Spirituality vs. Religion: OEC Interview #7

We are almost three months into the Our Emptying Church blog series and I couldn’t be more grateful for the dialog that has occurred both here and on my facebook page. It’s not too late to join in if you are reading for the first time.

Tonight I’m honored to be sharing with you another interview with a Millennial. Because of the personal questions I’ve asked, I’m keeping all the interviewees anonymous. This interview comes from a 23 year old Digital Artist in the Gaming Industry; he is as kind as he is intelligent. I welcome his opinion on many things, but am honored that he agreed to do this interview. His answers were extremely characteristic of the Millennial generation, which is one of the primary purposes of this blog series. I hope you enjoy his perspective as much as I did.

–Did you grow up regularly attending a church?

Somewhat. I would go for a while, then stop for a while, go for a while, and so on. My father isn’t very religious or spiritual, but my mother is. However, I was raised on a farm; so, there was always work to be done, including Sundays. So, as a result my mother didn’t attend “regularly”. Therefore, I didn’t either. Faith, and religion, in general were common topics between my mother and I, though. So, I grew up in a very “faithful” manner and always felt I have had very strong faith, even though I didn’t regularly attend church.

–Are you currently actively attending a church?

No. I haven’t actively attended a church in quite some time.

–What is your motivation for attending/ not attending?

I have a lot of reasons for not attending. Ultimately, I just don’t feel that it’s necessary for me right now. But, also, partially because I disagree with the “weight” of church. I tend to feel like it’s something I’m supposed to do because others think it’s necessary, while I don’t personally always feel that it is. Now don’t get me wrong, in general I think church is great. The concept is wonderful. But, I don’t feel like I’m any more faithful just because I go to church. I feel like I attend mostly because others want me to, and not because I FEEL like I should or that I should for my relationship with God to be any stronger. And, ultimately I feel that is all that it should be about: your relationship with God, not everyone else. Also, the general judgment I feel emanating from many religious people is a major turn-off to me. I still remember hearing a lady talking negatively about a boy who went to church wearing shorts, and she made it sound like it was the worst thing he could have done. And, I was sitting right beside her and hadn’t been to church at all that week. But, she didn’t think anything about me not going, just that this other kid had went wearing shorts. I feel like there is simply too much focus on the material things and not enough on what is truly important and what I would consider “Godly”. And, lastly, is the general close-mindedness I have come to associate with church and the judgment I feel is bestowed on those that do not share similar beliefs. Now, don’t get me wrong, close-mindedness isn’t exclusive to church of course; it’s just one place that I tend to feel it in. I want to be very clear that I don’t think negatively of the people that go to church. I simply have an open-mind, and I feel like that isn’t always viewed well inside the average church. I like to form my own thoughts and ideas based on my own conclusions, and oftentimes those don’t align with what others think. Ultimately, that leads my views to align somewhere outside of the common denominations I’m familiar with. So, I don’t feel like I really fit-in.

–If you have one, tell me about your church experience (the good, bad, and neutral).

Overall, my experiences have all been fine. My feelings toward church aren’t really negative or positive. I just don’t feel like I belong with any particular church. Like I said, I didn’t attend regularly, though. So, I mostly went when I felt like I needed it. And, in those instances I always got out of it what I needed.

–What is the purpose of the church?

In general, I like to think of it as a place to educate in the ways of the religion/denomination and to bring those who believe similarly, closer together, while also giving them the chance to worship and be part of something greater than themselves. So, by that definition it sounds like a wonderful place. And, I honestly think it is… If it is what is right for you.

–Feel pressure to attend church?

Definitely. I think, those who attend church regularly tend to feel very sorrowful for those who don’t, which as a result creates pressure. However, just because someone doesn’t attend church doesn’t necessarily mean they are any less spiritual. On the flip-side though, I do understand the reasoning behind them feeling that way. A metaphor could be that someone who isn’t going to school, typically isn’t expected to be “learning” on a regular basis. So, in that line of thought it makes sense to feel like someone who isn’t going to church isn’t spiritual. That line of thought is flawed though because there are so many other variables that are unknown to others, and ultimately that leads back to the general close-mindedness I feel from the group as a whole.

–In 1-3 sentences, how do you perceive Christians? (i.e. loving, generous, anti-gay, fundamentalists, too political, etc.)

In general I perceive Christians to be righteous. However, I think that can also be the problem. The fact that morality is subjective means that someone can be righteous and feel their actions are morally correct, while in other eyes they may not be.

–In October 2012, a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed that thirty percent of Millennials (age 18-31) identify as having no religious affiliation. Does this surprise you?

Unfortunately, it does not. The business world is a very fast moving and diverse place. To succeed I feel like you have to be very open-minded and learn to adapt to constant change. But when I attend church, I feel like I’m forced to step back a bit. As a result I think it creates the feeling of not fitting-in. Also, the media could have some effect on that. Typically the media focus purely on the “bad”. So, the religions (and Christians) you typically hear about through the media are the ones that create very negative impressions for the group as a whole.

I can think of countless other reasons why this also may be the case, but I’ll just leave it there.

I do however wonder if those same people would consider themselves to be at all “spiritual”, even though they don’t necessarily consider themselves to have religious affiliation. I think of the two terms differently, and I wonder if others do.

–Fifty years down the road, do you anticipate significant growth in the church or significant decline? Why?

It’s hard to say. Right now I’m leaning more toward decline, just based on the fact that it seems to have declined significantly in the last 50 years already. As of late, I simply haven’t seen anything favoring growth.

–Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your experience?

I want to say one last time that just because I don’t attend church, doesn’t mean that I think negatively or any less of anyone that does. It also doesn’t mean that I think people should not attend church. Again, I think church can be great. The most important thing is simply that each of us is doing what is “right” for ourselves.


As always, I welcome graceful dialogue in the comment section. If you are a Millennial, I would especially love for you to affirm some of these sentiments? Do you feel that morality is subjective? And how do you personally differentiate between spirituality and religion?

This post is the tenth in a succession of the series Our Emptying Church. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving the church. Check out these recent posts: Our Emptying Church, When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian, Fake Smiles and Judging Eyes: OEC Interview with Millennial #1, Prioritizing Sin: OEC Interview #2, You’re Losing Us: OEC Interview #3, OEC Interview #4: One Last Chance, Our Beloved, Overly Political Church, Heroes in Disguise: OEC Interview #5, Good Church Folk: OEC Interview #6, OEC Guest Post: Mark and Tammy Edwards

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Again We Defiantely Sing Alleluia

Tonight we are grieving the loss of brothers and sisters in CT. I don’t have any words to write, so I am reposting a piece that I wrote in July in response to the Aurora theater shooting. It is as appropriate today as it was that day.

LORD have mercy, Christ have mercy, LORD have mercy on us.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Defiantly Singing Alleluia

A week has gone by since the shooting in Aurora/ Denver Colorado and yet, I am still hurting. You see, I’ve spent the last week in Colorado… and the state and its people kind of grew on me.

I began to feel like the murders that occurred actually took place in my own backyard because when it comes down to it, I think Coloradans are my brothers and sisters too. And it still really hurts.

I came across a sermon from Nadia Bolz-Weber who is the pastor of The House for All– Sinners and Saints, a Lutheran congregation in Denver. She gave this stunning sermon two days after 12 people were killed in a theater. You can hear her sermon here.

She called the act “horrific, evil, senseless violence without a thread of anything redemptive about it.” And that despite the violence and fear, that it’s still always worth it to love God and to love people and always, always, it is worth it to sing “Alleluia.”

The night after the massacre, Nadia’s congregation gathered in a Denver bar to sing hymns to the Lord even as they were grieving. Amongst the singing, she heard a defiant tone in her congregation, a defiance that was the sound of a people who do not believe that violence wins. Their singing was an act of defiance against evil. Singing praises to God amidst violence and destruction. Putting evil in its place, saying it was here and it goes no further. That death and evil are not the final words. They sang alleluia.

If you listen to her sermon, the last seven minutes are of her congregation singing “Alleluia.” A group of Coloradans defiantly singing that evil does not win. Love does. God does.

It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve heard in a long time.

