What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Rest-Full Responses

I've continued to receive a torrent (well, okay, a trickle) of e-mails in response to my article on Christianitytoday.com's building church leader's web site.

I got an e-mail yesterday from a woman at Chowan College in Murfreesboro, NC. She rattled off her lengthy list of commitments and resume-building accomplishments and confessed that she was so addicted to doing that at this point it was easier for her to work herself to the ground than it was for her to rest. She's so fearful of not getting into graduate school that she's driven into insane busy-ness.

Fear is a poweful motivator, but it doesn't last too long. Most of our busy-ness is about control, which at its' core is about fear: if I don't take control of my life, the situations around me, then I'll be a victim or things won't turn out quite the way I want them to. Fear that breeds control-freakness yields the fruit of burn-out and exhaustion.

This is why rest is such a powerful spiritual discipline. It breaks the power of fear and the illusion of control. It IS work to rest, a good work that God invites us into to free us from fear that leads to control-freakishness that robs our lives of the true joy of work as it was meant to be.

One other e-mail I got was from Marc in the Netherlands (which is cool in and of itself but even cooler because my grandparents came over from the Netherlands after World War 2). He commented that it was easier for him to have genuine rest when his life is structured and there's a clear sense of work and rest. I see this with myself and students all the time. Christmas break ends up being four weeks wasted--neither productive nor genuinely restful. Summer is more like twelve weeks of wasteland.

Structure can be a control-freak thing to do, but it can also bless us if we allow it to play it's part in our lives. For me, building structure into my life with healthy habits of rest (even when I don't necessarily 'have to' like when I'm on vacation) helps me to come away refreshed. When I go to the beach and do nothing but lazy around for five days, I often come back unmotivated and sluggish. When I decide to go to bed at a decent time, get up at a decent time, and build in time with the Lord, I come back much more renewed.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Better Birthday Questions

This past Saturday was my 32nd birthday. And while 32 didn't cause any major consternation in the bowels of my soul, the issue of birthday evaluation has been rolling around in my head. How do I more faithfully think about my life at the mile-markers of my birthday?

The temptation, of course, is to ask all the same questions that the world is asking: where am I in the food-chain? Am I successful enough? Did we start kids too late (by 32 my parents had a 10 year old and an 8 year old--I remember my parents turning 32)? Oh my goodness, kids take up lots of time and energy, did we start kids too soon? Do I have enough friends? Do I have the right kind of friends?

I remember a couple years ago my very wise brother talking about his birthday thusly: "Birthdays don't freak me out because I've decided not to buy into the popular culture's idea that youth reigns supreme. Scripture seems to talk a lot more about the wisdom of age, I think I'll go along with that."

Good stuff.

I think that I want better questions than the ones I listed. I need better questions to ask so that I'll ask through the lense of faith rather than the lense of what the world dictates as success. The best leaders, the most faithful people, the most influential ones, are the ones who ask the right questions rather than have all the right answers. The best businessmen, plumbers, t.v. executives, teachers, home-makers, theologians, and I.V. staffworkers are the ones who are asking the better questions which frame their labors in the right way. I want better birthday questions so that I'll be pointing my ship in the right direction.

The only question, then, is what are those questions?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Friday Grab Bag

*As the Olympics wrap up this weekend, I've been intrigued by the Nike Bode Miller commercials asking "are you a Bodeist?" If by "Bodeist" you mean am I self-absorbed, prone to overstatement, dismissive of others, rude, obnoxious, arrogant and fail to live up to my own hype, then I must answer a solemn and apologetic yes.

*I'm a little behind on my Sports Illustrated reading, but the SI from a two weeks ago (the Steelers Super Bowl victory SI with Hines Ward on the cover) reminded me why week in and week out I read SI just about cover-to-cover: it's one of the best-written popular magazines in print. Whatever you think about my blog-writing, I'm a better writer because I read SI. There was a phenomenal article about Don King-- how he is a symbol of all that is great and all that is disfigured about American culture. If you've got a friend who gets SI (they don't put their stories on line so that you'll actually buy the magazine) ask if they've still got that issue lying around.

*Some quotes that have been stirring in my soul this week:

-As you came into this life, I pray you depart
With a wrinkled face, and a brand new heart. -U2, War and Peace (or Else)

-Nothing is inexorable but love...For love loves unto purity. Love has ever in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds. Love strives for perfection, even that itself may be perfected--not in itself but in the object...Therefore all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes between and is not of love's kind, must be destroyed. And our God is a consuming fire. -George MacDonald

*No posts over the weekend, Kelly's family is in town...which means that Kelly and I get to catch up on some sleep!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

David Letterman, Knowing God and Knowing God's Will

When we were in high school, neither my brother nor I like David Letterman. He was annoying. He stopped the show to do stupid things with his tie or to fix his eyebrows.

