Finding Your Identity in an Age of Polyvocality

As one who observes the intersection of faith and culture the issue of how the next generation forms identity has emerged as a serious one occupying considerable attention in academic circles and among social scientists.

For centuries human identity has been shaped by a combination of genetic factors (Tall, Male etc) and choices. Our choices have been shaped by our experiences, people in our lives, a set of core values and beliefs and by the zeitgeist, or spirit of the age in which we live.

Our identity shifts and changes throughout various stages of our lives and in this sense Shakespeare was right “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players; / They have their exits and their entrances, / And one man in his time plays many parts”

My own interest in the intersection of faith and culture was shaped by the zeitgeist of the 60’s when as a newly committed Christian I started college in the SF Bay area, birthplace of an explosive cultural revolution. Most significantly during these college years my faith became the core of my life.

I cannot overstate the degree of difficulty facing today’s college student in shaping their identity.

They swim in the waters of a relentless, pervasive and influential popular media culture that is changing human existence (as McCluhan warned “all media work us over completely.”).

Popular culture has also stepped into the traditional identity shapers, offering experiences, albeit vicarious ones, introducing people and ideas, expressing the spirit of the age, predominately a nihilistic one and conveying core values. Today’s kids are trying to forge a personal identity in the land of a million mentors, in an age of polyvocality.

Take “Garden State” described as this generation’s seminal work ( “this generations ¢â‚¬ËœThe Graduate'”) and a soundtrack that will change your life. Zero 7’s refrain “nothing is real, do you believe what you see, I’m wasting my time on the waiting line, everyone’s saying different things to me,” is matched to a storyline in which work sucks, family is an illusion, religion is unimportant and salvation comes in a romantic relationship of two unstable but good kids who yell into the abyss.

The impact on the generation now in their 20’s is captured in the TIME cover story on “Twixters” in which we find kids who just want to have fun, are accumulating debt, deferring marriage because it is inconvenient and have yet to decide what they want to be when they grow up.

For Christian kids the situation is compounded if the Christianity to which they’ve been exposed is unreal and doesn’t connect.

The only solution for this generation is to make the real, radical Christian faith their core. Here they will find a counterfoil to culture.

Culture says: (In the movie Fight Club) “Listen up, maggots, you are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.” Faith says: You are fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image.

Culture Says: Work sucks just have fun:
Faith Says: Unique gifts equipping you for work that expresses your talent, provides for your family’s needs and allows you to be involved in God’s mission on earth.

Culture Says: Family is an illusion, marriage (and children are an inconvenience) Faith says: It is not good to be alone. Children are a gift from God.

Culture says: religion isn’t real and the church too-often promotes Christianity-lite.
Jesus says: I am the way the truth and the life. I have come that you will have life m ore abundant. Deny yourself, take up a cross, Follow me.

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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