Authentic Inauthentic Youth

It would be funny were it not so serious. Today’s NYT carries the story of youth in search of authentic spiritual experience. Specifically we read the story of a 14 year old in Colorado Springs.

We read: “One Wednesday evening, boys in thrift-store jackets and porkpie hats, pale Goth devotees, and petite girls with the same mascara, lip gloss and tight, flared jeans, about 250 teenagers in all, streamed into New Life for their youth group. By the hall entrance, Chad Fritzsche, 17, and Esther Saforo, 15, two of Emily’s friends who also attend New Life on their own, were playing guitar and singing songs they had written. The youth pastor, Brent Parsley, entered on a sleigh dressed as a hip-hop Santa. “I’m going to break it down for you, Clarence,” Mr. Parsley told an actor in the Christmas play. “Christmas ain’t about presents, yo! The true meaning of Christmas is my main man: J.C.” The crowd shrieked. At this unbuttoned church, teenagers channel the roiling passions typical of their age into devotion.”

I don’t know when you were last in Colorado Springs, but Goth, porkpie hats and hip-hop are not exactly indigenous to the area. I understand that suburbs have become melting pots of urban styles and trends. But are they authentic?

Let’s review the definition of the word: “Authentic: Conforming to fact and therefore worthy of trust.”

Before one can enjoy an authentic experience one must possess an authentic identity. In today’s media-sated culture identities are superficial outward adornments selected from a rack full of possibilities available to be mixed and matched to suit one’s mood.

In my lifetime we have moved from identities formed in local community by people we know personally and who care about us, to the forming of identities by impersonal forces, who do not know us, could care less about us, and who dwell outside our local community.

One could argue the local youth program is a localization that brings the needed community. But most mega-churches are too large to go deep and personal, and most of these “worship experiences” are driven by performances; bands and charismatic leaders offer emotion without intellectual engagement and pseudo connection without personal relationship. Furthermore, these younger leaders are often a product of the environment they are recreating for the next generation. Does the phrase “the blind leading the blind” sound familiar to anybody?

Researcher Christian Smith is quoted in this article saying ” Parents also want their children to have an “authentic” relationship to faith, and “if you don’t choose it, it’s not authentic for you,” said Christian Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina and director of the survey on youth and religion.” As Smith himself found in his research there is more to authenticity than making the choice yourself. After an extensive national study of teens and spirituality he concluded, “The vast majority of teens are “incredibly inarticulate about their faith, their religious beliefs and practices, and its meaning or place in their lives. We found very few teens from any religious background who are able to articulate well their religious beliefs and explain how those beliefs connect to the rest of their lives.”

I would argue this is in part the result of the failure to shape a personal integrative identity. As I said a the outset, ” Before one can enjoy an authentic experience one must possess an authentic identity¢â‚¬¦ This article would be funny were it not so serious.”

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    Posted in Staublog in December 30, 2005 by | No Comments »

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