Then I went to college and hung out with some guys who really loved him. Watching the show with these guys helped me to 'get it.' My brother and I were both home over fall break of our freshmen year (he and I both graduated the same year from high school) and I told him: "We gotta' watch Letterman, I've figured him out."

So we sat down that night, and it wasn't too long before Dave was being Dave--he stopped half-way through some opening sketch to entertain himself. My brother, very annoyed, yelled at the t.v. "Dude, get on with the show!" But I answered, "No, dude, he IS the show!" The secret to enjoying David Letterman was understanding that it's his world, and we're just along for the ride for an hour.

Often when we're in a period of waiting or of making hard choices, we want God to just tell us stuff. We want him to reveal his plan, make our way clear, help us make a good decision. We want God to get on with the show.

But here's the deal: God is the show. He will not rush onto the next thing if slowing us down will help us to stop long enough to know him more fully. We want answers, God wants to make us holy in the process. It is those processes, not the final decisions themselves, that most often make us the people that God wants us to be. If we can establish processes of seeking after God, knowing his heart, and becoming more like him during the periods of transition in our lives, then we will be well on our way to having holy outcomes, the 'right' outcomes, that we so often (rightly) seek after.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Piper Gets It Right

While we lived in Richmond, Kelly and I spent nine years in a Presbyterian Church (PC-A) and much of my study and many of my theological influences came from theologically "Reformed" circles.

For those who don't have as much free time as the rest of us and aren't sure what exactly that means, Reformed theology is most famously known for a strong belief in predestination--God is the one who calls us to salvation, we do not "choose" it for ourselves because left to ourselves we would never choose God. God is always front and center, and his sovereign will and grace is the most active thing in the entire universe.

What I found in my nine years is that there are some wonderful things about Reformed theology--the emphasis on the centrality of God and His grace is strong medicine for our self-help and me-focused culture. When it is done well and right, Reformed theology is beautiful and freeing.

When it goes wrong, however, it becomes smug, self-righteous, and arrogant. There are a lot of gracious and wonderful and warm Reformed folks...and there's a lot of guys who are just angry about everything, particularly anything that's NOT Reformed. There is nothing worse in the pit of hell than Reformed theology gone wrong--like any misguided Christian religious tradition, it masquerades as Christian faith and so does damage to the Kingdom.

John Piper is someone to whom I owe a tremendous debt. His book "Future Grace" woke me up to theology done with passion and purpose--I started really thinking about my faith two years out of college as I spent two months re-reading "Future Grace" three times. Since then, I've read almost everything he's written...and at points over the past seven years I've been challenged by him and at other points he's started to sound like just another angry Reformed guy.

Last week Piper had cancer surgery, and on the eve of his surgery he wrote his weekly column Fresh Words about God's sovereignty and Piper's faith journey in the midst of fighting cancer. This is Reformed Theology at its' best--radically God-centered and God-honoring. Anyone who's ever wrestled with "why do bad things happen to good people" should take a look at what I think is a phenomenally Biblical view of this issue.

His surgery went well, by the way, and all reports seem to be that he will be full strength again very soon.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Tuesday Grab-Bag

*First off, I've gotta' give a shout out to my brother, Dr. J.R. Daniel Kirk, for his recent appointment as assistant professor of New Testament at Biblical Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. While I'll miss him tons here in the Durham area, this has been a long time in coming--this job ends 30 years of 'creative unemployment' after many years with other over-educated, socially-impaired, neon-glow white guys sitting in study carols on Friday nights. He gets to work this coming fall.

*Last week there was a stirring in the evangelical Christian world as Mark Noll, the widely respected evangelical historian, announced he was leaving Wheaton (the bastion of evangelical sub-culture) to accept a job at Notre Dame. While there was some weeping and gnashing of teeth over Noll's move, another quieter appointment was made to Notre Dame as well from the evangelical world. Christian Smith, sociologist, evangelical Christian, co-author of "Divided by Faith" and author of "Soul Searching" (the material I posted on a couple weeks ago) is leaving UNC to go to Notre Dame as well. Look out, Catholics, here comes the crazy evangelicals! What's up at Notre Dame that they're coming after people like Noll and Smith?

