Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Author Interview: William Mattison on Moral Theology and True Happiness

Click here to learn more about Introducing Moral Theology: True Happiness and the Virtues by William C. Mattison III.

William Mattison (WM) is assistant professor of theology at The Catholic University of America.

CPYU: What motivated you to write your new book Introducing Moral Theology: True Happiness and the Virtues? And who is the intended audience?

WM: The book is basically a written version of an Introduction to Christian ethics course I have now taught over 20 times the past six years at four different institutions. When I began teaching there seemed to me a real need for an accessible, engaging presentation of Christian discipleship as an alluring and persuasive answer to the basic human question, “How can I live a happy life?” University students today are for the most part poorly formed in matters of faith, and their ideas of what Christianity entails too often consist of childish imagery or mere moral maxims. In the tradition of great books like C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, and excellent recent books like Lee Camp’s Mere Discipleship, I hoped to present an accessible and engaging yet thoroughgoing account of the Christian answer to the question, “How can I live a good, i.e., happy, life?”

CPYU: Briefly describe what you mean by “true happiness.” How might your definition conflict with popular cultural notions of “happiness”?

WM: For centuries from classical thinkers such as Aristotle through Christian greats such as Augustine and Aquinas, morality was simply understood as the path to a genuinely happy life. True fulfillment, or happiness, was constituted by living virtuously. Now we too often understand morality or virtue as an impediment to our happiness. That is sad. The book tries to make the case that the questions “How can I live a morally good life?” and “How can I be truly happy?” are one and the same.

As evidenced by the important differences among the thinkers mentioned above, establishing that morality is about happiness is a distinct matter from explaining what true happiness is! Yet notwithstanding important differences among these thinkers, they are all representative of one of two basic answers to the question of human happiness. They all recognize that happiness is essentially a matter of friendship, of communal living for the common good (of our friends, our families, our cities, etc.). This is opposed to the rival understanding of happiness, so popular today, as self-centered and individualistic, in short, as getting whatever one wants. True happiness is instead about wanting what is truly best for ourselves and for those with whom we share life.

Of course, Christians have a distinctive take on the nature of that friendship. It is friendship with God, a very participation in the Triune divine life made possible by Jesus Christ, who calls us His friends and invites us to a life in communion with God and others where our joy is complete. Christian discipleship is answer to, not a rejection of, the human longing for happiness. Indeed, though it answers that natural longing it does so in a way that far transcends anything that humanity could understand let alone live out without God’s grace.

CPYU: There is a recent movement of college presidents seeking to lower the drinking age. This has sparked a national conversation about binge drinking in college. As a professor of moral theology, what do you think are some of the deeper issues related to drinking on today’s college campuses?

WM: One of the biggest problems with the approach toward students on college campuses today is the near complete adoption of a morality of obligation rather than a morality of happiness. Students are presented with rules that are backed by fear of consequences of some sort. What we need to lead students to question is how their drinking is contributing to (or, at least as likely, impeding) their ability to live genuine happy and fulfilling lives. The goal is not to “not drink,” but to live well. To the extent that drinking alcohol contributes to that endeavor, fine. But it takes only a modicum of reflection with college students to lead them to see how common practices concerning alcohol on college campuses today actually impede the very things students claim to be pursuing when they drink: deepened friendship, relaxation, romantic relationships, etc.

CPYU: In your book there is a chapter entitled “Alcohol and American College Life: Test Case One.” What did you learn from writing that chapter that might inform this conversation?

WM: First of all, there are a lot more students in college who do not abuse alcohol than we might expect. It seems we would go far by lifting these students up. By fixating on those who abuse alcohol we unwittingly reinforce a drinking culture at college.

Second, we concentrate disproportionately on the external effects of drinking: drop out rates, drunk driving, vandalism, violence (including sexual violence), etc. These are serious problems to be sure and we ignore them at our peril. But by concentrating solely on these more obviously measurable problems resulting from problematic alcohol use, “solutions” often take the form of designated drivers, drinking near to home, staying close to friends to keep an eye on us, etc. Elaborate student practices have developed to enable people to keep drinking excessively and yet not face these bad effects. But that fails to address how our (ab)use of alcohol can warp our characters, displace other more genuine goods in our lives, and corrupt the friendships and romantic relationships that we engage in while relying on alcohol for relaxation and socialization. In short, the more obvious negative side effects of drinking are not the only problem with alcohol at college today.

