C.S. Lewis wrote:
There is a crowd of busybodies, self-appointed masters of ceremonies whose life is devoted to destroying solitude wherever solitude exists. That call it “taking the young people of out themselves”, or “waking them up”, or “overcoming their apathy”. If an Augustine, a Vaughan, a Traherne or a Wordsworth should be born in the modern world, the leaders of a youth organization would soon cure him. If a really good home, such as the home of Alcinous and Arete in the Odyssey or the Rostovs in War And Peace or any of Charlotte M. Yonge’s families, existed today, it would be denounced as bourgeois and ever engine of destruction would be levelled against it. And even where the planners fail and someone is left physically by himself, the wireless has seen to it that he will be – in a sense not intended by Scipio – never less alone than when alone. We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence and privacy: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.
Down here in little old Maynooth we think we have reason to believe that contemporary youth ministry is a big mixed up mess. We offer teenagers a special Christian “gospel” perfectly shaped to their demographic and tell them they were made for this. But it is surely hard to distinguish between the fun and games and chance for flirting and the trips to the beach and the retreats to adventure centres from the little word about Jesus that we tack on at the end. We have heard people say that youth ministry is ultimately about self esteem! We have seen people who seem to believe youth ministry is about the continued growth of youth ministries. Too many times to count we have been told youth ministry is important to stop suicide! But we have rarely come up against youth ministry that is unashamedly interested in disciples and the church. That’s the kind of thing we’re interested in.
Most of the time, I follow my superb colleague in suggesting that the problem with youth ministry is that we privelige the word youth, as if they are somehow more special or more important than other groups. We don’t love young people because they are young. We love them because they are people. Often, even loving them seems to take a back seat to influencing them.
But here Lewis gives us a new angle for our scepticism. He obviously had a different meaning for the word “wireless” but the historical coincidence deepens his paragraph. Our young people are more surrounded by the presence of other young people than ever before and more assailed with the idea that they are young people. Lewis finished his first opera at 14. I know Lewis was not an average teenager but the fact is illuminating: we wouldn’t even take a 14 year old to the opera without letting them pack their ipod touch in case of distraction.
Maybe the church could be a site for cultivating the practices and habits of solitude, a community of people who savour time on their own? Teenagers as the yeast for a reflective generation that will become contagious in the wider church?
Your Correspondent, A whole long lifetime still has to end