*Can I profess something to my little blog community? I love Bob Costas. He's fantastic. He's warm without being gushy (as the Olympics can so often lend themselves to), he's enthusiastic without forgetting that these are just games, he doesn't take himself too seriously but neither is he overly jaded and cynical. He enjoys what he does and so we enjoy hanging out with him as he navigates us from event to event, punctuating each transition with important details without bogging us down with meaningless chatter. A great emcee for any event, the perfect emcee for the global event that is the Olympics.

Monday, February 20, 2006

One Last Rest-Full Thought

I was thinking more about rest this weekend as we had family in town (thanks, Mom and Perry!) who gave Kelly and me some much-needed rest and recovery as we hit the six-week wall with Zoe.

I think that the Lord, in his severe mercy, is really good to bring us to places where we just have to rest. I've often thought that my mid-winter cold that I seem to get every year around this time has less to do with germs and more to do with the safeguarding of my soul.

Coming into this semester, we charted a course towards becoming a more missional community with strong emphasis on evangelism for our speakers at our large group meetings. I wanted to speak at least once during the first few weeks to help get us into a groove, but even back in early-December I knew that probably wasn't a good idea. I was eager to at least see what came of our large group emphasis and to help students really apply it to their lives.

Of course, then we had a baby. Zoe had all four-ish weeks of winter break to come, but instead she was born just a couple of days before students came back to town. And I spent much of the first three weeks of the semester working part-time and caring for my family during my paternity leave. And somehow, shockingly, things on campus went phenomenally well without me.

Since I am a control freak, I think that the particulars of how the Lord teaches me to rest might be different from someone who is not quite so controlling. But in my own life, I'm very thankful for the Lord's severe mercy to remind me that it's not all about me. At first it's an affront, but as I let it sink it, it's actually quite wonderful.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Rest, Recreation, and Diversion

One issue that came up as I shared the chapter/article with a student was the issue of the role of hobbies and normal recreational 'stuff.' When does a healthy hobby/recreation/diversion become unhealthy?

Obviously in the beginning of the article, I'm somewhat railing and ranting against an entertainment culture that is so clearly out-of-whack that it deadens us rather than enlivens and enriches us.

I think that as I've considered the question, the answer is in the words themselves: recreation and diversion. When it's healthy and appropriate and good, recreation is, quite literally, re-creation. It re-creates us in a physical, emotional, and/or spiritual sense. It participates in God's "again-making" that some day will be perfect and eternal. In this sense, healthy sleep habits are the perfect model of re-creation. When we wake up refreshed, renewed, and ready to embrace the works that God has gone ahead and prepared in advance for us to do with him on this new day, his day, then we have, indeed had a foretaste of his perfect re-creation.

Diversions, on the other hand, just do that--they divert our attention and minds from things that will only be there when we get back. Diversion becomes escapism and avoidance. Not that being 'diverted' is always a bad thing--I've often been diverted from a problem and come back to it much fresher as a result---but in a culture that is suffering from diversion-saturation, we would do well to ponder if all our diverting is ceasing to serve healthy purposes and ends. Re-creational ends, rather than simply avoidance or escapism.

The trick with this, of course, is that much of it is largely subjective. At the beach, my wife will read People magazine and I will read Eugene Peterson, and God uses both to re-create us as we rest. What starts as recreation can turn into diversion...and the other way around. But I think the vocabulary of recreation and diversion is at least a start in understanding what activities are healthy and what no longer serves us as it should.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Gone Public!

My article just posted today on Christianity Today's "Building Church Leaders" web site. Click here to read it. I'll let that be my 'post' for the next day or so and on Friday I'll post a follow-up to the article.

If you're linking here from the article, welcome to Piebald Life! Take a look around and if you're interested, take a look at my first publication "Tent Duty" (link to the right) which is also a chapter from my very hypothetical book!

A Parable at the Beach

Man, my wife was right last week when she noted that my more 'serious' posts got little love while the more trifling drew stronger response. Alas, here goes another attempt at thoughtfulness (meanwhile, thanks to Macon for allowing us all to cheer guilt-free for Team USA!).

This past Friday night the staff team arrived early to the student conference in order to prepare to host it. While the band was practicing, I took a moment to look out of the huge glass windows of our conference room that looked right onto the beach. I was in awe of the view--even Myrtle Beach doesn't look too bad when you get past all the tacky trinket stores and Hooters restaurants. The waves were crashing in, the sun had set about an hour earlier, the palm trees blew.

