youth as priests and prophets
October 12, 2010
I find the expectations we have of youth in our congregations more and more interesting. In a congregation where the average member will attend church every second Sunday or so, the expectation remain that our youth should attend church, Sunday School, as well as one more “youth event” during the week. Add to this some Christian youth group at school during a break. Yet, we continue to bemoan the fact that their is a “crisis with our youth” on the one hand, and talking about how the next generation will transform the church or Christianity or moral life (I pointed to some example concerning gospel music and the reference to “‘n Nuwe Generasie” (Afrikaans) as well as youth and racial issues)
Maybe these are connected: our continued enforcement of religious activities on youth at a rate which few members of our congregations are willing or able to keep up with, as well as the continued insistence that the “next generation” will be the ones making all the difference. But this always remind me of that scene from Keeping the Faith where Brian and Jacob tells each other that Catholics and Jews want their Priests and Rabbi’s to be the Catholics and Jews that they could never be. Is this what we are doing with our children? Requiring them to be the Christians that we could never be? Asking of them to build the church that we could never build? If it is, then maybe we are using our youth to mediate salvation to us. If we can say that although we couldn’t do something (get over our racism, go to church 4 times a week, or whatever), as least we could create a next generation that could do this, then their might be some experience of salvation to be found in that. Youth then become Priests, where they perform some “sacrament” on our behalf, or at least provide the promise of performing on our behalf sometime in the future.
At the same time their are limits to what we would find acceptable in their act of taking Christian life to a deeper commitment. If, for example, this would mean that they become a voice of critique against the church that we have sold out (be it to ideologies of race, consumerism, private religion), but critique which not simply chastise us for our sins in a way we would expect of something like a medieval purgatory (thus providing some pain, and afterwards eternal pleasure), but rather in a way which would portray our deep betrayal of the vision of Jesus, or which would require us to actually change the way live life, challenge that which we never even think about (thus becoming a form of critique of ideology), I think our reactions would be somewhat different. No longer are they the Christians that we could never be, but suddenly they become idealistic and rebellious. When they become prophets rather than priests, when they call for change, rather than mediate salvation to us who didn’t change, then I wonder whether we would still talk about the wonders of the “next generation”.
The two are similar in the sense that we assume that a next generation would be closer to where we should be (if nothing else, at least a sign of hope, a form of eschatology in a sense, where the future calls us closer to some divinely inspired hope of what we might become), but where the first seek to strictly guide youth into becoming the Christians that we could never be, the second would require us to change ourselves, to open up spaces where we can be changes by the radical critique which a next generation always carry into the conversation (if we allow them).
I use the plural “we” to in a way write from the perspective of congregations as I experience them, also because I’m not so sure I’m not guilty of what I describe.