OEC Guest Post: Mark & Tammy Edwards

As part of the Our Emptying Church series, I’m very happy to welcome Mark and Tammy Edwards as guest-posters to the Our Emptying Church series. If you are from the Hermitage area and are high school or college-aged, you likely know these two as they have dedicated their lives to loving this diverse, often eccentric group of Millennials.


From being on staff, to volunteering, to starting college worship services, to hosting multiple Bible studies in their home, to being pushed into a swimming pool fully clothed, to chaperoning crazy teenagers at youth camp, to teaching students, to praying for students, to meeting students for ice cream or coffee or sometimes both, these two have consistently loved Millennials. I’m not entirely sure where they get all their energy, but somehow, they seem to always have it and share it selflessly. Just barely qualifying as Baby Boomers, Mark and Tammy have been married for 25 years and have two very cool kids. I’m grateful for the many hours, days, and years that they’ve loved on Millennials, that they loved on me. I hope you’ll enjoy their perspective as much as I did. I asked them to shed some light on generational differences between Boomers and Millennials and how we can love each other in spite of those differences. You can catch up with Mark and Tammy on Facebook or through their ministry Slic Skate Church.

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We began working with Millennials through a former church we attended, mainly because our son was entering college. At that time, there were not many churches in our area that had a College/Career Ministry. You went straight from the Youth Group to the Singles Ministry.

Baby Boomers need to not see church as a place only for perfect people. A great majority of Millennials have tattoos, ear gauges/piercings, and come from broken homes. Baby Boomers tend to look down on this group of people, based on how they look. Millennials are a more caring group not only about the people in their lives, but the lives of people suffering from injustice in foreign lands. For Baby Boomers, it’s often all about the money, status, materialism, etc. Millennials are not really concerned about these things. They tend to have a heart for all people, not just people who look like them, have the same color skin, and go to their church. Being a part of a religion is not important to Millennials. They feel they can have a faith and not be a part of a church body. Sometimes I feel this is a cop out to the hypocrisy they claim is why they do not attend church. Millennials could learn from Boomers the importance of corporate worship and serving in local churches.

I think a big reason Millennials do not see importance in attending church is because Christians do not show the love of Jesus in such a way to make them want to attend church. Sometimes my non-Christian friends are kinder to me than my Christian friends! If there is no true life change shown by people who claim to know Jesus, what is the point??

Boomers also are not open to all walks of life. Absolutely will not open their hearts to the gay community whatsoever. This generation even will abandon their own children that claim this lifestyle (which blows my mind!). Millennials are more tolerant of the LGBTQ community and don’t judge them for it. Boomers are very closed minded about this issue. They do not embrace any opportunity to just befriend the LGBTQ community. They want nothing to do with the community. Period.

Baby Boomers tend to have a faith that has been handed down by past generations. They often don’t really know why they believe, they just walked an aisle when they were 5 or 8 and wha-la that’s it. Millennials are more inquisitive; they want to know why having a faith is beneficial… they want to see it, experience it firsthand. Don’t just tell them, prove it!

If churches don’t wake up and see that there is a hurting world out there and do whatever they have to do to meet the needs of their community, their doors will close. Millennials are not interested in mega churches. They are also not interested in churches who serve themselves. They want to be a part of something that is going to truly make a difference here and around the world.

As always, I welcome graceful dialogue in the comment section. What are some generational differences you perceive between Baby Boomers and Millennials? How can we love each other through those?

This post is the ninth in a succession of the series Our Emptying Church. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving the church. Check out these recent posts: Our Emptying Church, When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian, Fake Smiles and Judging Eyes: OEC Interview with Millennial #1, Prioritizing Sin: OEC Interview #2, You’re Losing Us: OEC Interview #3, OEC Interview #4: One Last Chance, Our Beloved, Overly Political Church, Heroes in Disguise: OEC Interview #5, Good Church Folk: OEC Interview #6

Advent What?

So what is this Advent deal all about? Are you currently observing it? Let me just suggest you open up this link and listen to an Advent song while reading this post.

I’m fascinated with the idea of Advent because I have never actually celebrated it,
and this year I am taking time to feel everything that this time has to give. It’s almost a misnomer to say “celebrate” Advent because what I have found thus far is a sad season… one of longing and expectation for the day that is Christ’s birth. It’s a season that does not leave room for cheery Christmas carols or green- red sugar cookies. I’m finding that it’s requiring me to slow down, to stop… stop consuming, stop talking, stop worrying, stop making idols, stop running around… a time to stop.