And then I noticed that I could see myself in the reflection of the glass. And I stopped looking out the window at the glorious view and I started to check myself out in the reflection. I'm not even sure what I was looking at--I don't have much hair, it was too dark to see if there was anything in my teeth.

At that moment the Lord broke in and made me aware of what I was doing...and how it is so much a parable of my life. He invites me into the beauty and wonder of his story and his work and I get distracted by looking at myself. "All is vanity" writes the author of Ecclesiastes. Indeed, and I need the Lord to free me to look past my own reflection in order to see something much, much greater.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Am I the Only One...

...who feels like cheering for Team USA in the Olympics is a bit like cheering when Wal-Mart opens another Superstore, or Exxon's profit margins rise, or Paris Hilton gets cosmetic surgery, or NFL players get a $50,000 Pro Bowl bonus?

I don't have hard numbers, but certainly we spend more per olympic athlete than almost anyone, and as a country we've got the most discretionary time of anyone in the world. Sure, Americans dominated the men's and women's snowboarding half-pipe, we invented the freakin' sport for crying out loud. Think that random 22-year-old woman living with her family in Nepal on $65 per year has time to hit the Himalayas for snowboarding practice in between working the 16-hour shift at the sweat shop and taking care of her kids?

Okay, so I admit, once the games are on and I'm sitting in front of the t.v, I'm cheering for the red-white-and-blue as much as the next capitalist pig. But when I stop to think about it, I can't help feeling a little guilty.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Land of the Ruins Highlight

Here's a snippet from my talk this past Friday night at the conference (the conference was phenomenal, by the way!).

If we go back to before "In the Beginning" we find God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit God. They're together in 'the Land of the Trinity' before time. You start talking about 'Trinity' and people start glazing over--it feels like A.P. Christianity, something for scholars or theologians. But Trinity is not A.P. Christianity. It's the very nature of who God is and it's essential to our understanding of the world that God is in his very nature relational, He is a relationship.

And so when he creates, he creates a world that is relational. Animals have pairs, Adam and Eve are in relationship, and of course there's the perfect un-broken relationship with God. But even deeper than that, we find that everything's relational: people and bodies are a relationship of organs, bones, tissue, and synapses. Press deeper and organs are a relationship of cells. Press deeper and cells are a relationship of parts like the nucleus, mitochondria and other things I've forgotten since 10th grade biology class. Press deeper and everything is made up of atoms, which is a relationship of protons and electrons.

And so all creation is relational like God is relational--and so all of creation points to the very nature of who God is. And in Eden, where we were made to live, every single relationship was one-hundred percent friction free. Paradise is the land of perfect relationships--between God and people, people and each other, and people and nature. Everyone is unique without getting annoying, mosquitoes don't bite, and we walk with God.

When you read Genesis 3, the Great and Terrible Exchange we call 'the fall,' relationships disintegrate 360 degrees. We run and hide from God, we run and hide from each other (then blame each other), we are no longer in harmony with nature, and the result is exile from the place we were made to live and ultimately death. Now, cells multiply uncontrollably and create cancers; guilt, shame, pride and anxiety hamper our freedom to relate; and we no longer instinctively recognize God as our good Father.

We are now born Orphans in the Land of the Ruins. What we call 'us' is in actuality the cumulative result of billions of relationships throughout the course of our lives, both natural ones (i.e. our physical bodies) and emotional ones (i.e. our parents). In place of billions of relationships that were 100% friction-free, we are now the result of billions of relationships that are stunted, hampered, and broken.

Not that everything is as bad as it possibly could be; it's just that nothing is as glorious as it was once meant to be.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Friday Grab-Bag

*Tough week for UNC basketball: men’s team lost a heart-breaker to Dook and the formerly undefeated and #1 ranked women’s team lost last night at home against #6 Maryland in overtime.  I was at that game last night with students.  And while I’m not going to be the world’s leading women’s basketball apologist, there was some good ball played and Ivory Latta (featured in Sports Illustrated a couple weeks ago as the women’s college answer to Allen Iverson) is pretty phenomenal.


*We’re off this weekend with students to our Area-wide conference entitled “Broken.”  Our goal with this weekend is to face as much of the brokenness in the world as we can grasp and then enter more fully into the wonder and power of God’s redemption of it in Christ.  So while you guys are watching some pasta-eating Italian while lighting the Olympic torch, I’ll be giving a talk called “The Land of the Ruins.”  In some ways, it makes for an interesting sociological study.  To over-state for illustration purposes: the secular Olympic hope and dream of many nations coming together under the Olympic torch for a couple weeks of games, while 140 college students gather together to talk about brokenness in our world at every level and the sole hope of healing through the work of Christ.  Of course, given my own world view, I would call the one a pleasant diversion but a fool’s hope for really healing the nations while the other I would call the only hope of the whole world.


