Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Isolation or Discernment?

We live in a world in which it is easy to create and relate to discreet groups. Moreover, it seems that in spite of the many opportunities to connect across a wide spectrum of interests and groups, we still tend toward isolated individuals and groups. Ironically, the same media that make it possible to relate broadly also make it easy to relate narrowly. We behave as if we expect and accept this, especially as it relates to teenagers, high school students. As others, such as Kara Powell at Fuller Youth Institute in "Is the Era of Segmentation Over" have pointed out, teenagers are segregated even at family occasions. Many adults would be surprised, and I daresay annoyed, if the youth opted to remain with the adults for social time.

Why do we think that it is normal and acceptable for groups to have little or no relationship with each other? I have no idea. It was a surprise to me when I first encountered the expectation that teenagers would continually be on their own, even when a family was together as a family. It is not the norm throughout the world. It certainly begs the question, how do we understand community? What does it mean to be one body? Does it mean that each finds its own interest and goes about their pursuits without regard to the other? Yet, that is contrary to who we are as human beings and how the world works. We do so at our own peril. Guyanese poet, Martin Carter, once wrote: "All are involved, all are consumed." Isolation is really death.

I'm not sure why we find it strange when teenagers who have been abstracted from adult companionship resort to the herd mentality and act in ways that are destructive to themselves and others. David White addresses the issue of teenage and adolescence isolation in a comprehensive way. In Practicing Discernment with Youth: A Transformative Youth Ministry Approach,he names the fracture and displacement that they face. He calls on us as adults who work with them to practice discernment with them so that they may be healed. He says:
In the deliberate practice of discernment, young people will seek to be faithful in the hundreds of minute decisions that face them . . . One decision at a time, the orange crate of culture that limits our young people's growth can be dismantled and discarded, and youth will finally find more appropriate—and genuine—ways to support their flourishing as disciples and saints.
White 2005, 85.

Here, David White recognizes the potential of students for full Christian discipleship and proposes a process of discernment toward this end. This process will enable them to grow and creatively engage and be liberated from the inhibiting aspects of our culture.

How could you help your students to discern?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor

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