Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Monday, October 12, 2009
There are roughly two groupings of young people we could address: those not walking with Jesus and those who are His apprentices. While some of the following will pertain to both groupings, we’ll primarily focus on those not yet walking with Jesus.
Let’s look at what we’re talking about when we speak of youth. For purposes of our conversation I’ll be referring to the phase of development in the lives of young people called adolescence. What is adolescence then? It comes from two words in Latin that together convey ‘maturity’.
Adolescence is . . .
- Is seen as a period between childhood and full maturity.
- Classically this time frame was considered to be the period between the ages of 12-18 but in contemporary times it is often now considered to extend to the mid twenties.
From the 1850’s until the second World War, adolescents often left school when they began maturing physically - the age of puberty. They then took their place in the workforce and were considered to be at the age to take on the responsibilities of marriage and child-rearing. Around the time of WW2 much of the ‘developed’ world introduced compulsory full-time education - except in Ireland where it was adopted in 1965.
Now due to numerous factors including . . .
- compulsory education until the age of 18
- The proximity of a majority of the Irish population to 3rd level (university) education
- The increasing fragmentation of the nuclear family unit from divorce / separation and the resulting lack of confidence in monogamous, life-long relational stability
- The relevant affluence of much of the population but increasing suspicion of the lure of materialism and it’s hollow claims
- AND possibly the ever-broadening awareness of the world’s problems
. . young people’s dependence on parents or primary care-givers is now stretching into their 20’s, thus lengthening the period of adolescence.
Referring back the mention of relative affluence, it’s important to not underestimate the effect that recent changes - both increasing prosperity and even more recent financial difficulties - have on the formation of young lives. Some of you may remember a book and subsequent television programme that came out in 2006 / 2007 called The Pope’s Children. The book was written by David McWilliams and the show was presented by him as well. It was a fascinating look into Ireland’s culture from the time of Pope John Paul the second’s visit in 1079 until the present time the book was released. The title ‘The Pope’s Children’ refers to the generation born roughly around his visit to these shores. David McWilliams had many insightful comments to make in his presentation. He stated that this was the first time in ages (donkey’s years) that a large majority of Irish children have been able to grow up in the same country as their parents. This change stands in stark contrast to the sad story from ages past where grannies would spend Christmas day sobbing down the phone on Christmas day wanting to see their grandchildren who lived in far off places. Many of the enticements of the presently absent ‘Celtic Tiger’ are what contributed to the Irish being dubbed among the happiest people in the world, and to 7 out of 10 immigrants choosing to live in Ireland over France.
Much of the experience of Irish teens is seemingly contrary to the benefits up til no enjoyed by the European ‘poster child’ for success. In her 2006 book, ‘Celtic Cubs: Inside the mind of the Irish Teenager’, Dublin counselor and psychologist Orla McHugh addresses many of these pressing issues for the Irish adolescent. From even a cursory glance of her table of contents one can see she addresses general parameters for the period of adolescence and then continues delving into issues now often synonymous with the teenage experience: parental separation or divorce, bullying, eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, criminal and anti-social behaviour, depression and suicide. Dated from just last September, an article on RTE’s website read, “The annual report of the National Office for Suicide Prevention shows that Ireland has the fifth highest rate of youth suicide in Europe. Provisional figures show that Ireland's suicide rate rose by just over 10% between 2006 and 2007. The report found men under the age of 35 accounted for 40% of all suicides.” This problem isn’t going away on its own.
Being honest with oneself, it’s sad to be reminded of these very pertinent and pressing issues which so many teens face and realise that while there is hope - there is always hope - we are part of the problem. We’ve heard it said that children suffer because of the sins of the fathers (meaning parents), and while I know I have borne pain inherited from my own parents and those generations before me, I am also leaving some of inherited pain for my children. Either by our implication by being a member of the human race, or by our decision to ignore the issues, we become part of the persistent problem. To some degree we all carry baggage - known or unknown to us - passing something of it on to those who come after us. Fortunately - this is where hope comes in - as people who place their faith in the God-man Jesus Christ, this sad story has a redemptive turn in it. As Christians, redemption is the card we carry since through our lives we demonstrate how God is re-making the Paradise that was once lost . . Intimate, life-giving connection with Him and with one another.
The reason that so many of our young people are lost and are being lost is because they often have no tangible grasp on hope. No demonstrable example of it in their sphere of reference. AS one aspect after another of teens’ lives disillusions them to the reality of a real, lasting ‘Good’ being present to them - the Body of Christ, ‘the Restoration of Humanity’ - has an unmistakeable opportunity to build that bridge of hope for the young people of this land. Let’s not be led to believe that the cold, impersonal, behemoth of an institution some perceive to be the ’church’ will ever, in actuality, offer a saving hope to young people. It has never and will never do so. Thankfully young people are hard to deceive - they see under our pretense and posturing - our layers of protection - much better than we do with one another. Real personal connections matter a great deal to teens, even though they often give in to appearances. As Jesus is quoted as saying in a recent New York Times bestseller, “Being always transcends appearance.”
Because of the centrality of relationship to the God-head, and therefore to humanity itself, it is only truly through authentic, healthy, inspiring relationships that teens will have access to the light we hold inside these ‘jars of clay’. It is passed on, if you will, through assimilation . . as time and concern are given as though someone’s life depends on it - because it often does. I was listening to CNN in the car on the way home this week and I heard about a study which showed that drug, alcohol and cigarette abuse was higher among children that eat three or less dinners a week with their family. Those who ate four or more undistracted (no television or phone use) meals a week with their family were less likely to engage in such destructive behaviour. As they said, ‘it’s not what is on the plate that matters, it’s who’s at the table.’
In order for young people to encounter the living Jesus Christ, to some degree we must share our very lives with them. Programmes can’t be trusted to do this. Good, worthwhile humanitarian service projects can’t do this on their own. Church services and liturgy - as much as we value them - for that matter are only supplemental to an encounter with Jesus Himself. It is only through you and I caring deeply about young people and being available to be present to them that their progress in apprenticeship to Jesus can be made manifest, real, palpable.
All that to say, more and more I find myself not knowing how to separate spirituality from the experiences of our everyday lives. It’s no different for young people as it is for us. If we understand the Gospel to be reconciliatory and redemptive in nature, and salvation to be holistic, then salvation in it’s fullest sense means a reacquisition of all that God originally intended for us as played out in the beginning of creation. As has been shown to me in more recent days, it’s the orientation of people’s souls that matters most - or whether they’re aware of their hunger for God that lies within. If someone is moving God-ward we have much to thank Him for and much to work with. If someone is moving away from Him, embracing their own plans and devices, then our task is much harder. I believe, as was the case in the Gospel story, that the surest way to become like Jesus is to spend time with Him. For many of the young people we walk alongside their initial encounter with that same Jesus will be through our lives, as they reveal that we too have been with Jesus.