Not long ago, I posted my 300th Disciplehood entry, and nobody even bought me flowers. (Our sixth bloggiversary will be on September 30, if you want a shot at redemption, BTW.)
The arrival of these two Disciplehood milestones within just a few weeks of each other has me thinking about milestones in general and their meaning/significance.
In today’s cultural context (Christian and otherwise), are these occasions’ significance overblown? Are they underblown? Can other cultures past and present (including, but not limited to, First-Century Palestine) teach us anything about what a healthy approach to milestones looks like?
Milestones, not Millstones
‘“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”‘ – Matthew 18:6
Wait. That verse is about millstones, not milestones. Never mind.
The word ‘milestone’ doesn’t come up in a Bible Gateway search of the New International Version of the Bible, but Scripture does have a few things to say about these key markers of our journeys through life.
In Joshua 4:1-9, God instructs the people to literally build a monument using a bunch of stones, to remind them of the day they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. The altars that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob built throughout the time of the Patriarchs seem to function as monuments that remind people of significant events as much as temporary places of worship – their mentions certainly function as literary milestones for us reading the text in modern times, regardless of what they meant for Abraham and co. at the time.
Meanwhile, in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul often compares the Christian life to a race – more like a marathon than a sprint. Baked into that metaphor (for me, at least) is the need for milestones or signposts that let the runners know how far they’ve progressed – and how far they have to go. These spiritual milestones are admittedly a lot fuzzier (and arguably fewer) in the Christian race than they are in 21st-Century long-distance runs, but I’m convinced they’re there.
But what about personal milestones in the Bible? Did they celebrate birthdays in biblical times? The NIV records three references to birthday parties, so the concept was known, at least. I suspect that for common people, these celebrations would have been much less lavish and stuff-centred than they are for 21st-Century North Americans.
And while the ancient Jewish calendar provided precise instructions on an assortment of religious festivals that functioned as annual milestones for the nation of Israel as a whole, there’s not much evidence that they got caught up in celebrating individual milestones: preschool graduations, kindergarten graduations, junior proms, senior proms and the first day of your second year of Grade 12, like we do today.
Bob: ‘It’s not a graduation. He’s moving from the 4th grade to the 5th grade.’
Helen: ‘It’s a ceremony.’
Bob: ‘It’s psychotic! They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity.’ – from The Incredibles, Disney-Pixar, 2004
Is Mr. Incredible incredibly right here? Is our fascination with marking every milestone actually holding us back from becoming the incredible people God created us to be? A question worth pondering…
Perhaps a less-is-more approach would be more impactful than the way we do it. Rather than a series of commemorative portraits to celebrate Little Floyd’s first tooth, first pee in a potty, first big-boy bike and his first facial hair, would we be better off with just one major childhood development milestone that marks one’s ready-or-not arrival into adulthood?
We’re probably all familiar with the Bar/Bat Mitzvah and First Communion and Confirmation – its Christian counterparts. But other cultures from all over the world have their own Coming of Age traditions, as documented in this article.
In our culture, childhood is a process that clearly has a beginning (birth, or maybe conception), but its end is terribly undefined. What milestone constitutes adulthood, practically speaking, in our culture? Driver’s licence? High school grad? 18th birthday? College/university grad? When you move out of your parents’ basement and pay all of your bills yourself?
Is it possible that the multitude of milestones we celebrate are confusing us? In my own family, we certainly talked about Confirmation as the point when our kids took ownership of their own faith – rather than attending church because Mom and Dad said so – but not a lot actually changed for our kids following these milestones. Could that be because the significance of these genuinely meaningful milestones got buried under a heap of Kodak moments and silly selfies?
It’s interesting to me that, at least originally, a bar/bat mitzvah denoted when a Jewish boy/girl became accountable for his/her own actions under Jewish law. Its origins are about responsibilities, not privileges. Sure, you get a great party thrown in your honor, and people give you some nice gifts to celebrate the occasion, but once the guests have left and you change out of your fancy clothes, more is expected of you.
Whether you feel like an adult or not, you are one. So act like it.
Perhaps that kind of line-in-the-sand declaration is what’s missing from the myriad of milestones celebrated in our culture, and maybe that’s part of the reason so many of us are still living in our parents’ basements.
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Seems I had more to say about milestones than I thought. I guess the navel-gazing will have to wait until next time.
Until then, peace be with you.