Perhaps we have abandoned the idea of longing in our fast-paced, minute-to-win-it culture. Everything’s got to happen now. Pronto!… as it should have been completed ten minutes ago. We don’t long for things nearly as much because, well, we can have them right now. We speed up relationships. We speed up acquiring possessions. We speed up worship services. We speed up conversations. I think we’ve forgotten what it means to yearn… to long…. to ache for something deep within. Something that is surely coming but is not here yet.

It’s odd to have to actually plan to slow down, to set a date on the calendar in which you block out time to stop. To turn off the gizmos and gadgets. To be quiet. To just be. Without this time, we, as creatures of busyness, become unsettled. We numb ourselves and buy special mattresses to help us sleep and yet what we need is space to meditate, to reflect, to pray… a contemplative time which is required for us to arrive at thoughts that will be necessary for our future.

If no other time of the year, Advent is a time for this. To slap the busyness and commercialization of Christmas in the face. To reflect and remember who I am… what is my ethos? What is my purpose here on earth? What have I done with this year?

A time to long for what we don’t yet have. To expect. To be caught in the parenthesis of the past and what is surely to come.

The day is coming when we will celebrate, but it is not this day.

This day we long for what is to come. And when it comes, we know it will come with intentionality and significance.

At Communion this past Sunday, before serving the bread and wine, my pastors prayed that this bread would sustain us through this time of longing and stillness.
I pray that you too would be sustained during this time of longing. That you would be sustained with the bread of contemplation and reflection. And if this is a sad time for you, let it be. Embrace the pain and make it a part of you. For we must do this… our spirits are crying out us to slow down and find meaning.

We will celebrate soon. But for now, we long.



How are you observing Advent? I would love to hear ideas!

Good Church Folk: OEC Interview #6

We are a month into the Our Emptying Church series and I couldn’t be more grateful for the dialog that has occurred both here and on my facebook page. It’s not too late to join in if you are reading for the first time.

Tonight I’m honored to be sharing with you another interview with a Millennial. Because of the personal questions I’ve asked, I’m keeping all the interviewees anonymous. This interview comes from a 24 year old fellow biologist who consistently amazes me with her ability to juxtapose loving biology, loving the earth, and loving people. Her graciousness has helped me through some long and hard days.

–Did you grow up regularly attending a church?

No. My parents didn’t do the organized religion – not atheists, just not organized.

–Are you currently actively attending a church? No.

–What is your motivation for attending/ not attending?

I do not subscribe to the beliefs of any particular religion, Christian or other. I have met countless wonderful folks who belong to a faith, but I’ve never been able to fully get behind one. I do like the music they perform in church. Just last week, I attended a Bach concert with a choir and cellists. It was lovely.

–If you have one, tell me about your church experience (the good, bad, and neutral).

I have had many good church experiences. Twice in my life I considered myself deeply religious (Christian) and went with friends. Everyone was very inviting and accepting… to a point. Many times I found that in times of questioning, they back away a bit. I’ve never been fully able to have a conversation about deep beliefs without some resistance or grief.

–What is the purpose of the church?

I see it as a type of sanctuary, where folks with a common denominator go to experience their beliefs together. It keeps the faith alive in a way, knowing that you’re not the only person who believes that life should be lived in a particular way.

–Feel pressure to attend church?

Perhaps when I was younger in the Bible Belt of Tennessee. Anymore, I feel absolutely no pressure to attend.

–In 1-3 sentences, how do you perceive Christians? (i.e. loving, generous, anti-gay, fundamentalists, too political, etc.)

My experience overall with this group is that they are nice, genuinely caring folks. There are the extremes – those who don’t think about what they claim to believe, those who are overtly converting the heathens of the world, etc. – but for the most part, they seem loving. I have not met but few strict Christians who are not in some way judgmental of other non-Christians, but they exist.

–In October 2012, a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed that thirty percent of Millennials (age 18-31) identify as having no religious affiliation. Does this surprise you?

