Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Teen Issues: Because You Gotta Have Faith

I began working in libraries as a young adult "librarian" when I was 20 and an undergrad student at a local Nazarene college trying to complete a major in youth ministry.  I remember very distinctly there was a moment when I had to really analyze how being a librarian fit in with my (then) very conservative world view.  I understood implicitly that my foray into librarianship meant that I must purchase and provide access to materials that I may be offended by. I wondered if in doing so I would be accountable for leading the very teens that I was trying to serve onto a dark path.  And when we talk about issues of faith, we are not only talking about the Christian faith as we serve all people of all faiths, including those who choose no faith.

I think that true faith development is about taking the spiritual journey of life and finding ways to become a deep, authentic person who understands their place in the world and seeks to find ways to use their gifts and help the greater good.  When we discuss teens and faith (spiritual) development, we must understand that it is greater than simply deciding to read your bible and pray - it is about choosing how you will live in the world and in relationship with your fellow human beings.
 
In one of my adolescent development classes we learned that 80% of all decisions for Christ are made in the teenage years; which isn't surprising when you recall that adolescence is the time of identity formation.  What I have come to understand over the years is that if we want teenagers to make authentic decisions about who they are, what they believe, and how they want to live their lives, then we must allow them access to a wide variety of materials to help them really address the issues.  You can't intellectually or spiritually address issues without really diving into them.  There has to come a moment in everyone's life when you  really challenge the beliefs that you have grown up with, analyze them, and decide to internalize or reject them.  You have to make them deeply your own.  I am often surprised by how many people, young and old, are afraid to face this life challenge.

We often hear in the media that we should not read a work because it is offensive to us as people of faith; but if we do not read it, how do we know that it is offensive?  When we hear that something is offensive, what that individual should be saying is that it was offensive to them.  The truth of the matter is that everyone reads and interprets a work differently. You need to read a book to truly be able to talk intelligently about it. 
In terms of faith, you often hear teens say that they are not allowed to read things like Harry Potter, for example, because it involves magic.  Yet oddly, there is much magic in a lot of books considered Christian fiction, including the Chronicles of Narnia series by notable Christian writer C. S. Lewis.  As I read Harry Potter, I read a rich, layered look at what it means to be noble, to honor your life's calling, to be a friend, to stand firm in the path of righteousness.  And although I don't quite buy into the idea that HP is an allegory for JC, I do believe that he is a good model for all readers in how to stay the course and be willing to make great sacrifice for the greater good.  (As an aside I also really appreciated as someone who understands adolescent development those chapters in the saga in which HP went full on whiny teen and felt it was a realistic portrayal of the teenage years.  It may have been difficult as a reader, but it was an authentic expression of what adolescence - especially adolescence under a great deal of stress - is often like.)

In comparison I, and I am going to brutally honest here, I find that most Christian fiction written for the teen audience lacks any effectiveness precisely because it is afraid to be authentic.  In trying to be safe for the reader, they fail to acknowledge the truth of the teenage existence.  The teenage years are messy years; they are years full of hormones and emotions and desires that we are often told are wrong and yet we can't control that we feel them because biology is at work (but we can control what we do about those feelings).  How do we expect teens to understand these intense emotions and learn how to address them in healthy ways if we won't allow them to talk about them and read about them and really consider them?
 

I feel that people of faith should also read about other faiths before they can really have a conversation with someone of that faith.  We can not intelligently discuss that which we haven't read or really don't know anything about.  The greatest gift we can give to anyone, especially our teens, are the tools they need to develop a firm foundation, and the wisdom and security that comes from having that firm foundation.  Their foundation can not be firm if we are not honest with them about the realities of life.  We have to equip them and help them make the baby steps into successful adulthood; otherwise we are simply pushing them blindly off of a cliff when they reach the age of 18.  Does something change overnight on the eve of their 18th birthday?  Does a flip suddenly switch: not an adult, adult?  No, they make a slow and steady progress through the teenage years into the world of responsibility and accountability.


I feel that my job as a librarian is to help them develop the tools they need not only to live in the moments of their teenage years, but to navigate the whole path of life successfully.  The moment an individual fails to explore themselves internally and the world around them, the moment they choose to stop growing, is the moment that they choose to give up and start slowly dying.  Your faith can grow stagnant, and yes it can die.  So can your mind, your intellectual curiosity.  So can your character.  So can your zest for life.  But you can stop all of that from happening when you enter into the doors of a library and choose to read, to explore, and to continue on life's intellectual - and its spiritual - journey.

For more information:
Adolescent spiritual development by Donald Ratcliff, Ph. D.
Article: Study finds teen faith shaped more by hands-on ministry than worship by Ken Camp
CPYU: Center for Parent/Youth Understanding articles on Adolescent Development (some good resources)
Inspirational Fiction bibliographies
The Teen Christian Fiction page at Christian Book.com
An interesting discussion of inspiring books vs. inspirational fiction from Provo City libraries

2 comments:

  1. What an awesome article! Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  2. What an awesome article! Thank you!

    ReplyDelete