Third, an honest and detailed look at why and how we drink reveals much about where we hold alcohol in terms of our priorities, and how it stands up to other priorities we insist are more important to us than drinking but which appear on closer examination to be governed by and deformed by our drinking practices.

CPYU: Many of our readers, parents and youth workers, are preparing students for college. What do you think are some of the challenges students face transitioning to college and how can we begin to nurture virtues in our teens that will help them navigate those challenges?

WM: So many freshman who arrive on college campuses find themselves free of the rules that had prevented them from drinking alcohol, and as a result drink excessively in reaction against the yoke of those perceived taboos. To the extent that we parents and educators present the rules regarding drinking as obligations, as barriers to living well rather than aids to living more genuinely fulfilling lives (quite possibly including the drinking of alcohol), we fail to prepare young adults to see on their own the rationale behind our rules and choose for themselves responsible behavior that is not simply “the right thing to do” but actually a more rewarded and fulfilling way to live.

Related Links:

Click here to read an excerpt of Introducing Moral Theology

Derek Melleby's thoughts in USA Today on lowering the drinking age

Friday, September 26, 2008

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life

Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life, Colin Duriez (Crossway, 2008)

Reviewed by Derek Melleby

“Who is Francis Schaeffer?” The question came from a young, bright, Christian college student who over heard me talking about the new biography Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life by Colin Duriez. “Are you serious? You don’t know who Francis Schaeffer is?” I responded. It was as if someone from a far-off tribe had asked me “Who is this Jesus of Nazareth that you speak of?” My heart began to beat a little faster, and I had the privilege of introducing this young student to the giver of Christian intellectual life, my savior, I mean, my hero, Francis Schaeffer.

There was irony in this conversation, of course. I was talking to a young, Christian student, who is passionate about developing a Christian approach to sustainable agriculture, linking it to deeper, local community life. We have had numerous conversations about the church in the 21st century, the kingdom of God, and environmental concerns. She was beginning to make connections with her deepest convictions about the environment and the Gospel and was living them out at a summer internship on an organic farm. Connecting what she believed about the world with how she lived in the world, was being manifested (incarnated) in tangible ways, and she had a plethora of resources to draw from: books, conferences, mentors and MP3 lectures. Here’s the irony: while she had no idea who Francis Schaeffer was, he had pioneered a movement of Christians to not only think more deeply about the Christian faith and how it sustains the attacks of modernity and the scientific revolution, but he also pleaded with believers to live-out faith in ways that showed the world the “Truth” of the Gospel. My guess, and it’s only a guess, is that if this same college student would have had similar convictions 50 years ago, the only place on the planet where she could have had an opportunity to wrestle with these questions, network with like-minded people and seek a Christian understanding of her concerns would have been under the teaching of Francis Schaeffer at his L’Abri ministry in Switzerland.

I don’t want to overstate this. Certainly Francis Schaeffer wasn’t the only “thinking Christian” in the 20th Century. But it did dawn on me that while this student didn’t know who Francis Schaeffer was, she was certainly living in his legacy. Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) was a Presbyterian pastor who became a missionary in Europe to expand a children’s ministry that he had started with his wife Edith. He was also deeply concerned with the “liberalization” of the church, especially the “higher criticism” approach to scripture. Not only did Schaeffer travel from city to city starting children’s ministries, but he would also lecture on the contemporary challenges to biblical, evangelical faith. In 1955, the Schaeffers started L’Abri (French for shelter), a place for “truth-seekers” to come and ask questions, wrestle with faith, and study Christianity more deeply. People came from all over the world, many converting to Christianity and many being energized to live-out their faith in powerful ways. You can learn more about this amazing ministry in Edith Schaeffer’s book L’Abri.

