Young people and faith

I listened to a bit on NPR’s Morning Edition this morning. There is a new documentary that will be appearing on PBS stations this evening by Judy Woodruff entitled “Generation Next.”
Morning Edition played a small portion of one woman’s story, a senior at Davis College. She grew up in one of the Carolinas to college professor parents and in the local Presbyterian Church. She is a religion major a Davis.
She took a semester of foreign study, which isn’t unusual for many American students. Her experience was, however. She took a semester (if I remember the time span correctly) and spent it in China, Thailand, and India. She spent the time studying and experiencing other religions – Buddhist, Hindu, and others that I don’t remember at this time. She and her fellow students lived in ashrams, in temples, and participated in the religious activities, worship, and meditation with the monks and other religious people.
She told the story of returning home before heading out on her journey and talking to a Sunday School teacher at the church of her youth. She said he asked her, “Why do you want to travel all over the world and learn about all these other religions when you can sit in my class and I can tell you why they are all wrong?” At which point she said, “That is exactly why I want to do this!”
Her faith was shaken. She had profound experiencing meditating with the Buddhist monks. She had never experienced such things before. Waking at 4:00 am and dragging her pray mat with her, she found something and it shook the foundations of her own Christian faith.
She returned home and went though a faith crisis. Now, she is back in the denomination of her youth back at Davis, but she has become a Christian “pluralist.” She believes that there is not just “one way,” but there can be many ways to God.
She also talked about going and spending time at the Taize community in France, an ecumenical Christian monastic community that attracts a lot of young people. The aspect of her Taize experience that seemed to affect her most occurred during a worship service in the chapel when the singing ended and there was an extended time of silence – 10-15 minutes of silence. She was floored, amazed, astounded over the experience. “The brothers didn’t tell you what to do in that time of silence…,” she said. You can to experience it in your own way. She said she couldn’t believe the experience of sitting with a 1,000, 2,000 young people in silent worship.
Finally, she said that for her generation, that is what they are crying out for. They are crying out for spiritual experience where they are not told what they have to believe or told answers to questions they are not asking, but they want a place where they can discover their faith and question and experience.
For too long American Christianity has failed our young people. We have failed young people and youth because of the attempt to indoctrinate them with the “facts” as the faith sees them (or, rather, as the different sectarian groups see the “facts”). We have failed them for the most part by not being adequate examples for them. We have failed them through our own insecurity, laziness, and ignorance. Our experience of God may well be genuine and our love of God sincere, but that only goes so far as we attempt to pass on the faith to the next generation.
There is little attempt to education young people and youth about how to investigate, how to navigation through, and how to explore their own faith in relation to other religions. There is little explanation of other religions other then saying how false or horrible they are. There is little determination to be examples (do as I say, not as I do seems to rule the day – hypocrisy!). There is a profound fear and mistrust among too many Christian adults concerning the intelligence of their kids. I think there is also a profound lacking of trust that God can woe effectively and draw kids, youth, and young people on His own without the all wise and discerning adults shoving the stuff down their throats.
There is also a profound lacking in the telling of the full story of Christianity. Why in the world did this woman not know about Benedictine spirituality where monks and nuns rise at 4:00 am to pray (not all, of course, and not all at that time)? Why was this woman not told of the Desert Father’s and Mother’s and mediation and contemplation? Why was she not educated effectively in her own faith, first? Probably because of a fear that she might just become a Roman Catholic (gasp), probably because of the fear that if you give kids too much information they might make a wrong decision, probably because adults just don’t do a very good job themselves, and probably because too many adults are too ignorant of their own faith’s traditions.
I applaud what this woman did, but if there had been better instruction in her own faith as she was growing up – not the kind of instruction this Sunday School teaching attempted – she may have been able to avoid her own faith crisis. Maybe she needed the faith crisis, I don’t know. But, I see too many, far too many, young people who simply jettison their faith because when they encounter so many other things via the Internet or TV or the wider world of friends and teachers through college or other information channels now open to them, they realize what has been “kept from them” in many cases. What am I trying to say?
Teach, trust, and be an example. Encourage, support, guide, and direct. Patience, trust, hope, and faith. Carefully listen, strongly challenge, and above all show how much you truly do care. Be full of integrity, honestly, and vulnerability. Just love them through their terrible times, lost times, lonely times, screw-up times, and profound times of discovery. Be an adult and don’t try to be their best-friend, but a mentor, confidant, confessor, coach.
We can teach the faith, even the exclusive claims of Jesus, without trying to withhold from them all this other stuff in the vast and wonderful world so that they don’t think we are just trying to indoctrinate them. What…what…???
I think Anglicanism and The Episcopal Church is a prime vehicular for transmitting and teaching the faith to so many unchurched young people today, if only we will realize it and actually stand for something other than eating ourselves alive through controversy “sectarian warfare.”