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A Sign and a Test: What Does This Mean?

It is both a sign and a test.

When I designed the logo for New Copernican Conversations, my blog about the significance of the millennial generation to the church and the wider world, I depicted a yen and yang symbol in a coffee cup. One's reaction to this symbol is a good indicator of whether one holds a New Copernican sensibility.

New Copernicans view the world in both/and terms, with a holism that rejects either/or binary categories. And so the yen and yang symbol is appropriate. Yen and yang is a Chinese Toaist metaphysical perspective that emphasizes living in harmony with the Tao (or literally, “the Way”). Here the nature of reality follows a cyclic model where seemingly opposite or contrary forces may be in fact complementary or interconnected and interdependent. Few symbols get at the post-Enlightenment, post-secular view point of New Copernicans better. It also symbolizes harmony, a sense of balance, and an alignment with nature.

The coffee cup symbolizes an informal conversation. It incorporates the idea of a “third place”: the social surrounding separate from the home and the office. Examples of third places would be cafes, bars, clubs, libraries and parks. The importance of “third places” was highlighted in Ray Oldenburg’s book, The Great Good Place (1989). The idea of a “third place” is an essential aspect of Starbuck’s corporate vision. These are the hallmarks of a true “third place”: free, food and drink, accessible, habitual regulars, welcoming and comfortable, and the source of old and new friends. Good conversation is the main activity of “third places” as a consequence relationships are deepened, transparency fostered, and authenticity realized.

In summary, the New Copernican symbol depicts relational holism or the aspiration of connection with the other/Other.

How one reacts to this symbol and to this description of the symbol will pretty much determine whether or not one is a New Copernican. Millennials get it. Their parents don’t. And most evangelical Christians freak out about it with a nagging sense of Enlightenment left-brain discomfort: “Isn’t this a pagan symbol?” "Lifeway Bookstores will never accept your book if it is on its cover." If we are to understand millennials, it will be within the parameters of these kinds of symbols. For New Copernicans reality is spherical.

Nobody likes labels less than millennials. The term “millennial” was first used to describe this generational cohort by Howe and Strauss in their book, Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, in 1989. Howe and Strauss are associated with an academically suspect generational theory. I do not want to be associated with their kind of cohort analysis. Moreover, most young people do not appreciate the label “millennial,” as it has become associated with a host of negative pejorative characteristics.

While the cultural phenomenon that I examine is not caused by the generation born between 1980 and 2000, but they carry it. Those who embrace—even unconsciously—this new way of processing reality and relationships, I have come to term “New Copernicans.” The emphasis here is on their distinctive perspective on reality and relationships, the paradigm shift they embrace, rather than their shared cohort experiences. I first tested this label out at the Future of Storytelling Summit in 2014. The label did not carry the negative stereotypes of "millennial," suggested a commitment to science, and a new view on reality that was both different and open-ended. It was well received.

Not all millennials are New Copernicans, but most New Copernicans are millennials and those generations that follow them. Many evangelical young people are at best “hybrid New Copernicans,” juggling to keep their feet planted in two different worlds. The cultural epicenter of New Copernican ethos is probably Portland, Oregon.

These ideas are expanded on further in my forthcoming book, The New Copernicans: Millennials and the Survival of the Church, which is to be released on January 15, 2018. It can be preordered here.

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