Colin Duriez’s biography is an excellent place to start to learn more about this remarkable man. I recommend it highly, not only for those wanting to learn more about Schaeffer but for anyone who is interested in a deeper engagement with the Christian faith and culture. Schaeffer’s story needs to be known for generations to come and Duriez has told his story beautifully. Instead of retelling his story here, I’d rather discuss what I learned. What follows are three important things that I learned about Schaeffer through reading this book, and why I think each one is vital for the church today:

First, Schaeffer was not afraid to ask tough questions about his faith. Before starting L’Abri, Schaeffer went through a grueling period of doubt and reconsideration of the Christian worldview. In fact, his wife thought that there was a chance that he was going to walk away from his faith altogether. Fortunately, this crisis of faith led Schaeffer to an even deeper commitment to the Truth of the gospel and to starting one of the most influential ministries of the 20th century. Probably the most significant aspect of Schaeffer’s legacy is his belief in the Christian faith for the sole reason that it is True. Because of this, he wasn’t afraid to meet intellectual challenges head on, even opening himself up to the possibility that he could be wrong. Humility became one of his defining characteristics. What a legacy for the church to consider. Do we, as the body of Christ, welcome times of questions and doubts? Do we take the time to fully understand opposing viewpoints? Is humility one of our defining characteristics? In order to engage the culture around us in effective ways, we can learn much from Schaeffer’s approach.

Second, Schaeffer was not only concerned with a “thinking” faith, but also a “living” faith. Schaeffer thought that too many Christians were not living out what they believed. Following his faith crisis, Schaeffer was determined to live in a way that revealed the Gospel to be true. If there truly was a God who was present, working in history and in our lives, then we should live in a way that conformed to this reality. We should expect God to meet our needs, provide opportunities to minister and make Himself known to others. In many ways, L’Abri could almost be seen as Schaeffer forcing God’s hand, making Him be true to his word. And the story of L’Abri is, itself, confirmation of the Truth of the Christian faith. Do we live in ways that require the Gospel to be true? Or do we simply live out an American, Western lifestyle and hope God is there to bless us? I think Schaeffer would challenge us to evaluate our lives to see if we really live as if the Biblical story is the True story of the world. Schaeffer’s words from an interview in 1980:

"I think there are many Christians - I mean, real Christians, real brothers and sisters in Christ, people I'm really fond of - who believe that certain things in the Christian faith are true, and yet, somehow or other, never relate this to truth. I don't know if it comes across, what I'm trying to say, but I believe it's truth - and not just religious truth, but the truth of what is. This gives you a different perspective." (p. 189)

Third, Schaeffer was willing to partner with people outside of the evangelical Christian faith who supported a common cause. While not wavering on his personal convictions regarding evangelical faith and the authority of Scripture, he had no problem joining others who had similar concerns regarding public policy and social justice. This is certainly more widespread today, but in Schaeffer’s day, as a reformed Presbyterian pastor, it was almost unheard of to work along side Catholics or Mormons or agnostics who were united to confront injustices in the world. The church today should glean needed wisdom from Schaeffer’s willingness to work with and learn from others outside of his Christian tradition.

Schaeffer’s story is one that needs to be told and retold. Thanks to this new biography, more people can learn about this important person in Christian history. Christian college students, especially, need to be reminded of the coherence and Truth of the Gospel and how it applies to all areas of life. Duriez’s biography reminds us that the life and writings of Francis Schaeffer is a good model for how to put this into practice.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Kara Powell: Reader Interview

Current position/title: Executive Director, the Fuller Youth Institute

CPYU: Have you always been a reader? If not, how did you become one?

KP: I have loved reading ever since I was a kid.

CPYU: What are your reading habits and practices?

KP: I read everything (other than novels) with a pen in my hand. I mark up books and articles and have my own code for main ideas, interesting ideas, and ideas with which I disagree. If it’s a book I really want to absorb, I often go back through the book a second time and type out important quotes as well as my response to those quotes. I also try to discuss articles or books I’m reading with coworkers or my husband because I find that discussing them helps deepen their impact on my life.

CPYU: Name 3 books that have been very influential in your life and one sentence that explains why.

KP: It’s too tough to think about my whole life so I’ll give 3 books that have influenced my last six months:

The Bible, especially the book of Psalms – meditating on them has helped me integrate more emotion into my faith.

The Shack ­– just read it recently on vacation and it’s very much expanded my view of the Kingdom life that God invites us to experience.

Made to Stick – a great book on communication and how to better explain yourself to any audience, including teenagers.

CPYU: If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would it be and what questions would you ask him or her?

KP: Well, the Apostle Paul is the first to come to mind, and I’d love for him to explain parts of Romans that I don’t fully understand.

CPYU: According to a recent study by the National Endowment of the Arts, very few young people are reading. Do you have any ideas on how to get young people to read?

KP: I think we have to re-think the way we write for students, as well as adults. There’s much more “power browsing” happening these days, so we have to think about how to present the most important ideas in smaller chunks.