*I’ve been reading more George MacDonald again.  Seldom have I come across someone who can be so dead-on and gloriously orthodox in one breath and then flat-out heretical in the next.  But his clarity and passion and gift for communicating come through again and again.  I’d recommend his “Unspoken Sermons Series” to anyone and everyone who’s even considering Christianity.  Consider this quote:  "God is against sin: insofar as we are one with sin, He is against us--against our desires, our aims, our fears, and our hopes; and thus He is altogether and always for us."



Thursday, February 09, 2006

John Mayer meets Frederich Nietzche

A couple weeks ago we had a speaker at our large group talk about part of his Ph.D. studies where he looked at the lives of famous atheists. He said that the one thing they all had in common was that they had either extremely dysfunctional relationships with their dads or they had no relationship with their fathers whatsoever. His point: if you're going to try to share your faith with Frederich Nietzche, you better listen and know what his issues really are. Not all 'presenting objections' are actually the totality of the obstacles to someone embracing faith.

This has stuck with me over the past few weeks as I've been growing into being a father of two. God made fatherhood to function as a sign or a pointer to his true Fatherhood. Just like all marriage (Christian or not) is fundamentally designed to point to Christ's love for the church (see last month's "Sacred Marriage" and Holiness and Happiness discussion under the archives) so, too, all fatherhood, Christian or not, points to God's Fatherhood.

I see this on campus with students all the time--dysfunctional dad relationships invariably produce issues in the students that I work with in terms of trusting God, understanding unconditional love and grace and acceptance, and experiencing real freedom and joy in the safety of their relationship with God.

Of course, our relationship with our dads, functional or dysfunctional, is not the final word on our relationship with God--C.S. Lewis had a highly dysfunctional relationship with his dad and there are few that I know of who knew God's heart and mind more intimately, but it's a significant part of our development as children of a good and perfect Father.

So as the not-so-great philosopher John Mayer once sang, fathers, be good to your daughters (and sons, too, for that matter), they'll begin to understand God's love like you do.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Here's a sweet shot of D and Z chillin' together. Davis continues to be a fantastic older brother, giving baby sister lots of squeezes and sharing his toys with her...even his most precious trucks and trains.

Monday was Zoe's one-month birthday! In keeping with a tradition that we started with Davis, we take a monthly picture of our little one next to the same stuffed animal in order to chart their progress and growth. At this point, Zoe is in the 90th percentile in terms of weight, continuing to gain a whopping one pound a week. At this rate she will surpass both mom and dad right around age three.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Unequally Yoked Sentiments

I've spent much of the past week considering Jesus' words in Luke: "Don't worry." I was struck as I was reading it that I consider this to be approximately on par with someone saying: "Have a nice day"...a nice sentiment, and if all the circumstances allow it, I'd love for it to come true. But in all actuality, odds are I'll have plenty to worry about, so I'll just do what I need to do, i.e. worry. A lot. Obviously, Jesus didn't have my life and this week's circumstances in mind when he said this to his pitiful little band of disciples 2,000 years ago.

It struck me last week that these aren't fluff words, and 'do not worry' isn't in the same genre as 'have a nice day.' It's a command. Like all of Jesus' commands, I either submit to it and so find life, or I rebel against it and find myself getting splinters as I go against the grain of the universe. But it is not to be dismissed as a trite greeting. It is God making a claim on my life, and I must choose for myself this day who and what I will serve.

And in keeping with my submission to Jesus' command, I'm not worried about UNC's little tiff with Dook tonight. Dook looks incredibly beatable right now and the refs will finally call some fouls on them after the last two referee crews got disciplinary action from the NCAA because of the ridiculous discrepancy in free throws in Dook's favor. I'm on a roll with sports predictions, here's tonight's: UNC 86, Dook 81.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Super Wrap-Up

Last night's game was a classic SuperBowl. Some thoughts:

*Like most SuperBowls, the teams played tight, the rhythm of the game was stiff and awkward, and big plays and turnovers basically decided the outcome.

*Seattle owned the game in terms of time of possession and yardage, but when you double up a team at half-time in terms of time of possession and you haven't scored more than 3 points (indeed, you're losing 7-3), you're giving the game away.

