We live in a secular culture. As Fr Alexander Schmemann describes it our culture isn’t “necessarily anti-religious.” In fact, American culture is “both deeply religious and deeply secularistic.” But instead of being the over-arching framework that also permeates the whole of life (what the sociologist Peter Berger called a “sacred canopy), religion is seen as merely a part of life.
We are often quite sincere in our affirmation, Schmemann says, of “the need for religion” and we even “give it a place of honor and cover it with many privileges.” But while we look to religion (including the Gospel) to “supply life with ethical standards, with help and comfort, we often fail to expect the Gospel to “transform life” to transform us and those we love.
As a practical matter, this means that as an Orthodox Christian I can believe “in God and in the immortality of the soul” even pray daily “and find great help in prayer.” But when I go to work (or in the case of Orthodox young people, school), everything that I do, is done without any reference or discussion of “the fundamental religious realities of Creation, Fall and Redemption” (you can read the whole essay here).
And not only are we all generally accepting of this state of affairs, many of us even advocate for it because we live in a “pluralistic” society.
For our young people, school, extra-curricular activities, social media, and the entertainment they seek out, almost the whole of how they spend their day, happens without reference to the Gospel. This leads to the situation in which they don’t so much reject Christ and the Gospel as they simply drift away.
Spiritually, it’s like what happens when children are raised only playing video games and never going outside to play. To a large degree, we are seeing the fruit of young people being raised to be spiritual couch potatoes. Or what the fathers call the sin of sloth (acedia)
In Liturgy and Life: Christian Development through Liturgical Experience, Schmemann touches on a theme we have seen before. Orthodox Christians, like our Roman Catholics (here), Evangelical Christians and Mainline Protestants brothers and sisters, are struggling with forming young people as disciples of Christ. We know that telling young people about God isn’t enough. They too need to meet, know and love God.
What we are talking about is broader and deeper than religious education; we’re concerned with the spiritual formation of young people.
This is a task that belongs to the whole Church. This is why we need to look not only at young people but also ourselves. Why? Because “We cannot teach what we do not practice ourselves” (Life and Liturgy, p. 14).
Even when they rebel (and this is next week’s topic), young people do so using the emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual toolkit adults gave them. This raises three fundamental questions for us as youth ministers.
- How are we failing to provide young people with the tools they need to discern and live out their vocations? In other words, how are we failing to help them rebel against the world by following Christ?
- How are we succeeding? What are we doing well to help young people to live out who they are in Christ? Or, how are we helping them rebel against the world by following Christ?
- Mindful of our weakness, how can we build on our strengths to help young people live life as disciples of Jesus Christ within the context of the Orthodox Church and their daily lives?