Sunday, November 19, 2017
Modernism/Foundationalism (old school)
Postmodern ideas have been interpreted in the mainstream culture as relativism: “there are no absolutes; everything is relative.” Many Postmodern theorists cringe at the equivalency. While similar, the two philosophies are not exactly the same. In the world of many emerging and young adults, all reality is constructed within specific contexts and experiences; therefore, we should not judge others for their beliefs, appearance, choices, or lifestyles. For this generation, the statement, “that may be true for you, but it’s not my reality” is not a problematic, nor confusing thing to say or believe. It is what we as a society have, perhaps inadvertently, taught them. These ideas have become entrenched in most areas of the public sphere. It is our new cultural milieu in Europe, Canada, and the United States.
Over the past two decades, Christian theologians and ministers have written about the many positive implications of postmodern ideals for the life of the church and for evangelism. Most of these writers, however, did not foresee the extent to which the ideas have been adopted, applied, and often perverted in the mainstream. In my ministry with students, it has sometimes been helpful to get them to identify the narratives or themes of their individual lives that are often very different from that of their peers. Helping them to see and understand the ways that they construct meaning can be cathartic. It can also help them to identify the ways that they are unique, the ways their talents and giftedness can be used in the future as a guide for career choices, relationships, etc. Sometimes it can help individuals gain some sense of agency in their lives when they have felt victimized or trapped by their past.
There are many different interpretations and manifestations of Postmodern thought. I encourage you to read broadly on the subject to better understand the philosophy and worldview as well as to help figure out how to parent, minister, and function in our changing society.
Hybrid Modern/Postmodern Worldview:
Saturday, November 18, 2017
From Ministers and/or Teachers:
"The world we live in, the world I have come to know, is one that is full of change. So much so, that I find myself not only expecting change, but craving it. I want new experiences, new places, new people, new things. Change has become almost a synonym for success in some ways. If things are staying the same, it feels like failure - which I don’t really know how to explain. But if things are changing, it feels like success - 'at least things are moving, at least we are headed somewhere' are thoughts that run through my mind in times like this.
"We don't need to try to change their worldview, but learn how to engage with them and teach them how God wants to enter into their world and provide a foundation for connection to the divine and to others." (From a thirty-something Lutheran pastor)
Thursday, November 16, 2017
"I'm taking medication for depression and panic attacks."
"There is nothing in my life that I can rely on."
"I am afraid I will be alone forever."
"I have a 3.94 grade point average, but I am afraid I am going to flunk out of school."
This week individual students in our ministry have confessed to feeling each of these to me.
We have been discussing relationships this semester through the framework of the Old Testament book of the Song of Solomon. Primarily, we have been addressing love, dating, and marriage; but, of course, we have alluded to all types of relationships in which our students at the University of Georgia might find themselves. This past week at our worship Gathering, I had the honor of wrapping up the series by addressing the topic of faithfulness. I began my talk by saying that commitment seems different for each generation. My father's generation went to work right out of high school or college and expected to retire from the company that first employed them. Similarly, they expected that job to provide not only a good salary, but a good pension after retirement until they died. My generation doesn't have such lofty expectations, but we do believe that there are some commitments and relationships that are for life. I told of how when we were engaged, Karen and I agreed that divorce would never be an option for us. We would do whatever it took to make this marriage work. That conversation occurred over 32 years ago. While we have had a few rough spots in the midst of wedded bliss, we have always been determined to work through whatever issue came along.
Today's generation of students have very different understandings of commitment from my father's generation and from my own. I admitted to those gathered for worship that I don't really understand how today's emerging (18-27) and young (28-32) adults think about commitment and faithfulness. It seems very fluid to me. A few days later I was leading a small group of graduating seniors in a bible study on the same topic. We were discussing my sermon. I ventured to ask the four students present, "define faithfulness and commitment for me. How do you understand the two terms?"
What they told me left me stunned.
They began with faithfulness. Faithfulness, according to the fourth and fifth-year college students gathered around the table, is what one does to fulfill a commitment. It is an action-based word. Commitment refers to the promises one makes and are situated in time, place, and circumstances. The group continued to flesh out their ideas. They talked about the ways and circumstances in which they might change their mind after making a solid commitment. I asked a few follow-up questions, including, "what is the one foundational truth that you can count on?" Their answer - "everything changes." I pressed, "So the only thing you can count on in life is that tomorrow will be different than today? That what you know, feel, and understand today will be different or will not exist tomorrow?" They all agreed.
