for those who don't want to just wait it out

like the song says this is a blog for someone who wants to say something (anything) and who's happy to wait and see what time will bring...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Crumbs. It's been almost a month since my last post. I apologise because I distinctly remember 'promising' not to let it go this long between posts. But such is life.

And, as is usually the case when it takes me a while to get my butt into gear, 'life' has been delightfully full as I'm well and truly into the routine of another semester with Credo. God has been incredibly good to us with giving us great encouragement in having about 270 people in small groups this year with many of them coming from a bunch of new first years or sign up's from O'day and stalls weeks.

Whenever I meet a new batch of first years I always find myself wondering what they're thinking as they approach the start of a new phase of life. Are they excited? Nervous? Confidant? Hopeful? (and if so, hopeful for what?). It's been great getting to know a few of them over the last month - but a little harder to sit back and realise that as Credo grows, and as my ministry changes this year, there will be many that I wont get to know or names that I wont even remember, and that's ok - there's a generation of young leaders who are looking out for their 'littler' brothers and sisters.

But as I've been thinking about 2009's 1st years, I've been doing some more reading on culture and what this generation is facing. I came across one article (which I've quoted a chunk of below) and would like your thoughts on:

Twenge and others argue that young people today are narcissistic in a way that previous generations were not. The notion of narcissism, or looking outside one’s self to validate one’s own identity, goes back to the Greeks. But Twenge argues that the relentless focus on building children up as individuals has led to an inflated sense of empowerment and a diminished sense of responsibility. Individualism “may cause people to not value close relationships.” The combination of being pushed to develop as individuals and cynicism about adulthood, leads many teens to live adultesque lifestyles, despite their being unequipped to do so.

As a result, they live in a world where the yearning to be liked and to be fulfilled leads to a more mercenary approach to things and people. Narcissists favor short-term relationships, which may contribute to the “hooking up” culture of FWBs, Twenge says. Narcissists also have unrealistically high expectations, which may lead to anxiety and depression resulting in self-medicating through exploitative behaviors.⁶

Using things and people is certainly not new. It is the casualization and institutionalization of it within youth culture’s hall of mirrors that is troubling. Looking to other people or cultural expressions such as film, TV or magazines to grow in self-understanding is not a bad thing. It is, though, when it becomes more or less the main or even the only thing. The Internet reflects back, but often it does so in ways that diminish and exploit. Facebook and other networking sites have no product to sell except for exposure to other users. After all, the slogan of YouTube is “Broadcast Yourself.”

A wonderful amount of good happens on these sites. However, in cyber networking world, young adult attention spans and desires are commodities. Also, as the “private is the new public” and “kiss and blog is the new kiss and tell” discussions point out, cyber gut spilling and exhibitionism often have costs.

Years ago, when I was a media studies professor, a story a student told made a strong impression on me. There were two women who shared vulnerable details of their lives online. This happened despite the fact that they never met and apparently never spoke by phone. (This was pre-Skype and pre-iChat.) Later, without each other’s knowledge, they attended the same college. When one young woman ran up to the other and jubilantly introduced herself, the other woman was outraged. The other woman said she wanted nothing to do with her former bosom/detached friend. She said the other woman knew too much about her, but that she did not know her at all.

For the woman who did the rejecting, the Internet had served as a safe space because the beings in it existed through a monitor, across wires, somewhere else. For her, the autonomy and privacy of accessing cyberculture involved a shortcut somewhat similar to having an FWB. The technology created the opportunity for a transaction supposedly without consequence, or at least with much less baggage than a real world encounter.

As a result, she was able to get what she needed from the encounters, dig a cave in her soul and bury the memory of the experience there. The experience erupted upon meeting the person who co-facilitated it. Apart from the obvious dangers of disease and unwanted pregnancy, is cyber identity promiscuity so much less harmful? After all, how does the medium affect the communicator, his or her audience and the nature of relationships in general?

Remembering what an unstable transition adolescence is under the best circumstances, I can only imagine how it feels to yearn for significance and to want to know and be known in today’s disenchanted, young adult world. It’s easy to appreciate the appeal of shortcuts. No one who is older should feel superior. This generation is in no way inferior, but they do seem deprived. Though fallenness is a constant across generations, the aids that facilitate its extent and intensity are not. Challenges today are worse. Likewise, young people today seem to be left more to their own devices. Obviously, it is understandable that, on their own, they might handle their freedoms in a manner lacking maturity.

One of the sayings I did not mention earlier is “hope is the new rebellion.” This seems to argue that the malaise pervading youth culture is so widespread that hopefulness is a radical stance. Given the timeless connection between youth and rebellion, hope stands a good chance of reviving.

The gospel offers the ultimate reason for hope and a view of life that makes it real in everyday life. As I consider the detachment and transience in contemporary youth culture, I think of the physical presence of the church, flesh and blood people who care and who are committed to each other and a common Savior. What a balm for disenchantment and retreat.

Likewise, faith and taking short cuts are opposites. Faith is harder. However, it can re-enchant the world. As we live in relationship with a loving God, things like sex and self-discovery can regain a sense of wonder. The fishbowl of contemporary teen culture, as alluded to by What’s the New What, screams for grace, wisdom and strength. This series may not provide clean data, but it does something better: at least partially, it maps the heart.





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