Related Links:

The Fuller Youth Institute

Chris Wagner's review of Dr. Powell's book Deep Justice in a Shallow World

You Make the Call What College Freshmen Need to Hear from their Youth Pastors - Article by Kara Powell offering advice on the importance of youth workers staying connecting with students during the fall semester of college.

FYI's College Transition Project

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Top Ten Books for Christian Students

Hat tip to my good friend Tom Grosh for pointing me in the direction of this funny video highlighting helpful books for Christian students. Now, The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness was not mentioned... I'm sure it came in at number 11! Enjoy!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Author Interview: David Lovelace on Scattershot

To learn more about Scattershot: My Bipolar Family by David Lovelace (DL) visit the book's website here.

Click here to read Walt Mueller's review of Scattershot.

CPYU: Tell us a little bit about your motivation for writing Scattershot. How difficult was it to get over the hump of secrecy to become so vulnerable about your family’s struggle with mental illness?

DL: I’ve been open about my own struggles with bipolar disorder with my friends and some work associates for many years. On a more personal level, as a writer, I’ve been pretty gun-shy, unwilling to take apart the pain and look at it. I’m a poet and so in the past I’ve approached my illness obliquely, using metaphor and symbol. After a particularly harrowing crisis – the one portrayed in chapter 1 – I wrote another poem but it just didn’t have the emotional punch I wanted, the catharsis I needed. And so I began writing Scattershot. I’m glad to have my story out, in public, because I know it can help others.

Now, writing about my family is of course more complex, much more difficult for me. About twenty pages in I knew I’d have to write the whole, painful truth. To do this I knew I’d have to write a nuanced book, one shot through with love and empathy, otherwise I’d never sleep. My parents are both very proud of me, although we don’t discuss the more painful aspects of the book. My siblings love the book.

CPYU: You have firsthand experience with living with parents and siblings who battled mental illness, and you’ve gone deep down into it on a personal level yourself. As you interact with people who haven’t had your experience, what have you found to be their greatest misunderstanding?

DL: Both depression and mania are not volitional. No one chooses despair, you can’t just shake it off; no one chooses a manic high. It is not a moral failing and drugs such as lithium, the antidepressants, they’re not a kind of crutch; they don’t indicate weakness. They are a godsend, literally. Many people don’t understand that the crazy ends of bipolar disorder are not permanent, static. Many, many bipolar individuals are highly productive, creative and loving. You can’t cure this thing – it’s a brain disease, the inability of the brain to regulate emotion – but you can manage it with medicine and exercise.

CPYU: You grew up in a fairly high profile Christian family, with a dad who was well-known in Christian circles, and highly revered. You’re also very candid about your break from the faith of your parents. Where do you think Christianity, as you experienced it and/or Christians, as you experienced them, have failed in understanding and interacting with those who suffer from bipolar disorder?

DL: If pressed, I’d have to say I’ve broken with evangelicalism, not my faith. I mean no offense but the cultural vision I found at Wheaton College…well, it gave me the hives. When I hear the word inerrancy I reach for my revolver, so to speak. But at the same time, at least on my better days, I still believe.

As for the intersection between Christianity and bipolar disease or, in a wider sense, between spirituality and madness is action packed. My family’s disease is a deeply spiritual one. No doubt depression is a descent into hell, as close to damnation as you can get topside. And yes, mania trails a bit of glory behind it, a touch of the divine. One experiences – or at least I did – the infinite connections, some kind of great, cosmic web. Of course it makes you crazy, no one looks at the Lord’s face, so to speak.

On a practical level, I think many Christians emphasize the spiritual over the biochemical, trust prayer over secular psychiatry. It shouldn’t be either/or. It’s possible Satan isn’t tempting you in the wilderness; it’s possible your neurotransmitters are out of whack.

CPYU: As a bipolar teenager and young adult, you no doubt experienced a combination of the good, the bad, and the ugly in terms of interaction with Christian adults. What can church youth workers do to understand and help teenagers who are struggling with mental illness?

DL: I think psychotherapy is much more accepted by the church these days. I think a combination of pastoral guidance and secular psychotherapy is critical. I good therapist knows the ropes, is familiar with the biochemical component, and the types of denial and pain specific to the illness. You won’t get this insight from a doctor/psychiatrist by the way; all you’ll get is a few minutes and a pill. I think the proper order of care within the church is: pastoral to psychotherapy to psychiatrist.