I asked the question again, just to make sure I had heard them correctly. "So I hear you saying that the only constant in your world, the only thing on which you can rely with absolute certainty, is that everything changes, that what you know to be true today might very well be different tomorrow?" Again, they all agreed.
I told them I needed a minute. I sat stunned, letting the impact of this realization sink in.
These were all Christian students, who have been in our program of ministry and discipleship for 4-5 years. For these students, many of them leaders in our Christian campus organization, there is no firm foundation, no solid rock on which they can rely! After I recovered, I told the group that this realization would probably change the way that I do collegiate ministry.
As we continued to talk I asked about specific examples that have been sources of frustration to the collegiate ministry staff. For example, when students apply for leadership positions in our ministry in the spring we ask them to commit to attend specific events and activities already on the calendar for the following fall, winter, and spring. The vast majority of student applicants readily assent to all of the required activities. A few rare students will provide specific details of why they may not be able to make one or another event. However, when those events arise the following year, many student leaders will emerge with excuses of why they cannot attend. When I asked my gathered Bible study group about this example none of them saw a problem with these student's actions. They suggested that when they commit to something in the future they mean it at the time of commitment. However, for them, reality might change. If reality changes, their commitments no longer are valid because they were made under different circumstances. These emerging adults then feel completely justified in changing their mind with no guilt, thus breaking their previous commitment. Such realities could include another better or more fun opportunity that could not have been foreseen (like a concert by a trendy new band). The same argument can also be made for moral and ethical issues.
Every decision, every commitment, every promise, every relationship for contemporary young adults is based on present realities.
For many emerging and young adults today, there are no anchors, no constants. There are no people, relationships, institutions, ideals, or ideas that are unchanging. In their world, everything changes. Permanence is but a word with no practical example. Like the permanent hair treatment my wife used to get in the 80's, which eventually faded and washed away, for contemporary students, nothing remains the same for long. Phones costing upwards of $1000.00 need to be replaced at least every year or two (even when they still work great), because they become obsolete. Jobs lose their luster after just a few weeks. College majors are switched on a whim. Relationships quickly lose their spark and are cast aside. Best friends come and go. Marriages end. Parents get divorced. The country is always at war, though the enemies seem to switch with the seasons. There is a constant fear of a terrorist attacking somewhere, sometime when we will least expect it. But it will come - even when safe at church or in our classroom. Our heroes of faith and politics fall after being caught in one scandal or another. When even the best apartments and/or roommates begin to wear on you, you move locations and swap for new companions each year.
Everything changes. Nothing is reliable.
Just as clothing styles cycle, washing machines, and furniture are only made to last three to five years. The manufacturers know that consumers soon tire of even the most expensive products. In a few years, they are aware that shoppers will want the newest, shiniest, and most advanced versions so there is no need to make long-lasting products. Repairs often cost as much as a new machine because the equipment is engineered to be made quickly and inexpensively, but not to be easily repaired. They have learned not to get too emotionally attached to anything or anyone because to do so will mean pain when the relationship shifts or the feelings change. Even the business world knows everything changes. Nothing is made to last long.
For many in this generation, even the idea of God being unchanging, being ever-loving, ever-faithful is hard, if not impossible to grasp, much less believe and put faith and trust in. Just as these emerging adult's reality, situation, and feelings change constantly, so must God's, they believe. "God may love me today," they think, "but what about tomorrow? Surely God will feel different about me tomorrow."
Of course there are exceptions to this worldview. There are young and emerging adults who present a more traditional understanding of commitment, who do not see the world as being so fluid. But even with many of these - for I have talked with them - they feel only loosely connected to such a staid belief. They too have known far too much change if not in their own experience, in that of their friends.
Is there any wonder so many students suffer from medically diagnosed anxiety disorders and depression? Is it any wonder so many are on pills for anxiety and depression? Is there any wonder young adults are hesitant to enter into any type of committed relationships, much less a marriage when they are confident that such an arrangement, based on fleeting emotions, will probably soon end? It's much safer, they believe, to move-in with someone they love, knowing that it will end before too long, than to enter into a marriage commitment when divorce is the likely outcome!
I am becoming more and more convinced that understanding someone's worldview is essential to understanding that individual. What one believes determines how they live. One cannot simply overcome core perspectives. Worldview is literally the lens through which the world is seen and experienced. One's worldview determines not only one's thoughts, but also one's actions, beliefs, hopes, and expectations.
