"Failure to launch is not an option."
March 29, 2023
I attended a faith deconstruction conference in Seattle last weekend. So many many things happened, I got hold of so many new bits of theology I’ll be studying over the next while, all as part of my momentous journey to get at the truth of the question: Who is God?
One of the panelists, of whom I am not yet familiar, was Tony Jones. My first impression of him was mixed, I didn’t quite know what to think. He’s five years my junior, tall, slim, athletic, and balding. He wears dark rimmed glasses that intensify his presence. He’s a striking figure, intense and fiercely charismatic. When he spoke, I hung intently on his every word.
Tony was a key figure in the “emergent church” movement during the 90s and the early 2000s. I was working very hard during that period in time, and my career was on fire. I was traveling constantly. I’d dabble in attending church now and then, mostly the megachurch flavor, but I was never consistent. Also, the constant emphasis on tithing made me uncomfortable, mostly because I didn’t tithe. I’d by then made a choice not to allow my life’s decisions to be ruled by fear. I recognized that my constant unease over the whole tithing message was not an ideal way to engage with God. Instead of dealing with it, instead of finding a church where I felt at home, I simply gave up on church altogether.
Consequently, I was oblivious to the entire emergent church phenomenon. It’s sad to think I may have found answers early on that I’m only now finding, answers that are allowing me to live free for the first time in my nearing six decades. Alas… If I hold to my belief that we find truth when we’re ready to find truth, I’m right on schedule.
Back to Tony. I got the clear sense he’s been in the deconstruction space for decades, on his own journey, and it’s clear he has evolved through many stages of understanding and growth. He was humble in sharing his evolution in thought and deed in relation to his own deconstruction journey. He impressed me, and at the same time I felt very little connection with this man. He was clearly held in very high esteem by all the presenters, but he was not in the least warm and fuzzy. Curmudgeonly would be the word I’d use. But I also knew I had much to learn from Tony, and I recognized he’d be a major contributor to the personal work I’m doing in evaluating the mire of mindfuck theology I’m working to rid from my life.
Tony has college age children and at one point was railing on his fellow Gen X parents whom he views as too enmeshed in their young adult children’s lives. His message didn’t impact me too much one way or another, but that’s largely because I’m single, no kids, without any friends right now who have college age children. So, although I found it an interesting bent, since I had no personal knowledge of what he was saying, I had little emotional reaction.
But then Tony said, with great emphasis, he’d told his children once they graduated, they were cut off from all financial assistance, and they would not be permitted to return home to live.
“Failure to launch is not an option,” he said sternly.
For some reason I’m still processing, the harshness of his statement floored me. My mouth dropped open. I was gobsmacked.
I was immediately transported back to my senior year in college. My father died in February of that year. It is still a wonder I was able to finish and graduate on time. That whole time in my life flooded back, and I was frustrated, because I wasn’t planning on reliving those memories on such a momentous day. My goals for attending the conference were to connect with people of like mind, and to learn new ways of looking at the old ugly theology I’d been indoctrinated with, which has many times nearly taken me down. Instead, I revisited that time of complete and utter loss and despair, and grappled in my own mind with why I was having such a visceral response to Tony’s message.
I came back around to a truth I’ve arrived at previously. When a child is truly parented in such a way as to prepare them for adulthood, if they are raised in a functional family unit, if they are given the practical and mental tools to become successful fully functioning individuals, there is nothing wrong with Tony’s premise. And in fact, now that I’ve had some time to sort out my reaction, I applaud Tony for his position. However, it is critical to recognize Tony has achieved great success and is well connected. There are many factors which support a high probability his children will do well in the world. The danger is in assuming his philosophy should be or even can be applied across the board to all young adults. That’s simply not true.
Immediately following my father’s death, I fell into a deep depression. For the first time in my life, I sought counseling through the college. I can remember sitting in my counselor’s office, in a beautiful old building on the edge of campus, gazing out the window at the beautiful grounds on an exceptionally bright spring day. That was the first time the words formulated in my mind, the first time I said to myself, and only because it was the first time it was safe to say to myself, “My father was sexually abusive.”
The realization of it laid me out flat. My subsequent depression rendered me paralyzed and helpless, without hope. Had I not been able to go home to live with my mother following graduation, I surely would have died. Surely. And in fact, I lived closed to death, plagued with suicidal ideation, for many decades to come. Had someone with any power over me said to me, “Failure to launch is not an option,” it would have been the end of me.
Luckily, and by grace, I weathered those years. Things did not get better for a very long time; the depression did not let up for decades. Throughout that time, in many areas of my life, I was tremendously successful. In others, I remained defeated.
In 2017, my bipolar breakdown took me down to the barebones of existence. In the lookback, although I’d never want to experience that again, it was exactly the reset I needed. Since then, I’ve methodically and quite successfully rebuilt my life.
Have I reached my “happy ending”? No, I’ve a long way to go, much work yet to do. And I don’t know if I believe in happy endings. But I do believe if you never give up on the fight for quality of life, you will find it. I am living proof. I am living more fully than ever before. But the miracle is: I am living. Failure to launch no longer pertains.
If only Tony knew what an impact he had on me. But that’s the magic of it, isn’t it? We never know how sharing our truth with others will impact them and set them on a journey of introspection that propels them ahead in growth and wisdom.
I Persevere. And life goes on.
Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington