liberation theologians unafraid to lean into the social and political demands of the gospel. Young people of increasingly diverse backgrounds submitted their secret struggles, their poetry, their anger with the church, their drawings, their happiest moments with God, their essays.
Currently our patchwork online family consists of atheists, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, pagans, Muslims, agnostics, and no shortage of seekers, those unlabeled multitudes who wish to draw nearer to the Divine but are disillusioned with religious institutions.
With a body of creatives so large and diverse, there have been tense moments along the way (plenty of which were caused by my own insensitivities or blind spots) but mostly there has been love, the deep, compassionate, abiding kind that makes me believe in a Good and Involved God on my own doubting days. I try to stay open to criticism and change, and have been so humbled by the way the Millennial Gospel mob routinely reminds me to listen more than I talk and let go of any illusion I have of control over this world or the people in it.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned working on this blog, it’s that if you just give people a safe place to honest and then get out of the way, the Spirit will work amazing healing in the lives you have been entrusted with.
As a Millennial, I think the MG represents the exciting access people in my generation have to unlimited information and numerous platforms from which to participate in the production and dissemination of that information. With a phone camera, anyone can be a journalist, with a Netflix subscription, anyone can be a film critic, and with a Tumblr url and access to biblegateway.com, anyone can be a theologian.
There are obvious downsides to this culture (the abandonment of much-needed guidelines on what counts as reliable journalism, people claiming to be experts in subjects on which they are honestly uninformed, a temptation to throw scriptural fact-checking out the window) but it still excites me, and I want to be a part of it. It’s worth the risk, and it’s worth learning how to do well. As a person of faith, I think this co-creative way of doing religion is essential in a world where churches vie for political authority, Americans are fractured down a stark liberal/conservative divide, and so many congregations are ravaged by abuse, anti-intellectualism, and an unwillingness to talk about difficult topics.
It’s been four years since the Millennial Gospel first started. Alice earned her Masters in literature at NYU and communicates with me from a cozy Brooklyn apartment, and I joined the Episcopal church, enrolled in the Masters of Divinity program at Princeton Theological Seminary, and spend my days trying not to start theological arguments (well, not too many) with my professors. I would never have applied to the program if it weren’t for the encouragement I received from all my beloved Millennial Gospel members, and I would never have realized that I’m at my most self-actualized when I’m helping others maintain their individual faith lives if countless young people hadn’t trusted me with their hearts through the project. For those two things, I will never cease being grateful.
It’s always hard to end a story you’re still living in, so I suppose I’ll take my leave with an invitation. This is formal permission for you to Come and See, a very honest welcome into the ramshackle DIY household Alice and I have built with hundreds of other people.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a person of faith or not, if you’re a millennial or not, if you’re straight or cis or rich or poor or conservative or liberal or a messy mishmash or too many modifiers to count. We want to hear your story. We want to know your pain and raise you up in your joy. And we’re pretty sure that God, however He/She/They decide to manifest in your life, wants to as well. So wear something you don’t mind getting messy in and show up whenever. The door’s always open.
Sarah Gibson is a graduate student of theology, writer of poetry and prose, and village wise woman in training. She spends her days blowing her paycheck on tea lattes and putting too much faith in humanity. You can find more of her writing at sarahtaylorgibson.tumblr.com or start a conversation with her on twitter @s_t_gibson.