(c) Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved

Click here to listen to the message. See below to read it.

I chose the video you just watched ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrZPJ9gO5o0 ) because it is thought provoking on many levels.  Monet X Change, in the video, is a black, male, drag performer.  In the video, he interprets the song ‘Strange Fruit’ to speak to his identity as both a black man, and as a gay drag performer.  The symbolism of strange fruit therefore has double the negative meaning for him.

The video speaks to the issue of identity in our culture.  Why is it that people like Monet are known – and oppressed – by their outward appearance – as black or as a drag queen – instead of as a person who stands for worthy ideals?

It’s the youth of today, all of you young people here, who I believe offer answers to many of our questions about identity.  For me, young people in general tell us a lot about how to have a genuine identity – and so the title of my message for this Coffeehouse service for families and young people, is: “What’s so Important about Identity?”

Back when I was minister at the former Gathering, I arranged with my youngest daughter to have lunch after church.  She was in college at UC and lived in Clifton with a roommate.  I arrived at her place at noon and rang the buzzer several times until she finally appeared obviously having just woken up.  She welcomed me into the living area while she went upstairs to get dressed.  

Soon after my daughter went upstairs, her roommate quickly scurried out of my daughter’s room and over into her room across the hallway. 

A minute or two later, also out of my daughter’s room, emerged her gay best friend and his boyfriend, who is African-American.  They came downstairs to make coffee and appeared as if they too had just woken up.

Soon thereafter my daughter emerged from her room, with her boyfriend, who is now her husband.  All six of us chatted for a while before my daughter and I left for lunch.  And I quickly asked her about her four friends being in her bedroom for what appeared to be a sleep over.  She laughed and assured me nothing weird had happened.  They had all watched a video movie in her room the night before – and then fallen asleep.

For me, this was an eye opening thing!  But I was not upset about it primarily because it revealed to me the wonderful openness and acceptance young people have for one another.  Gay, black, male, female – none of those identity labels mattered much to my daughter and her friends.   External labels, many young people believe, are often simplistic and too easy.  They don’t define the inner reality of someone.  A friend is a friend is a friend – no matter how she or he outwardly appears.

Most psychologists say that identity and self-esteem are closely related.  We need to build a self-identity about which we are proud – one that truly defines the real us – who we are on the inside.  

Many millennials, or those born between 1984 and 2004, believe that identity labels like black, white, male, female, gay, straight are too sueperfiicial.  Instead, young people today want to be known by the values they stand for.

My daughter and her friends stand for the value of total acceptance –  no matter a person’s differences.  That’s an important identity for them.  Other millennials strongly believe in equal rights for everybody, and many others stand for protecting the earth and the environment.  Those are some of the values by which young people identify.  And it is such values, not outward differences, that matter most to today’s youth.

Millennials, therefore, avoid being identified by groups that baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964, usually identify with – ones like a political party, religion, or ethnicity.  Over 60% of youth do not primarily identify with any of those group labels.  

Millennials also do not identify themselves geographically – like most baby boomers.  They are not are not southerners, New Yorkers, midwesterners, or people of anywhere else.  Over 60% of millennials live someplace other than where they grew up – and they are very willing to regularly move around.  Geography is for many young people a meaningless way to self-identify.

Young people equally do not like being identified by their job or career since most millennials continually change jobs until they find one that makes them happy.  Earning lots of money is not as important to them as is being content.  They therefore often avoid being labeled:  “I’m a lawyer”, “I’m a minister”, or “I’m a nurse.”  Many young people instead prefer to identify themselves by the values associated with their job – ones like, “I advocate for the poor”, “I care for the sick”, or, most importantly, “I do something that is meaningful.”

Overall, millennials determine their personal values from one’s that their peers have,  from social media and music,  from their schools and universities,  and from using technology.  

And, just what are the values that are important to many millennials and young people?  The Pew Research council says that having meaningful work is one.  Collaboration with others is also an important value.  Today’s youth have been taught teamwork since they were infants and so it’s natural for them collaborate – and not act as an individual.  

Staying connected to others is also important to youth because their identity is closely tied to what their friends and peers like.  Social justice is another value for millennials.  They are committed to making a difference in the world.  Finally, diversity is very important to youth.

Millennials want diverse friends and peers because it reflects their lived experience.  Millennials are the most diverse American generation ever.  Over 40% of today’s youth are people of color.  Less than 25% of baby boomers are people of color.  Over 8% of millennials say they are gay, lesbian, or transgender while only 2.4% of baby boomers do.  It’s predicted that the diversity of future generations will increase even more.

What all of this means to me is that individual or group identities are rapidly changing as youth are more and more defining the standards for our culture.  And that, I believe, is a good and positive thing.  No longer will labels of race, wealth, religion, sexuality, or gender mostly identify a person.  Ultimately, as we all know, those external labels don’t matter much.  We’re moving into an era when people will be known almost entirely by their character and what they stand for – and that is all due to the influence of the millennial generation.

To help us understand a few of the differences between millennials and baby boomers, watch with me now a video as Ellen Degeneres  hilariously explains a few of the things that define each generation… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JADG4hXaqy4&t=4s

I so appreciate Ellen and all that she stands for as her identity.  She’s a baby boomer who is young at heart and someone I, at least, think is very cool.

For any of the young people here today, and for all the rest of us,  I hope we will reflect on our identity and the important things we stand for.  Let’s learn from young people to use values and character as the primary way to identify ourselves and others.   Our gender, skin color, jobs and spiritual beliefs define only a part of our identity.  It’s our beliefs and our values that make a difference in the world and thus define who we really, really are. 

         That goes for us as a congregation.  Our identity is far more than being a church in Cincinnati.   We are a community that loves and cares for each other – despite our many differences.   We’re also a commonity that loves and serves those on the sidelines of society:  the poor, hungry, homeless, other abled, discriminated against, and oppressed.  Those are the loving values that identify who we are and what we do.

Having any identity to be proud of is essential – for youth, adults and communities like this place.  Let’s affirm the beauty of our different identities – both outward and inward – but let’s make sure it’s our values to make the world a kinder and more inclusive place that really defines who we are.

Peace and joy to all of you…