Get Thee To a Nunnery


She [Martha] had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. Luke 10:39

As an English major, I enjoyed reading Shakespeare. The title is from Hamlet  and is a quote by Hamlet who is speaking to Ophelia. It starts with “If thou doest marry….Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumnity. Get thee to a nunnery.”

What’s not obvious today is the dual meaning of the word nunnery in Shakespeare’s time. It was both a place for pure women and a house of prostitution. Hamlet is effectively telling Ophelia that she is both pure and impure at the same time.

Fast forward to today, where we live in a post-Christian culture and a large percentage of millennials are “Nones”, which means they have no religious preference. The term comes from the U.S. Census form where there are choices of religion: Christian, Moslem, Jewish….or None.

According to a 2016 Pew study, 78% of the Nones were raised in a religious family before they abandoned their faith background as adults.

Surprisingly, there is a trend of millennial Nones becoming Nuns. That’s not a misprint. Millennial women are becoming nuns after a 50-year decline.

Until recently, the average age of women desiring to become a nun was 40.  Now it is 24.  There is even a website – Nuns and Nones  – which has a subtitle of “An unlikely alliance across the communities of spirit.

Another website –– is described as a “dating site for nuns”. Patrice Tuohy, the  publisher, says there has been a significant uptick in interest in becoming a nun. Last year, she received 2,600 queries, up from 350 not long ago.

I am intrigued by this phenomenon, because it is a reversal of the millennial mantra “It’s all about me” which now becomes “It’s all about God.”

An article by Eva Fairbanks titled “Behold the Millennial Nuns” discusses this trend which, on the surface, seems to be a contradiction for a generation that has all but abandoned formal religion.

Fairbanks, who is Jewish, notes that in 2017, 13% of American women between the ages of 18 and 35 who responded to a Georgetown University survey said they had “considered becoming a Catholic sister”.

Fairbanks traces the paths of several millennials who are considering becoming a nun. I found it interesting because Catholicism, in particular,  seems to be out of step with millennials, particularly in the aftermath of sex scandals and the #MeToo movement.

The Catholic church lost more members in the 20thcentury than any other religion in the U.S. according to a 2008 Pew Study. The U.S. population of nuns declined from 180,000 in 1965 to 50,000 in 2008. There are more nuns over 90 than under 60.

And what makes this trend even more surprising: the millennials seeking to be nuns are more doctrinally conservative than their predecessors according to Eva Fairbanks.

To someone who has studied the Spirituality of the millennials, I find this fascinating. Millennials, after all, are known as the “Me, Me, Me” generation. Becoming a nun is a direct contradiction to being self-absorbed.

It’s hard to draw generalities from this trend because the individual choice of choosing a lifestyle of a nun is…well….it’s an individual thing, not a collective response.

Still, the trend  is so interestingly millennial counter-cultural. Fredrich Nietzsche, a philosopher, might have been on to something when he suggested that western civilization had killed God, replacing him with ourselves.

Nietzsche also said that underneath it all,  there still “simmered a yearning for religion.” Nietzsche  predicted that in our lifetime, “the world, and America in particular, would turn back toward more conservative, moralistic forms of religion.” I pray he is right.

I find this trend a positive indication of a spiritual yearning of millennials that is just now surfacing. It is playing itself out in interesting ways, including the interest in becoming a nun.

John Olon teaches a theology course at a Maryland Catholic high school,  He was surprised when students wanted overwhelmingly to hear a conservative (as opposed to a liberal) speaker. He attributes it to some of the anxiety, depression and pessimism which permeates his students.

Olon says that the level of anxiety of the next generation is leading them to having midlife crises, only it is happening early. They are asking questions like “What have I ever really done that has any depth?

Olon concludes that, while his students felt cornered, they desired to do something “truly wholeheartedly and unique”.  They find the superficiality of getting likes on Instagram or Facebook is not a meaningful pursuit.

The next generation is complex:  some have learned that being self-absorbed is not a path to enlightenment.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  A relationship with Jesus may play itself out in lots of ways. Mentors can help mentees work through those life options.

FURTHER READING:  Eva Fairbanks – Behold the Millennial Nuns

Nones and Nuns website.

WORSHIP:  Listen to Is He Worthy?  by Andrew Peterson which comes from Revelation 5.

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That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.  Genesis 2:24

The institution of marriage has taken a lot of hits recently. After mentoring many men – most of them married – I shouldn’t shrink from this topic.  Particularly after recent pronouncements by millennials about things like not having children due to climate change.

Let’s start with the trends.  There has been a dramatic decline in marriage of those over 18 in the U.S.  A Pew study shows marriage rates have declined with only 50% of people over 18 being married today compared to 72% in 1960.

Marriage is occurring later than before, partly because millennials are maturing later. In 1960, the average age of a woman to marry was 20.  By 2017, the median age is 27 for women and 29 for men according to a study by Tera Jordan at Iowa State University.