CPYU: How and what are your parents doing now?

DL: My parents are both doing well. Last year their apartment got too much for them – grocery shopping, driving, and so forth. Now they live in an assisted living very close by my family. There’s a nurse on call, no chance of their medicine getting screwed up, etc. My mother’s painting watercolors again, thinking about teaching a class, actually. There’s another history professor living there and my father is getting him up to speed on Jonathan Edwards.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Beautiful Mind: A Review of David Lovelace's Scattershot

Scattershot: My Bipolar Family
David Lovelace

Reviewed by Walt Mueller

If I were to ever write a memoir (and I’m not planning on it, by the way), there would be two chapters devoted to two of the most significant experiences and periods of my life.

First was my time spent working as an MHT (Mental Health Technician) on the adolescent ward of a private psychiatric hospital outside of Philadelphia. It was the mid-1970’s and the mental health profession was dangling on the tail end of its “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” period in terms of diagnosis and treatment. Patients were labeled, largely misunderstood, locked away, drugged, and monitored. I remember my time spent working with schizophrenic, manic-depressive, and psychotic teenagers as one largely void of hope. The fact that a sedated existence was the best scenario for a group of kids almost my age did a real number on me. I loved my job. I loved loving these kids. But there was no love at all between me and the reality I faced for eight hours a day in that dark place. In fact, the experience was so void of hope that during my second summer as an MHT, I spent my days fighting a growing stomach-ache that had me spending many of my hours at home doubled up in bed. My nerve and stress-induced gastritis went away when I returned to school in the fall, but the memories of what I saw and experienced have never left.

Of course, since then, new technologies have allowed scientists to map and understand the wonders and complexities of the brain, along with many of the malfunctions that the fingerprint of human depravity have left on this organ that once was all that God intended it to be. In hindsight, I know that my young friends could only be diagnosed and treated based on a limited body of knowledge. In today’s world, those same kids would have the advantage of better diagnosis and treatment. But doing the best with what was known at the time, a small army of adolescents walked back and forth in a locked ward, prisoners to their sickness. . . . with the seen and unseen “locks” of their lives serving as loud and clear cries for the Kingdom of God to come and undo what sin had done.

The second period took place a few years after my time at the psychiatric hospital. Newly married, we had moved to the north shore of Massachusetts to attend Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. The combination of academic rigor and the idyllic New England setting served to help me focus on things other than people suffering from mental illness. In many ways they were forgotten. Little did I know that beneath the appearances of a seminary community intent on pursuing a deeper knowledge and understanding of God (i.e. it all looked great), there were classmates and even professors who were struggling to keep it all together.

Yesterday I finished reading a brand new book that served to pull the curtain back on a reality that stood in front of us regularly in the seminary classroom, but which we never even new existed. David Lovelace has written a compelling memoir, Scattershot: My Bipolar Family (Dutton, 2008), that chronicles the deep and debilitating battles with mental illness that four of five members of his immediate family of origin waged back then, and even up to today.

The book caught my eye not so much because of its topic, but because of one of its principal subjects, David’s father Richard. When I arrived on the Gordon-Conwell campus in 1982, Richard Lovelace was one of the most beloved professors and a well-known champion of the truth in evangelical circles. He had written one of the most widely-read and critically-acclaimed books of the late 1970s, The Dynamics of Spiritual Life. Arriving on campus, we not only looked forward to sitting in his church history classes, but it was a treat to hear the many hilarious stories regarding Dr. Lovelace’s eccentricities and absent-mindedness. Some of them were so incredibly out there that you actually wondered if they were true, or simply legendary.

Reading Scattershot served as a catalyst for the collision of two of my worlds – that suburban Philadelphia psychiatric hospital, and Gordon-Conwell seminary. While he has seemingly turned his back on the faith in response to a combination of his own bipolar battle and the fundamentalism of his childhood, David Lovelace tells the harrowing story of his family with a combination of ugly detail, ongoing love for his parents, and grace. His father is no longer just a professor who stood in front of the class or was seen walking across campus. Scattershot reveals the depth of his humanity and struggle, as David’s writing forces readers to laugh with the family when appropriate (I learned even more about Dr. Lovelace’s experiences and eccentricities), and cry with compassion over the deep darkness of mental illness, especially when viewed from the inside out.

The book features one of those stereotypical early 1970s church directory photos on the cover (can you say “Olan Mills?”). We’ve all seen them, and most of us have been in them. . . . complete with the plaid sport coat. But there was torment lying under the surface of the five smiles, and the words hidden behind the book’s cover lay it all out in ways that will open readers’ eyes to a world that while it lives in our midst, we might never know, inhabit, or even understand.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Understanding American Teens After High School: An Interview with Author Tim Clydesdale

One of the most helpful books written in the last year concerning college transition is Tim Clydesdale’s The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens After High School (Chicago University Press). A sociology professor at The College of New Jersey, Dr. Clydesdale conducted a six-year study following students from high school into their first year after high school. His reflections offer a window into the lives of American teenagers and his conclusions and recommendations have major implications for how we prepare students for college. Dr. Clydesdale’s work has significantly shaped CPYU’s College Transition Initiative and what follows is a recent interview about this important book.

CPYU: What motivated you to conduct the research for The First Year Out?

TC: In short – I had limited resources and a false hunch. The limited resources were a function of being a new assistant professor without research funds, but realizing the one source of data that I had in abundance were eager and willing college freshmen. The false hunch was that these freshmen would be undergoing as significant an awakening intellectually and religiously as I underwent attending Wheaton College after 12 years in the Philadelphia Public School system. Of course, I didn’t know my hunch was false until I began collecting data. Once I began hearing how little freshmen felt they did change intellectually or with respect to their faith, I had a puzzle I had to solve.

CPYU: What was the most surprising thing you learned about teenagers from your research?

TC: I would say it was how open teens were to talking to a sympathetic adult listener. It was as if they yearned for a sounding board – a listening and engaged ear – and once they found it in the interview room, they poured out their hearts. Neither their parents nor their peers provided an unfettered place in which the teens could talk; it seems that the adults in teens’ lives were more interested in telling them something than they were in listening to them, and that their friends were likewise so caught up in their own concerns they didn’t listen very much either. This reveals something about American culture – that we nurture individuals so consumed with themselves that we as a culture are losing our desire if not our ability to listen. Even well-meaning folks like teachers, parents, and youth pastors get so caught up in conveying a set of ideas that they rarely let up on the barrage of information. Teens are drowning in competing claims for allegiance, and no one, it seems, is providing teens the time and space to sort through all of this.

CPYU: You suggest that most American teens keep core identities in an “identity lockbox” during their first year out. Briefly describe what you mean by “identity lockbox” and why you think this is a key insight into the world of today’s teenagers.

TC: It is not so easy to “make it” in the U.S. anymore. Housing & transportation are less and less affordable, secure jobs with good benefits are rare, and achieving the “American Dream” has become a far more difficult accomplishment than it was, say, in the post-WWII era. Back then, a college diploma guaranteed one’s place in the American Dream; today, that diploma may not even get you a job with benefits. Consequently, American teens take a highly practical view of their college education, prioritizing, like Americans as a whole, the management of everyday life. Taking a moment to reflect about deeper matters, such as teen identities as persons of faith, as men or women, or as citizens, is not only distracting, it can be downright “dangerous.” That’s because such reflection can lead teens to an unpopular choice about one of these deeper identities, which in turn puts teens out-of-step with the American cultural mainstream if not in jeopardy of never attaining one’s desired standard of living. In short, mainstream American life has become a relentless work-spend-borrow-consume cycle that discourages all questioning or reflection, and teens have become as caught up in this as adults are.

CPYU: You write, “Few and far between are teens whose lives are shaped by purpose, who demonstrate direction, who recognize their interdependence with communities small and large, or who think about what it means to live in the biggest house in the global village.” Did you notice any difference with Christian students you interviewed, or would you say that this is true for most teens, regardless of religious affiliation?

TC: I found this to be true of most Christian students, even those who say their faith is “very important” to them. It seems that most Christian students want to keep their faith in a nice safe box: they attend church, they read the Bible & pray, but they largely pursue the same work-spend-borrow-consume lifestyle that their nonChristian peers do. The majority of Christian teens are content to sprinkle their suburban middle class aspirations with evangelical faith (again, not unlike most adult evangelicals). I did find some Christian teens (say 10-25%) who are open to questioning whether these suburban aspirations represent the life of radical discipleship to which Jesus calls his followers. Such teens want to think deeply about their faith and engage it with the wider world. Unfortunately, few of these youths possess the mentorship that nurtures this sort of faith development, and without it, the tug of work-spend-borrow-consume may ultimately prevail.