*There was definitely some questionable officiating (my Fantasy Football listserve chatter has been all over this).

*Mick Jagger showed us what happens to your 'singing voice' when you spend most of your life abusing it with various substances or just poor technique.

*My favorite 'spot' wasn't an add, but Harrison Ford along with others doing the SuperBowl re-mix of "Oh, The Places You'll Go" just before kick-off. I appreciate the nod to Dr. Seuss--although I have some issues with "The Cat in the Hat" that I'll save for another day's post.

*Several women students have told me that they love "Gray's Anatomy" and I got the idea that the ladies dug it more than the men. In consulting with Wesley Wilcox about this, she said that it was 'like E.R. but more soap-opera-y and less medical.' Does E.R. even do medicine any more? Anyway, I watched part of "Gray's Anatomy" after the SuperBowl and turned it off half-way without any problems. Can someone fill me in, here? What am I missing?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Stone Cold SuperBowl Lead-Pipe Lock

Here it is, SuperBowl eve, and I'm now ready to release my SuperBowl Lead-Pipe Lock. I pick a winner, and you can almost guarantee that the other team will bring it home.

Who do I want to win? Pittsburgh.

Who do I think actually will win? Pittsburgh.

That's right, you heard it here long after you heard it lots of other places, Pittsburgh takes it home. Final score: 30-24.

Now that I've made my pronouncement, it's safe to bet on the Seahawks.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The New Religious Result: Moralistic, Therapuetic Deism

When you blend all the pieces and attitudes towards religion together, the result is a new religion: Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism. Here is its' creed:

1. God exists who created and watches over us.
2. God wants people to be good/nice/fair as in the Bible and most religions.
3. The central goal of religion and all of life: be happy and feel good about yourself.
4. God is not particularlly involved in life except to fix problems.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die, and most people are good.

The point is not that these concepts in themselves are new--in fact, they largely echo the U.S. founding fathers (very few of whom were in fact Christian, which I wish some conservative Christian politicians would just admit) "Creator" and "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" language. What's significant is that the Christian church has always held that these concepts were not really Christian. So what was once a philosophy that was clearly distinct from Christianity has now subversively colonized Christianity (and all religious traditions in America, really) to where there is no religious tradition at all. At least, none that the children involved in the churches can clearly articulate.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Consumers and Radical Individualism

The prevailing attitude of the students studied was that of a profound individualism. The assumption is that the autonomous, self-directed individual is the norm and the goal. Religion, therefore, is something that you consume based on your own needs and wants. This is an instrumental view of religion and religious experience. It is a tool, one of many tools that may or may not get you where you, the automous individual, want to go. This, again, puts the individual at the center of all choice. Religion is not viewed as an external, transcendent reality that makes compelling claims or demands on peoples lives--especially demands to change in ways that seem unpalatable.

The primary ends of religion as teenagers understand it is this close but ambivalent relationship to morality--religion is seen as fostering morality but not necessary for it. The bar on morality is pretty low: "be nice" sums up the extent of it quite well.

As the business world has cast most all of us primarily in the role of 'consumers,' it was only a matter of time before this became the dominant paradigm for understanding all of our lives. Christian Smith contends that teens are not 'leading sociological indicators' of the future. Rather, they are barometers of our society at-large. Teenagers reflect back to the adult world the issues already present in our culture.

And when it comes to religion, teens are simply parroting back the mantra that until now has strictly been reserved for life in the marketplace: the customer is always right.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Soul Searching U.S. Teens

Yesterday I was extremely fortunate to hear a presentation by Christian Smith on his latest sociological study on religious life in America. The name of his book is called "Soul Searching" and he and his team did a massive study of the religious attitudes of 13-17 year olds in the U.S.

I was totally geeked out by his work--I'm clueless with numbers and have zero patience for any real research, but if it weren't for that, I think I would totally dig being a sociologist. I took four legal-sized pages worth of notes, and I'll post some highlights here over the next couple of days, along with my own insightful and witty commentary.

First off: most teens are remarkably conventional about their religious practices. The myth of the grumpy teenager backlashing against everything their parents hold true and dear is just that, a myth. In fact, most teens view religion in a generally positive light--in part because it's not worth fighting about because it's just not that important.

So while there's no open rebellion against faith (and the study included all types of faiths, but the majority were Christians) that's in part because it operates like wallpaper in teens' lives--who fights over something that operates so benignly in the background?