This could make a good discussion. The web site Ask Jeeves ran a competition to answer their top ten questions that they consider ‘unanswerable’ (in the sense of being able to point to THE answer). These are the questions:
What is the meaning of life?
Is there a God?
Do blondes have more fun?
What is the best diet?
Is there anybody out there?
Who is the most famous person in the world?
What is love?
What is the secret to happiness?
Did Tony Soprano die?
How long will I live?
I was also fascinated at the submitted answers to question 1, so many of which came down to a popular interpretation or wording of existential philosophy.
I was out and about at a couple of youth groups over the weekend. On Friday night I was leading a session somewhere in the middle of rural Buckinghamshire out beyond street lamps and phone signals.
We looked a bit at ‘Advent’ and ‘hope’ which provoked some interesting discussion. I showed the opening few minutes of Bolt, where the dog is unaware that it’s superhero identity and capabilities are in fact a film engineered fantasy. We then talked about Advent and Christmas being the reverse, in the midst of the mundane the season is a pointer to a greater reality, pivoted around the history-changing arrival of one child.
We had a real laugh making models of things that inspired or were a hope out of Playdoh! (Sobering moment too talking about the impact of university tuition fees which the thirteen and fourteen year olds were very aware of the impact for them.)
On Sunday night I was hanging out with the craziest bunch of older teens it’s my privilege to know. I wasn’t leading the session so was kicking back and observing a session on ‘But there isn’t time,’ which I enjoyed. The youth worker used a Snow Patrol track/video, ‘Chocolate‘ which was a powerful piece on the clarity of a particular moment in time (if I understand the song correctly).
A weekend framed by time with young people, fab!
The national children’s adviser flagged up this blog today, “The Owl and the Angels” and specifically a wonderful post entitled, “ah the Church”
The author has some advice to the church on engaging with young people. I thought it was a really useful challenge/critique: “1. Be genuine. Do not under any circumstances try to be trendy or hip, if you are not already intrinsically trendy or hip. If you are a 90-year-old woman who enjoys crocheting and listens to Beethoven, by God be proud of it.
2. Stop pretending you have a rock band.
3. Stop arguing about whether gay people are okay, fully human, or whatever else. Seriously. Stop it.
4. Stop arguing about whether women are okay, fully human, or are capable of being in a position of leadership.
5. Stop looking for the “objective truth” in Scripture.
6. Start looking for the beautiful truth in Scripture.
7. Actually read the Scriptures. If you are Episcopalian, go buy a Bible and read it. Start in Genesis, it’s pretty cool. You can skip some of the other boring parts in the Bible. Remember though that almost every book of the Bible has some really funky stuff in it. Remember to keep #5 and #6 in mind though. If you are evangelical, you may need to stop reading the Bible for about 10 years. Don’t worry: during those ten years you can work on putting these other steps into practice.
8. Start worrying about extreme poverty, violence against women, racism, consumerism, and the rate at which children are dying worldwide of preventable, treatable diseases. Put all the energy you formerly spent worrying about the legit-ness of gay people into figuring out ways to do some good in these areas.
9. Do not shy away from lighting candles, silence, incense, laughter, really good food, and extraordinary music. By “extraordinary music” I mean genuine music. Soulful music. Well-written, well-composed music. Original music. Four-part harmony music. Funky retro organ music. Hymns. Taize chants. Bluegrass. Steel guitar. Humming. Gospel. We are the church; we have a uber-rich history of amazing music. Remember this.
10. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
11. Learn how to sit with people who are dying.
12. Feast as much as possible. Cardboard communion wafers are a feast in symbol only. Humans can not live on symbols alone. Remember this.
13. Notice visitors, smile genuinely at them, include them in conversations, but do not overwhelm them.
14. Be vulnerable.
15. Stop worrying about getting young people into the church. Stop worrying about marketing strategies. Take a deep breath. If there is a God, that God isn’t going to die even if there are no more Christians at all.
16. Figure out who is suffering in your community. Go be with them.
17. Remind yourself that you don’t have to take God to anyone. God is already with everyone. So, rather than taking the approach that you need to take the truth out to people who need it, adopt the approach that you need to go find the truth that others have and you are missing. Go be evangelized.
