Rant of an Old Soul

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“If Christians cannot communicate as thinking beings, they are reduced to encountering one another only at the shallow level of gossip and small talk. Hence the perhaps peculiarly modern problem – the loneliness of the thinking Christian.” Harry Blamires.

“If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you; But if you really make them think, they’ll hate you.” Don Marquis, US humorist.

I am concerned about the spiritual, intellectual creative wasteland that is America. Irreligious and religious alike wallow in vacuity and mediocrity. As a follower of Jesus, I join my friend, the late Rich Mullins, who once said something to the effect, “I really struggle with American Christianity. I’m not really sure that people with our cultural disabilities, people who grow up in a culture that worships pleasure, leisure, and affluence, are capable of having souls, or being saved…”

I am particularly concerned about the younger generation. It is my job to give voice to such worries, because this is what old people do. We do this, not because we were any better or brighter when we were young, but because as we get older we recognize both the folly of our ways and the havoc it is causing our children and grandchildren. It is the job of the younger generation to dismiss us as old farts who are out of touch, clueless and not to be listened to.

I have a friend who speaks nine languages and has lived on an interracial commune in the South, served with the Peace Corp among Muslims in Morocco, taught in China and Taiwan, (lecturing in Chinese). His Russian is flawless because he lived there, his Hebrew is fluent because of the time he lived in a kibbutz in Israel; and did I mention he has advanced degrees in both law and linguistics? Even the basest dullard should recognize that this is one interesting guy, worth a conversation or two over coffee. He is teaching in a Christian University, which measures his performance, in part, on student reviews of his teaching. The students find him a difficult professor demanding, not one to give superior grades to students unwilling to produce superior work. They’re marking him down.

I know there are bad teachers out there and we ought to ferret them out and after due process, recommission them if they can’t teach. In this case, I don’t really think my friend is the problem. He is a scholar possessing a first-rate mind who has been placed in a classroom of students whose mind’s rating is undetermined, because they have been affirmed throughout their academic career, without reference to the disciplined development of their mind. After decades of destructive parental criticism, the pendulum has swung clear the other direction towards parental cheerleading with the academy as a co-dependant. The love of learning is rare, yet the desire for a college degree has never been higher because it is allegedly the pathway to higher earnings. Most young people do not read books or newspapers. They gather all the news they need online. They also sometimes buy term papers online and according to a recent NYT series, these papers, guaranteeing an “A,” are substandard, poorly reasoned, usually plagiarized mounds of steaming hot hooey. They are extraordinarily literate in popular culture, but are generally unacquainted with the philosophers, thinkers and religious characters who have shaped civilizations through the centuries.

Yet, we ask them to evaluate the performance of my well educated friend.

Their demographic is the one that matters. Despite the fact that mature television viewers represent a ($) 2 trillion dollar market, TV programmers are in a panic about the loss of 18-49 year-old viewers. Hollywood is abuzz with the news that an LA Times survey reveals that 54% of those 24 and under would rather watch a DVD at home than go to a local multiplex. MTV is scrambling to retain this audience with a whole new reality-themed animate interactive world. This, but the way, is the audience that was duped into emotional engagement by You Tube’s “lonely girl,” who turned out to be the creation of some young aspiring filmmakers.

The younger generation has been weaned on American entertainment culture from birth–a superficial, sensate, mindless, celebrity electronically driven pretend reality that has morphed into reality. While the world goes to hell in a hand basket, those who could actually effect positive change in the world are wired up to the entertainment diversions and lulled into passivity instead of becoming productive agents of personal and cultural transformation.

The adults among us ought to be asking ourselves. If we love these kids, shouldn’t we be interested in their spiritual, intellectual creative well being, instead of just figuring out how to exploit them for their discretionary income? Should Christians not be taking a countercultural stand for the good, the true and the beautiful?

As my friend shared his angst about his young student’s reactions to his high, demanding academic standards, I found the old soul in me rising up and saying to the younger generation I love you, but as your professor, it is not my job to entertain you, but to elicit from you the highest and best of which you are capable. Turn off your TV, shut off your X Box, stuff your iPod in a drawer for a while. Sit down-shut up and listen¢â‚¬¦ You’ll be asked for your opinion when you have mastered enough content to own independent thoughts worth sharing. I cannot affirm what you know thus far, because I am not impressed. You may have been raised not to care what older people think of you and you may care only to impress your peers, but so long as you are in my class, I will be the judge of what learning is going on.

The phone rings. It is the administration. One of the student’s parents has called. Did I mention he is a major donor and really ticked off? “One of your professors has offended and hurt my little schnookie. I pay the tuition. I am the customer. You will serve me.”

The parent may pay the bill, but we’re all going to pay the price if we don’t wake up and see the downward spiral of a spiritually, intellectually, creatively impoverished culture, the product of the spiritually, intellectually, creatively impoverished humans who created it.

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 September 19, 2006 by | No Comments »

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