Dan McAdams (1985) has suggested that humans make meaning through stories. The grand narratives we believe and tell ourselves are the essential frameworks for our lives. Our stories comprise our worldview. This idea also applies to communities. Each culture in the world has shared stories that bind them together. Tribes have common stories that give their community meaning. Outsiders may not see, and if seen, often do not understand many of the stories a particular tribe might share. The result is that outsiders interpret these tribes as odd, weird, or uneducated. To successfully work with emerging adults one must understand the core narratives and common plots shared within their culture.
It has become clear to me that many emerging and young adults today have no secure foundation upon which to build a comforting and safe worldview. Some may argue that this perspective is only a passing developmental task. That soon these emerging adults will find secure footing in their world as they come to know themselves better, as their identity solidifies. Jeff Arnett (2004), in proposing a new stage of development between adolescence and young adulthood, says that "emerging adulthood" is marked by instability, identity exploration, self-focus, a feeling of being in-between, and innumerable possibilities. However, in Arnett's research and writing these ideations are quickly worked through and appear directly related to jobs, personal relationships, and similar age-related issues. What I heard from my students during the Bible study seemed to be a much more pervasive issue - a worldview. In fact, their prevailing perspective is that there is no solid foundation, no constant, no solid, no enduring truth or relationship. In their world, everything changes.
I have begun asking students and young adults if this idea is true in their experience. So far none have contradicted the fluidity of their lives, of their worlds. I have also begun talking with campus ministry colleagues about the worldview of those with whom we work. Each one has been just as shocked as I was about this revelation. Each has also said we need to be talking about this to find some ways to properly engage our students about this issue.
I want to invite you to join in the conversation, seeking positive ways to help counter this narrative of constant change and/or help our students find firm ground in the midst of their changing world.
So how do we seek to do ministry in such a milieu? How do we, who believe in the existence of a loving, relational God who is omnipresent and unchanging, teach this truth of this generation?
Here are a few suggestions:1) Initiate casual listening conversations with young adults about commitment, faithfulness, and their expectations for the future. Listen to their fears. Listen to understand their perspective while gently sharing your own worldview. Seek to understand both sides of the very different generational perspectives on commitment and change. Engaging in conversation about this specific topic will allow us to address their often unspoken reality and embedded fear of being alone or abandoned.
2) Initiate conversations with colleagues in collegiate ministry, with those who mentor emerging adults, and with those who employ twenty-somethings about effective ways to engage this age group who have varying worldviews about the world. I surmise that there is not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach that helps emerging adults feel secure in the world - even from a faith perspective. We need to pool our expertise and share what we are learning.
3) Do a personal study of the Bible on the topic of the faithfulness of God so you can have an informed discussion about the topic with young people who believe the world has no solid footholds. For Christians, our worldview should be centered in the reality of Jesus and our ever-present God who promised the eternal Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, to be God-with-us, to guide us, comfort us, speak to us, and never leave us. Knowing the reality of God is a strong foundation on which to build a more worldview that is not one of fear, but confidence and security no matter what is happening around us.
4) Use information gleaned in the above personal study to plan a study group, a course of teaching, or a sermon series for your community of faith on the topic of God's faithfulness in the midst of change and chaos.
5) Find a sympathetic and knowledgeable pastoral counselor or counseling pastor who will come into your group to lead a study on managing anxiety in times of chaos and change. Talking about the subject publicly can begin to take away the stigma of admitting having such problems/fears.
6) Find emerging adults and older members of your faith community who have strong testimonies of God's faithfulness in the midst of periods of drastic change. Have them share their stories in worship settings to demonstrate that this worldview is inaccurate.
7) Find hymns, poems/stories, books and scriptural examples of God's faithfulness to use in various settings with young adults. I've listed some below. I welcome you to suggest ideas in the comments. Explain the stories behind each hymn or poem before presenting or singing it in a worship setting.
- Hymns: Great is Thy Faithfulness, The Solid Rock, How Firm a Foundation, and It is Well with My Soul. What are some others you would suggest?
- Poems/stories: What are some recommendations?
- Books: Ideas for fiction or non-fiction books you have read?
- Websites/blog posts: Henri Nouwen Society on covenants,
- Scripture: Abraham's story (Genesis 12-21), Moses's story & the Exodus story (found in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy), Joshua (Joshua and Judges; ending with Judges 2:1), Jesus promise of his presence (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus's giving of the Holy Spirit (John 20:22), Psalm 40:1-3.