I attribute this trend to several things, not the least among them is that millennials have a lengthier adolescence, sometimes into their early 30’s. That’s a trend that has been occurring since the 1980’s according to New Passages author Gail Sheehy.

One journalist has gone so far as to attribute the decline in marriage to “cheap sex” and that the decline follows the introduction of the “pill”.

One bright spot:  the rate of divorce has declined, too. In fact, younger people are getting fewer divorces than those who are 55 or older.

I came across a recent article titled “What You Lose When You Gain a Spouse” by Mandy Len Catron. Just the thought of putting marriage in a win/lose context is confusing to me.

The theme of the article that marriage may not be the “social good” that people “believe and want it to be.”  The article says that there have been “massive changes” to the institution, leading to the question: Is it obsolete?  The whole premise of that statement is mind-numbing.

The writer considers it to be both a “social and political” question. Huh?  Since when is marriage political?  I must be missing something.

She concludes that marriage is not as popular as it once was and is not viewed as “the most prestigious way to live your life.” She cites studies that marriage causes loneliness – married people don’t go out as much. She describes it as “social alienation.”

The essence of the article is that marriage puts limits and takes from you. If you should have children, it takes even more. It is all about me – being self-absorbed is great – so anything that changes perpetual adolescence is to be shunned. It’s a myopic world view.

Marriage involves sacrifices. It starts with the sacrifice of oneself for the sake of another, and it is a path that leads to a fuller life, not a lesser one. My friend Paula Rinehart mused: “One wonders what the author will think when she reaches age 60, alone and with no one she particularly cares about.”

The Atlantic author says that she and her partner don’t ask whether they want to get married. They are asking: “how we want to define our sense of family and community.”

I have 53 years of marriage experience, a product of a lot of work in the trenches. When I married, I knew I loved my wife. Getting married was the socially accepted and logical result.

Something  has gotten lost in the translation. I didn’t marry because I was thinking about how I want to define my sense of “family and community”.  I married because it is an institution that has survived thousands of years in our culture. It is not just a passing fad.

It has a purpose – a God ordained purpose – it is the bedrock of every society. One of its purposes is procreation – the continuation of our species.  Try as they might, same-sex marriages don’t achieve this.

The Atlantic article reflects a very millennial view. Their self-absorption gets in the way of understanding that being unselfish is enriching, not constraining.

The challenge here is that the views may be widespread, not just one person’s. The focus is on the “me”, and anything or any institution that threatens “me” must be redefined to that “I can always be me.”

The path will lead to a shallow existence and a lessened life. Jesus sacrificed for us, and we are to serve one another. In marriage, we are to submit to one another.  It’s not just “all about me”.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  You can an advocate for the institution of marriage as God created it. Millennials need your perspective.

FURTHER READING:What You Lose When You Gain a Spouse

Divorce Rate is Dropping Unless You are Over 55– WSJ

When are You Really an Adult?”– Julie Beck

National ReviewCheap Sex and the Decline of Marriage

WORSHIP:  Listen to You’re Beautiful– Phil Wickham

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For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”  1 Corinthians 1:19 

 The world is full of smart people.  I admire them – they do things so easily. They never seemed to break a sweat getting a good grade or accomplishing amazing things. I think about Mozart, for example, who learned the basics of piano at age 3 and wrote his first minuet at age 5.

But raw intellect is not a guarantee of success. Thomas Sowell, in his book Discrimination and Disparities, cites a study of 1,470 people with IQ’s over 140, or the top 1 percent. Only some of them had successful careers; the rest had modest achievements and 20 percent were labeled disappointments.

Of the disappointment group, what may have been missing, according to Sowell, was “simply someone to point an individual in the right direction.”

Our educational system has an almost binary system for determining intelligence:  reading and math.  In 1983, Dr. Howard Gardener changed the scene when he developed 9 categoriesof indicators of when a person is “smart”:

  • Linguistic (“word smart”)
  • Logical mathematical (“number/reasoning smart”)
  • Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
  • Musical intelligence (“sound smart”)
  • Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
  • Intrapersonal intelligence (“self-smart”)
  • Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)
  • Existential (“life or street smart”)

Gardener’s work has been largely ignored over the past 40 years. The SAT’s (a college entrance exam)  tests only two subjects: verbal and math.  No other area of intellect is tested.

In fact, the other 7 forms of “smarts” are often dismissed as just being “soft-skills”, yet they play a role in our culture and history. For example, you may not have the mathematical intelligence to figure out how fast the universe is expanding, but if you are “people smart”, you can find the right person who can do it.

If you’ve encountered a gifted musician, you realize that their talent is not a skill that can be learned.

The same goes for artists – we have two in my family who are incredibly talented. Yet I can’t draw a good stick-man and couldn’t achieve any level of artistic excellence no matter how long I studies or was taught.

I’ve addressed this topic a couple of different ways in my posts on Soft SkillsHumanics and Passion This is about exploring what a young person can and should aspire to in life.  One of these, though, has a downside due to the invasion of the digital world – language intelligence.