18. Put some time and care and energy into creating a beautiful space for worship and being-together. But shy away from building campaigns, parking lot expansions, and what-have-you.
19. Make some part of the church building accessible for people to pray in 24/7. Put some blankets there too, in case someone has nowhere else to go for the night.
20. Listen to God (to Wisdom, to Love) more than you speak your opinions”
Please don’t link to, or quote this post but link through to the author
Excellent session with Dr Graeme Codrington last night on generational characteristics which I’ll write up later. Ahead of that though I wanted to point to his theory that ‘Generation Y’ were not named this necessarily as a sequential label to follow Gen X, but there may be another reason.
Am wending my way South this afternoon for the ‘Mind the Gap’ seminar in Portsmouth that bills itself thusly: “Mind the Gap, Thursday 25 November, Portsmouth
Hosted by the Diocese of Portsmouth, Mind the Gap is a day with Graeme Codrington a future trends analyst and a Christian recommended by Tim Waldron, chair of YMCA England. He is a good speaker and will give a multimedia presentation and talk about the different expectations, ideas, and values of different generations of people, and how those different values inform their choices about what they are prepared to put their allegiance to, and support/attend/give to and why” Graeme Codrington sounds like a cool guy
See you there?
Today on the blog, a rare foray into the world of Formal Education. Ricky is asking for stories of teachers that made a lasting and positive impression on us (particularly from secondary school) for a conference he is organising. Ricky suggests these as examples of the stories he is looking for: “perhaps you can think of a member of staff who has had a lasting impact on you: a teacher, dinner lady, secretary, caretaker, or librarian…
maybe there’s a specific incident you can recall from your school day where you were inspired by an individual…
or have you kept in contact with one of your former teachers, and become friends over time…”
I’m casting my mind back to the Darwinian struggle to retain some sort of identity and self worth that was called secondary school ….. and want to salute Miss Archer who was an inspiration.
Anyway: Your stories can be left here at this blog, over at Ricky’s blog or e-mailed to him.
Am going to attempt to review Almost Christian by Kenda Creasy Dean, partly because I promised the publisher but much more because it is an important book.
Kenda helpfully opens the book by laying out the gist of it for the reader, she says, “American young people are, theoretically, fine with religious faith–but it does not concern them very much, and it is not durable enough to survive long after they graduate from high school. One more thing: we’re responsible.”
In the book Kenda is working from the NSYR survey of 2003-2005 that coined the phrase, “therapeutic moralistic deism” to summarise the prevalent ‘faith’ of American young people, as well as uncovering that this was often a reflection of the faith of their parents.
In “Almost Christian” she reflects further on this neutered version* of Christianity that she calls the ‘cult of nice’ and then explores it via the metaphor of a symbiote that has taken resident in the host church co-opting, devouring and replacing the historical and living christian faith with itself, i.e therapeutic moralistic deism. In this she makes the point that the faith of the young people reflects that of the parents BUT this in turn is a reflection of the faith of the church,
It would be easy for us in the UK to dismiss both the survey and the subsequent reflection as belonging firmly in the States. I believe however it has a massive amount to say to the UK context and this is borne out by the Mayos recent work where the indifference to faith mirrors the ‘Benign Whateverism’ discovered in the American study, and the ‘Happy Midi Narrative’ that Mayo coined is echoed in the values and priorities of the American teenagers.
The chief importance of ‘Almost Christian‘ though is that the vast majority of the book is geared towards exploring a missional and discipleship response that will engage and ground young people in a living and transformational faith. The response is both deeply reflective and accessibly practical … and well well worth reading.
I found the ‘Missional Imagination’ chapter particularly useful and will be using this chart that brings the ‘missionary principles’ of indigenizing’ and ‘pilgrim’ together.
I also want to use this framework on ‘translating faith’ with/for young people:
1. The best translators are people not programmes
2. The best translators are bilingual
3. The best translators invoke imagination
4. Translators can threaten the people in charge.
I recommend this book as an important read for exploring ecclesiology and mission in relation to young people and beyond.
* ‘neutered version’ is actually a quote from ‘Practising Passion’ not ‘Almost Christian’