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Well, I am caught, as usual, between two opinions. I really can’t make up my mind between this “fascinating” trend (if it is even that) and this depressing development. The first is grown-up people going to the American Girl Doll cafes—with their dolls—for the purpose of eating the food and taking pictures and reels for their social media platforms. The second is about how young people don’t really want to work anymore, unless they can find meaning in their work, which they are increasingly not able to do. In case you wanted to pack up your doll and go on an adventure:

Of the dozen American Girl Place locations, five feature full-service restaurants that serve items like cinnamon buns, macaroni and cheese, and smoothies, along with an extensive dessert menu. The original Chicago location, which opened in 1998, secured a full liquor license so it could host galas and benefits. New York is the only other location that serves liquor, but beer and wine are served at all of the cafes. A representative for the company said that it doesn’t condone its dolls engaging in age-inappropriate behavior such as drinking alcohol, but the company welcomes American Girl fans of all ages. Jamie Cygielman, the president of American Girl, wrote in a statement, “We know our devoted fans never forget the beloved American Girl characters and stories they grew up with, and we’re thrilled to have them reconnect and reminisce with us as adults.”

The main person featured in that stellar bit of reporting was someone called Mr. Hill who dressed up as the Samantha Doll for Halloween and who seems to do this sort of thing full time. He, as you have surely already guessed, is described as an “influencer.” Unhappily, not so many people of his generation are so lucky, and are still, post-pandemic (if indeed we have reached that auspicious moment) unhappy about the drudgery of work and desperately wish it could be otherwise:

Work has been — and continues to be — a major aspect of the American identity. “Most people identify themselves as workers,” said Damaske. “It’s an identity that adults willingly take on.” The pandemic changed that for everyone, not just the youngest workers. In addition to reassessing their relationship to work, people are reflecting upon their greater life purpose. One human resources manager called it the “Great Reflection,” wherein people are “taking stock of what they want out of a job, what they want out of employment, and what they want out of their life.” More often than not, workers are not content with labor that is unsatisfying, low-paying, and potentially harmful. And Gen Z has not been shy about detailing these expectations to employers and on social media.“ I think people are realizing that we just want better for ourselves,” said Jade Carson, 22, a content  creator who shares career advice for Gen Z. “I want to be in a role where I can grow professionally and personally. I don’t want to be stressed, depressed, or always waiting to clock out.”

Oh my dear M. Carson. Indeed none of us what to be “stressed” or “depressed.” Stress and depression have been with us for many a long hour, especially that one endured by the disciples who, one might say, participated, if not in “the great resignation,” at least a much smaller upset when they left behind all they knew, all the kinds of work they expected to do for their whole lives to follow a man who had a much better vision—to put it mildly—for life than dressing up as a favorite doll and going to eat in expensive restaurants. That man had cast a visionary net that dragged them in and held them, enthralled, for three years. Their lives suddenly did have meaning, and purpose. They lived with someone who was able to exercise real power to change the desperate circumstances of the stressed and depressed. That man healed people’s actual diseases. He raised the dead. He fed hungry people—people who were more than happy to ditch the grinding trouble of having to wake up every morning, dig in the soil, plant the wretched seeds, agonize about the rain, wait for the grain to sprout, sweat in the heat to cut it down and sift out the wheat, grind it into flour, bake the bread, and then go to bed worrying about whether or not they would even have enough the next day. A single taste of divine bread was enough to take that man by force to make him king—as long as he would keep making the free bread.

Which is to say, this current generation of young people entering the workforce is only the next in a long line since Adam who have been so seriously disappointed about the relationship between work and meaning that all the books in the world cannot begin to describe the depths of humanity’s corporate depression and stress.

But I think the singular moment upon which all the other disappointing moments turn is when, having finally found someone to follow who was clearly putting meaning back together with work, who was able by his divine power, to make life ok, they then discovered that that person died just like everyone else, only with humiliation and shame and brutality, and that they themselves were now in serious and real danger for having followed him. They woke in the cheerless dawn and discovered that the person who had most influenced them, and for whom they had sacrificed everything, was dead and in a tomb. Imagine being so deluded. Imagine waking up one day and discovering that everything you had hoped for was actually vapor, a chasing after the wind. I’m not going to be duped again, you say to yourself. I will never be so foolish and wrong—it’s the one promise I make to myself forever.

So when your friends try to tell you that the person…shall we give him a name? For you know it is Jesus…has risen from the dead in his body and is alive again, and that he appeared to them and had given a rather astonishing hint as to what the work was going to be, what kind of meaning would be the foundation of all their striving from that moment forward—to forgive people’s real and ruinous sins, to spread abroad a deep and total restorative peace that would bring people not just into a better sense of themselves and who they are, but actually return them to their creator, to heal the wounds of disconnection and isolation between God and man…well, I wouldn’t believe it either. Fool me once, it’s on you, but twice, I will not be taken in.

And yet, you go and hang out with these enthusiastic yet clearly benighted people who you never really like that much anyway. You do it for a whole week, a long, terrible week of wanting to go home and lick your wounds, but also relishing being miserably sad while everyone else is being happy. And then, though the doors are locked, Jesus comes again and offers his own peace, and looks at you particularly and invites you to put your very hand into the gaping side where blood and water poured forth.

Our lectionary people match up this moment with Job who, after so many exhausting and miserable chapters—depression and stress much?—falls to his knees and repents of his impertinent disbelief. “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,” he says, “but now my eye has seen you.” Which is essentially what Thomas manages to whisper: “My Lord and my God.” Or perhaps it is a shout. John doesn’t tell us.

If you are feeling similarly foolish, or disappointed, or just stressed and depressed, get up out of your bed and go to church. For there is a new kind of economy, a different way of being that all the world longs for, though it is impossible to see until you find yourself there with other disappointed people. For the basis of our life together is not your work. It is rather the meaning underneath, which is forgiveness. If you don’t know what to do with yourself, you can cling to Jesus who forgives your sins, because he shed his own blood for that singular purpose. He reconciled himself to you, when you did not even know you wanted to be reconciled to him. That forgiveness is the work he did that we now do. We forgive each other our sins. We make peace by the blood of the cross. How can we? Because not only did he give us life out of his very side, but he breathed out the Holy Spirit to do the work for us, when we could not do it.

But for real, you can’t forgive anyone unless you go get to know them, and church is really the best place for that. Hope to see you there!

Photo by Nadya Spetnitskaya on Unsplash

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