CPYU: “College transition” is currently a hot topic in youth ministry these days. Churches are reporting that more and more students walk away from the faith during the college years. What do you think are the implications of your research for youth pastors as they prepare students in their youth groups for college?

TC: Those who “walked away” from their faith during college made the decision to do so long before their college years – they just waited for the freedom of college to enact that choice. In many cases, these teens reported having important questions regarding faith during early adolescence (12-14 years old) that were ignored by their parents or pastors rather than taken seriously and engaged thoughtfully. It is in early adolescence that faith trajectories (along with other life trajectories) are set, thus early adolescence is the point when preparation must occur. Middle and late adolescence are increasingly similar, as college represents less of a qualitative change and more of a quantitative change. In other words, there are few ideas and freedoms available to college students that are not also available to high school students – college students simply experience ideas and freedoms in greater quantity. Hence, early adolescence are the years when churches must prepare their youth, and must do so fully aware that youth now arbitrate among many claims for their allegiance. Sadly, most youth ministries are long on fun and fluff and short on listening and thoughtful engagement. The former produces a million paper boats; the latter produces a handful of seaworthy ships. Launching a million paper boats is an amazing spectacle on a clear summer day, but only a ship can weather storms and cross oceans.

Related links:

A review of The First Year Out by Derek Melleby

CPYU President Walt Mueller’s blog post mentioning the interview

More about CPYU’s The College Transition Initiative

Tim Clydesdale’s website

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Reader Interview: Paul Robertson

Current position/title: Youth Culture Specialist, Youth Unlimited/Toronto YFC, Associate Staff member of CPYU.

Location: Toronto, Canada

CPYU: Have you always been a reader? If not, how did you become one?

PR: I have always loved to read but more so now than when I was younger. My parents were not readers but it seems I always had things to read.

CPYU: What are your reading habits and practices?

PR: I keep a file in my Internet favorites called “Books”. Whenever I read an article that refers to a good book, I go to my favorite online bookstore, look it up, and then add that link to my books favorite’s folder. About every two months I order all my books online, free shipment, and usually appear in my mailbox within two days. I tend to accumulate books and do lots of reading while on holidays at my cottage. I also keep a couple of books in the washroom… great place to get some reading done.

CPYU: Name 3 books that have been very influential in your life and one sentence that explains why.

PR: The Upside-Down Kingdom by Donald Kraybill. An absolutely refreshing look at what it means to be part of and a builder in the inverted kingdom of God here on earth.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonheoffer. A classic look at the grace of God that should be read once a year to remind us how far we’ve wandered from original grace.

I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe. A fascinating look at the clash of cultures based on Wolfe’s observation of American campuses and how the world slowly wears down Christians.

CPYU: If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would it be and what questions would you ask him or her?

PR: Tony Bennett – Did you and a buddy really rough up Don Rickles in the early days for making fun of you?

CPYU: According to a recent study by the National Endowment of the Arts, very few young people are reading. Do you have any ideas on how to get young people to read?

PR: Parents need to read to their kids and be seen reading by their kids.

Related Links:
Paul Robertson's website

List of seminars by Paul Robertson

Popular article by Paul Robertson - "Tattoos: A skin-deep reflection of adolescent life"

Monday, September 1, 2008

Hooked - September Resource of the Month

Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex Is Affecting Our Children, Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr. and Freda McKissic Bush

With more than 900,000 unwanted pregnancies and 19 million new sexually transmitted infections occurring each year in the U.S., too few young people consider the emotional and psychological risks of casual sex. These bonds are formed, regardless of the precautionary measures taken.

This book by two doctors, Joe S. McIlhaney and Freda McKissic Bush, isn’t merely another stern warning about teenage sex, but rather a journey of discovery into the human brain when we are at our most vulnerable.

Society tells us that sex is an act of self-expression, a personal choice for physical pleasure that can be summed up in the ubiquitous phrase, “hooking up.” But what happens when those relationships end, when the physical pleasure is a memory and the person you shared it with is gone? Millions of American teenagers and young adults are finding that the psychological baggage of such behavior is having a real and lasting impact on their lives. They are discovering that “hooking up” is the easy part, but “unhooking” from the bonds of a sexual relationship can have serious consequences.

Available at the CPYU Resource Center