No. When this religion was established, life was not nearly as pleasant as it is now – people were mysteriously dying and nature was cryptic. I think that the need for such a strict religion is declining. We are learning more about how things work, where we came from, where we are going, and who we are. In the Christian sense, I am with partial to the “God is dead” philosophy. This is not to say that the idea of God is fundamentally wrong, but that the religion is losing participants does not surprise me.

–Fifty years down the road, do you anticipate significant growth in the church or significant decline? Why?

As suggested in the above answer, I anticipate a decline in church membership.

–Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your experience?

These answers come not from an atheistic, apathetic view, but an all-encompassing one. I do not believe strictly in one belief over another, and tend to view life through more philosophically terms than religious ones. I believe in whatever gets you to those gut-wrenching answers in life – why we’re here, who you are, what happens to us when we die. If it’s Christianity, Buddhism, Wiccanism, Paganism, Chocolatism, whatever… more power to you.

 

As always, I welcome graceful dialogue only in the comment section. Can you identify with this woman’s story? What are some aspects of the church that keep you in it or keep you out of it?

This post is the eighth in a succession of the series Our Emptying Church. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving the church. Check out these recent posts: Our Emptying Church, When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian, Fake Smiles and Judging Eyes: OEC Interview with Millennial #1, Prioritizing Sin: OEC Interview #2, You’re Losing Us: OEC Interview #3, OEC Interview #4: One Last Chance, Our Beloved, Overly Political Church, Heroes in Disguise: OEC Interview #5

 

Heroes in Disguise: OEC Interview #5

Welcome back to the Our Emptying Church interview series!

Tonight I’m honored to be sharing with you another interview with a Millennial. Because of the personal questions I’ve asked, I’m keeping all the interviewees anonymous. This interview comes from a 25 year old social worker who has dedicated her life to helping at risk children. She spends her days working tirelessly to help children who have been neglected and/or abused. Her heart is my heart and it’s a total joy to know her. I hope you’ll appreciate her vulnerability in this interview as much as I did.

–Did you grow up regularly attending a church?

Yes

–Are you currently actively attending a church?

No

–What is your motivation for attending/ not attending?

Let’s be honest, it’s lack of motivation. I’m just lazy. My work week is hectic, when Sunday rolls around, I just want to sleep. And I know there are evening services, but I can’t even make myself go to those. So, if I’m honest with myself, it’s laziness. And, to be more honest, if church was a priority, I would get there. But, if you look at my life, apparently, it’s not a priority.

–If you have one, tell me about your church experience (the good, bad, and neutral).

The church I went to growing up felt like a family… probably because my entire family went there. After college, I just felt like I needed to go out on my own, find a church that didn’t know me as that kid they’ve known since I was born and singing in church musicals. After that, I found a hard time finding a place I “fit”. I’m pretty blunt, and some places could not handle it. With my job, I see a lot of tough stuff, experience some of the worst things life can throw at a person, and when I started asking hard questions and having doubts, the churches I went to could not handle it. So, I’ve seen good and bad.

–What is the purpose of the church?

I think it has a lot of purposes. I think it should be a community for people, a support system to everyone. It should be the example of how Jesus loved the earth, through our actions. That means serving people, praising God, and holding each other up.

–Feel pressure to attend church?

Oh yes. My family asks me all the time if I’ve found a church. It’s a big deal that I’m not going right now. I know it’s terrible, but I’ve started lying and just saying that I’m going.

–In 1-3 sentences, how do you perceive Christians? (i.e. loving, generous, anti-gay, fundamentalists, too political, etc.)

Some are wonderful, good people who up hold the vision God had of the church. Some are struggling, just like the rest of us, to figure things out. Some are selfish, greedy, and hateful people who misrepresent Christ in every fashion.

–In October 2012, a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed that thirty percent of Millennials (age 18-31) identify as having no religious affiliation. Does this surprise you?

A little. 30% seems like a huge percent to have no religious affiliation at all.

–Fifty years down the road, do you anticipate significant growth in the church or significant decline? Why?

I have no idea. I’m hopeful that the church will grow, which means I would actually have to get my butt out of bed and get to church…

–Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your experience?