For the next generation, it is important to realize that not everyone is wired to study Black Holes in a graduate astrophysics course at Harvard.  I actually have a friend who did that.  She later dropped out of the PhD program at Harvard and became a ski instructor in Sun Valley, Idaho.

That point was brought home to me by Alfred Coates, a distinguished law professor at UNC – Chapel Hill who gave the commencement speech at my graduation.

Albert distinguished himself in academia, but he also had a homespun nature. His commencement story was about a nearby farmer who had solved a problem in an ingenious way.

When Albert complimented the farmer on his solution, the farmer replied:  “Well, Albert, those of us who don’t have good book sense sometimes just have to use our heads!”  Well said. Sometimes academics gets in the way of common sense. Just saying…

It comes down to the age-old question:  “What do I want to be when I grow up?”  I still ask that question at age LXXV.  As Sowell noted, one element that was lacking for high IQ people to succeed was having someone point them in the right direction.

My tongue in cheek analogy is that a 6-foot 6-inch 350-pound man who has a passion to be a gymnast might want to reconsider some other sport. His size makes him a poor candidate no matter how hard he tries.

The challenge is to help a mentee realize his potential by guiding them in assessing where they have strengths and in what fields they should consider for careers.  It can change their life.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  You can be that one person that is lacking in a mentee’s life to help him get pointed in the right direction for success in life.

FURTHER READING 9 Categories of Intelligence

Discrimination and Disparitiesby Thomas Sowell (2018)

WORSHIP:  Listen to Glorious Dayby Casting Crowns.

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To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27

We all love a good mystery, sometimes a “Who Done It”, which is actually the name of a 1942 Abbot and Costello film which ended up inspiring others in the genre.

Mystery plots often involve a murder or other crime that has occurred and the subsequent search to find the perpetrator.

The plots often have twists and turns – about the time you think you have it solved, something gets thrown in to change the focus to someone else than the one that you are sure was the culprit.

Alfred Hitchcock was a master of the mystery thriller with his films Psycho and The Birds.  Each time I watched them, and I was uncomfortable wondering what would happen next. It didn’t matter if I knew what was coming, either. The suspense was all too real.

There are even Mystery Dinner Parties where guests play parts and one of the partygoers is secretly playing a murderer. The guests must determine who among them is the criminal.

What makes the mystery so fascinating?  I suppose suspense and intrigue. We are all challenged by a movie which drops clues left and right – some of them intentionally to keep you guessing.  In fact, a definition of mystery is “a novel, play, or movie dealing with a puzzling crime, especially a murder.”

I have to admit a certain interest in an old TV series called Castle, which is now in reruns after 8 years.  I have watched the entire series, and my grandkids even kid me about it.

The series involves the life of a female New York detective and her sidekick, a mystery writer, who jointly would solve the crimes.  The drama was rounded out with comedy.

The second definition of mystery is the one I want to focus on: “something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain.”

The word “mystery” occurs 28 times in the bible.  In scripture, it’s often used to describe a truth that can only be revealed by divine revelation.  The above passage is a good example of this use, and it is one that I have pondered for much of my faith life.

I initially was confused about what the “mystery” was all about – why was Christ a mystery? Thinking back to my pre-Christian plight, I thought that a lot of the mumbo jumbo around Christianity was a mystery, and an academic one at that.

I had my own challenges with the mystery of faith. I can’t help but think about the next generation, who, like me, did not grow up in a Christian household. Let me be clear here: my family went to church, but it was more of a social construct.

After my conversion, over time I unraveled some of the mysteries of the faith.  I learned what concept of the Trinity was all about.  Before conversion, it was a puzzle. In some ways, it still is.

There is a part of me, and I am sure in others, which wants to understand all there is to the theology of being a Christian. I’ve come to the conclusion – after lots of years wondering and studying – that not everything in scripture will be revealed to us in the here and now.

The next generation is much like me – they have had little or no contact with the bible compared to prior generations. That is most true for Gen Z. When we communicate with them, it is important to remember that trying to expose them to theology in a totally rational and methodical way to faith may be a waste of time.

I am drawing on my own faith experience here. It didn’t matter much if I  sat in church before being a believer listening to a pastor trying to unwind the mysteries of our faith. What did matter was his life and the lives of those around me.  The only spiritual truth that mattered in the end was the Jesus I saw in others.

It was not their theology that won the day. It was their lives that mirrored the life of Jesus. As Paul says, the mystery is Christ in us.

I no longer get caught up in solving every theological “mystery”. They are nice to understand, but not essential in the day-to-day living out of my faith. Whether the rapture is pre or post tribulation is not something I dwell on in my daily life.

The challenge here is to simplify your theology to the “Why” you believed to begin with. Explaining the trinity might be beneficial to someone in seminary. But to an uninformed next generation, it is unlikely to advance the ball in becoming a Christian.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  It’s who you are, not what you say, that will lead your mentee to Christ.

WORSHIP:  Listen to one of my favorites:  I’m Going Free by Vertical Church Band.

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