I lecture and write often, but I am not sure how to write to those our society identifies as the young, or adolescents. I do not know who you are and I am a bit frightened by that unknown. The last band I knew was U2, and I only knew them because they were the last group introduced to me by my son before he “grew up.” I do not know what you read or the movies you see. So I do not know how to “connect” with you.Moreover, I think it is disgusting for an older guy to try to show he can be “with it.” I do not want to be “with it.” I quit teaching freshmen when I taught at the University of Notre Dame over twenty years ago. I did so because I simply found it demeaning to try to convince eighteen-year-olds that they ought to take God seriously. Eighteen-year-old people in our society simply lack the resources to take God seriously—by a “resource,” I mean having noticed that before you know it you are going to be dead…I do not necessarily want this lecture to make you miserable, but I hope that at least some of what I say may help illumine why you are miserable. Indeed I do not want this lecture to be “memorable” for you, particularly if “memorable” means you will think the Duke Youth Academy was a “wonderful” experience. I went to church summer camp once when I was growing up in Texas. I remember the highlight of the camp was watching the sun go down on the last night from a mountain—well, a hill (it was Texas)—while we sang “Kumbayah.” This was an attempt to give us a “mountain top experience” that we could identify with being or becoming a Christian. About the last thing I would want is for you to have such an experience here. I do not want to make Christianity easy. I want to make it hard.I assume most of you are here because you think you are Christians, but it is not at all clear to me that the Christianity that has made you Christians is Christianity. For example:How many of you worship in a church with an American flag?I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.How many worship in a church in which the Fourth of July is celebrated?I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.How many of you worship in a church that recognizes Thanksgiving?I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.How many of you worship in a church that celebrates January 1 as the “New Year”?I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.How many of you worship in a church that recognizes “Mother’s Day”?I am sorry to tell you your salvation is in doubt.I am not making these claims because I want to shock you. I do not want you to leave the Youth Academy thinking that you have heard some really strange ideas here that have made you think. It is appropriate that you might believe you are here to make you think, because you have been told that is what universities are supposed to do, that is, to make you think. Universities are places where you are educated to make up your own mind. That is not what I am trying to do. Indeed, I do not think most of you have minds worth making up. You need to be trained before you can begin thinking. So I have not made the claims above to shock you, but rather to put you in a position to discover how odd being a Christian makes you.One of the great difficulties with being a Christian in a country like America—allegedly a Christian country—is that our familiarity with “Christianity” has made it difficult for us to read or hear Scripture. For example, consider how “Mother’s Day” makes it hard to comprehend the plain sense of some of the stories of Jesus. InMark 3:31–35, we find Jesus surrounded by a crowd. His mother and brothers were having trouble getting through the crowd to be with Jesus. Somebody in the crowd tells him that his mom cannot get through the mass of people to be near him. This elicits from Jesus the rhetorical question “Who are my mother and brothers?” which he answered noting, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Even more forcefully Jesus says in Luke 14:26, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” When you celebrate “Mother’s Day” the only thing to do with texts like these is “explain them,” which usually means Jesus could not have meant what he plainly says.Of course the presumption that Christianity is a family-friendly faith is a small change perversion of the Gospel when compared to the use of faith in God to underwrite American pretensions that we are a Christian nation possessing righteousness other nations lack. Consider, for example, this report from The Washington Times (July 8, 2002):President Bush joined more than 100 parishioners at a seaside church [in Kennebunkport, Maine] yesterday in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during services, a defiant dig at a recent San Francisco court ruling on the pledge’s “under God” phrase. In the middle of the morning service at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church, Chaplain M. L. Agnew Jr. departed from the regular program and asked the congregation to stand and say the pledge to the U.S. flag. The pledge has become a constant fixture of Mr. Bush’s public appearances since a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the phrase “under God” made public- school recitation of the Pledge unconstitutional. He (President Bush) led children in the Pledge during a Fourth of July stop in Ripley, W. Va. in which the reciters all but shouted out “under God.” Mr. Bush, who often talks of his faith in God and the role it plays in his stewardship of the country, has called the court’s decision “ridiculous” and “out of step with the traditions and history of America.” The Pledge of Allegiance is not a part of any Episcopal liturgy, nor is its recitation a common custom, a church theologian [Rev. Kendall Harmon] told The Washington Times.When you have the President of the United States claiming that the “God” of the Pledge of Allegiance is the God Christians worship, you know you have a problem. The Christian God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is not some further specification of the generalized god affirmed in the Pledge, but the Trinity is the only God worthy of worship. The Christian pledge is not the Pledge of Allegiance but rather is called the Apostles Creed. That a church service, that a priest in that service, would include the Pledge of Allegiance is a sure sign that Christians no longer know how to recognize idolatry. The “Christianity” represented by St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Maine is not in fact Christian.A harsh judgment to be sure, but one that needs to be made if we are to recover faithful Christian practice. I am not calling into question President Bush’s sincerity. I am convinced he is a very serious Christian. The problem is not his sincerity. The problem is that the Christianity about which he is sincere is not shaped by the Gospel. Unfortunately he is not unique, but rather is one instance of the general failure of the church in America to be the church. That the church has failed to be faithful is, of course, why I suggested that yours as well as my salvation is in doubt… (you can read the rest of the lecture here)
Here is an extract from a lecture Stanley Hauerwas gave to Duke Youth Academy in July 2005. I have copied and pasted the majority of the introduction. It features several ideas worth exploring elsewhere, I’ve placed in bold the bits that really stand out to me.
Teenagers lacking the resources to take God seriously. Christianity that isn’t really Christianity any more. People not having minds worth making up.
I love what Hauerwas says (and I love how pointedly he says it). I also think he is (more or less) right. The implications of the problems that he identifies are numerous – they speak prophetically to the nature of (not just the American) church’s allegiance, as well as asking some interesting questions about the nature of youth ministry.
That’s it for now. Perhaps I’ll pick some of these questions up at a later time.