I’m a social worker who works with kids who have been abused and neglected. I think this work has made me more cynical and less… full of faith. I think that is part of why I have trouble going to the church and believing in someone as powerful and good as God. Just part of my story…

 

As always, I welcome graceful dialogue in the comment section. Can you identify with this woman’s story? What are some aspects of the church that keep you in it or keep you out of it?

This post is the eighth in a succession of the series Our Emptying Church. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving the church. Check out these recent posts: Our Emptying Church, When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian, Fake Smiles and Judging Eyes: OEC Interview with Millennial #1, Prioritizing Sin: OEC Interview #2, You’re Losing Us: OEC Interview #3, OEC Interview #4: One Last Chance, Our Beloved, Overly Political Church

 

OEC: Our Beloved, Overly Political Church

In continuing with the Our Emptying Church series, I am exploring the six most common negative perceptions of the church (in order, they are: antihomosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, too involved in politics, old-fashioned, out of touch with reality). You can check out this earlier post that refers to The Barna Group’s research. Stay tuned next week because I’ll be diving into what has become known as the super sin of homosexuality. But in honor of the upcoming election day, I am weighing in on the 4th most common perception of the church: it’s too political.

The common perception is that Christians are overwhelmingly associated with the political right wing and that because of issues such as abortion, Christians have no other choice but to vote on the conservative side of the fence. This absolutism has been my personal experience with the church.

I have frequently heard men preaching that voting for a Republican is voting for Christan morals and that we, as Christians, have no other choice. I’m sure you have heard something similar, if not from a pulpit, then from a bible study or conversation. In fact, I’d be surprised if in the last month, you hadn’t been told who you must vote for because of your faith. Even the Billy Graham Association, via Franklin Graham, recently not-to-subtly endorsed Mitt Romney. The organization’s tax exempt status preempted a full out endorsement of Romney.

Recently, a middle TN pastor made the local news for his outright indignation of President Obama. In his church newsletter, he wrote: “I am doing everything I can to see the Obama socialistic, anti-American, anti-Christian, and anti-Israel program is defeated.” Clearly, he has an agenda as he leads his congregation.

This generation of Millennials is becoming increasingly skeptical of the church’s use of political power to promote and protect its agenda. Millennials tend to shy away from such absolutism and often grow to resent being told who they must vote for simply because their church says they must. Let me be clear, you cannot legislate morality. You can legislate equality. And there is a big difference between the two.

I’m not writing to push a political agenda on this blog; my goal is not to ostracize and contribute to the diabolically opposing sides of the hot topics I write about. My goal is to encourage the opening of our minds and hearts to talking with each other instead of over each other.

We’ve got to stop making sweeping generalizations about our brothers and sisters who choose to vote for whichever party we oppose. We’ve got to realize how arrogant it is to live in such absolutism. Because you see, in our pursuit of political absolutism, we lose. In our politically-laced sermons and vehement opinions, we lose. We lose sight of Jesus. We lose sight of loving our neighbors when we can’t even sit at the same table with them.

The church sometimes tends to engage in militaristic terminology speaking about winning this and that battle, which is, in all fairness, contextually derived from the book of Ephesians; however, it’s extrapolated into an “us-them” mentality of winning a cultural war. “We must stand up for what we believe in or they will win.” And it is this cultural war that leaves wounds on any of us who seem to be on the outside.

I think it’s important to remember that Christians first seek to love God and love their neighbors and no political platform can legislate this. It’s important to remember that no one leader can change this country as change often comes from a dedicated grass roots effort. And lastly, it’s important to remember that one can love God and vote for Barack Obama on Tuesday, just as much as one can love God and vote for Mitt Romney on Tuesday (or any other candidate).

Because political affiliation does not automatically translate into biblical fidelity. Loving people does. And until we realize that, we lose, we inflict wounds, and can say goodbye to many Millennials.

How have the church and politics intersected for you?


This post is the seventh in a succession of the series Our Emptying Church. The purpose of this series is to explore why millions of Millennials are leaving the church. Check out these recent posts: Our Emptying Church, When Christianity Sometimes Looks UnChristian, Interview with a Millennial #1, Interview with a Millennial #2, OEC Interview #3: You’re Losing Us, OEC Interview #4: One Last Chance