- Arnett, Jeffrey Jensen (2004). Emerging adulthood: The winding road from the late teens through the twenties. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Dunn, Richard R., and Jana L. Sundene (2012). Shaping the journey of emerging adults: Life-giving rhythms for spiritual transformation. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.
- McAdams, Dan P. (1985). Power intimacy, and the life story: Personological inquiries into identity. Homewood: Dorsey Press.
Friday, October 09, 2015
There is little wonder why there are so many marital analogies comparing the relationship between human and the Divine found in the Bible and in other mystical writings, including those of the early Christian era. The intimacy required is the same for humans learning to love, whether the object of love is God or another person. Richard Rohr (2013, Immortal Diamonds) observes,
"It is almost impossible to fall in love with majesty, power, or perfection. These make us both fearful and codependent, but seldom truly loving. On some level, love can happen only between equals, and vulnerability levels the playing field. What Christians believe is that God somehow became our equal when he became the human "Jesus," a name that is, without doubt, the vulnerable name for God" (p. 171).
Such a concept is difficult for many Christians to hear. It sounds irreverent at best if not blasphemous! But the beauty and mystery of the Trinity is found in the distinctiveness yet sameness of each person - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In love God lowered God's self to take on human flesh and human nature (see Philippians 2). Through that act of Godly humility we have access to God in a new way - as a peer, as a sibling, or literally as "one of us." Many days the accessibility of God through the brotherhood of Jesus keeps the gnawing doubts at bay.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
While visiting my mother just before Christmas this year I had an epiphany. A little background is needed before I reveal my revelation. Mom lives in Macon, a struggling middle Georgia city that in July was named the 3rd worst place in the United States for property crime. Sirens can be heard almost hourly from her home, even though it is nestled in an established, wooded neighborhood on the outskirts of town. My nephew used to work in the DA's office in Macon and often warned us of areas of town and routes through town that should be avoided.
On the Sunday before Christmas we attended Mom's uptown church where she sings in the choir and teaches Sunday School. It is a very traditional, if not liturgical, style of worship for a Baptist congregation. As in most Christian congregations music is an essential aspect of the Advent and Christmas season here. The older I get the more I find music to be the most meaningful part of the season. As the brass quintet played "What child is This?" I closed my eyes and let the music wash over, through me. I tried to capture the peace and holiness of the moment. In the midst of shopping, traveling and juggling the many demands of celebrating the holiday properly I needed a respite, a glimpse of that seemingly forgone silent night, holy night. Just as I was beginning to capture the sought after feeling a siren sounded in the distance. As the music crescendoed, the refrain was drowned out by the harsh wailing of the passing emergency vehicle. Self righteously, I found my anger rising. However, just as quickly, as the siren faded, slowly replaced by the sweet tunes in the sanctuary, the meaning of the music - and the season - dawned on me. The "Silent Night" of my Christmas fantasies is but a myth. The Christ child did not come on a perfect night devoid of the interruptions of normal of life. No, Jesus was was born on a normal night, in an overcrowded town filled with families and noisy animals. As the story is told, the baby Jesus, the Emmanuel - literally "God with us" - entered this life the stablemate of farm animals. It was not a pure, holy, quiet, peaceful event.
"What child is this," the beloved Christmas hymn inquires? It is the God who dared and dares to enter into our own mundane or hectic lives bring the divine presence where we are. Jesus does not wait for us to achieve perfection to come. Jesus does not wait for all to be stress free. Jesus does not wait for us to get it all together. No, Jesus comes everyday, at every moment, in every place, sirens and all.
In her recent book Pastorix, Nadia Bolz-Weber shared the story of when she served as a hospital chaplain. New to the job she was called to the ER where all in attendance were working to save an unconscious man stretched out on the gurney. She felt out of place and didn't know what her job was supposed to be. She asked a passing nurse who responded, "Your job is to seek and acknowledge the presence of God in this place." Belz-Weber reflected that the nurse's statement has become one of her guiding visions for her life and her ministry. It is also a fitting reminder to me this Christmas.
So this season, forget the silent night. It probably doesn't exist where you live. I know I've not seen or experienced such in a long time! Instead, in the midst of your "everyday, ordinary life -- your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking around life" (Romans 12:1, The Message), in the midst of your celebrating or grieving or longing or hoping, look for and welcome the very presence of God in you and all around you. Such is reason to celebrate! Emmanuel! God IS with us!