The Homelanders: A Generation Born in Fear

13 10 2014

Every generation has their own “where were you when” moment.

For me, it was when the September 11 attacks happened.

I was a sophomore in high school, and I remember the day with crystal clarity: listening to our principal choke back tears as she informed us in a school assembly that our country was under attack.

Watching a classmate sob wildly as she received news that her father had missed his flight—which meant his life was spared, as he was originally booked onto one of the fatal flights.

Looking around at my somber friends as classes were suspended and we simply sat on the floors in our classrooms, crying and questioning what the future would look like.

Helplessly watching a teacher—who was born and raised in New York—fret inconsolably about her friends and family members who she couldn’t reach.

It’s been more than a decade since 9/11, and I’m now teaching teens who were infants when America was rocked by the events of that day.Worry

I was mentally unprepared for the comments of my teenagers a few weeks ago, when we discussed the recent terrorist activity in the Middle East that’s been sending shock waves across the world.

As we talked, one of my students said quietly, “The world of terror is all we’ve ever known.”

Please let the gravity of that statement sink in and affect you as profoundly as it affected me.

As I asked my students to elaborate, fears erupted from their mouths. Our kids worry like I’ve never even realized.

My teenagers told me about their fears of terrorists, saying how they get physically anxious—sweaty hands and tense muscles—when their parents watch the news about beheadings and threats against our government.

They also shared how scared they are of school shootings, and admitted that they’re equally worried that it’ll be a classmate or a teacher that goes berserk on them.

They told me how they battle back feelings of nervousness and uncertainty and apprehension every day, as they cope with the fear that the world as they know it may collapse at any moment, without warning.

For those of us who work with youth, this is a primary difference we must realize about this particular generation: it’s a generation born in fear.

More alarmingly, it indicates the deep-seated and unconscious distrust of fellow man.

You see, this generation doesn’t know when, where, or why terrorists might strike innocent people. They can’t fathom why evil individuals would barbarically decapitate and torture people who are trying to make the world a better place.

These kids also can’t understand what causes a classmate to methodically execute his peers in cold blood. They can’t wrap their brains around the reality of one of their own hunting them down.

As a result of not being able to understand the psychology of evil people, I wonder if this generation is growing up to be secretly afraid of everyone, never knowing who exactly might snap—and thus never really trusting anyone.

Backing me on this is White House this week dubbing those born after 2005 as the “Homeland” generation. Though they give no detailed explanation of why this moniker was selected, one can surmise that it’s directly tied to the popular television show that deals with—you guessed it—terror and fear.

Do you realize the profundity of this mindset?

Our teenagers may be growing up secretly afraid of us. They may be unwilling to fully trust anyone, not even trustworthy and beloved adults. The implications of not trusting mankind are complex and worrisome—especially when it comes to things like finances, security, national identity, and the corporate church.

Oddly enough, this generation hasn’t endured the same challenges that the previous generations have dealt with. In America’s past, we had few battles on our continent and thus our danger was more abstract. Our media exposure was limited and controlled by fewer voices, and our nationalism soared as we sought to conquer enemies together. Our country was proud to give up little luxuries and pitch in to help our soldiers.

As technology has advanced, people’s voices have expanded and more diverse populations have come to our country, and our identity as one nation has gradually been eroded. Today, we’re battling a more fragmented society with technology that brings all the evils of the entire world into the palm of our hand.

How can we possibly contemplate a threat from within if we are swamped with weeding out the vast number of evils we confront from all over the world, all day, every day, all the time?

Additionally, when we factor in the threat of widespread virus or disease, such as Ebola, we ratchet up the fear that our kids are feeling. Think of the sinking feeling we get in our gut when we turn on the news and hear about it. Now intensify that feeling and try to understand how an undeveloped brain feels about it. It’s pure dread to our teens.

Perhaps this is one reason why we’re seeing such an influx of clinically depressed and emotionally ravaged young teenagers. They perceive the world around them falling apart, yet they are expected to strive for perfection every day. They’ve had high standards set for their futures, yet they don’t even know if the world will be around in a decade.

Older generations are perplexed, admitting that they never grew up with the depth of fear that our children today are dealing with.

Perhaps one difference is that our past involved a clear enemy who attacked from outside of our country. Now, our enemy is often hiding within, disguised as patriotic Americans or even unknowingly lurking inside our own classrooms.

A primary distinction, of course, is the prevalence of social media and technology in today’s generation. Our students are faced with the bloody and horrifying violence of the news every day mere inches from their faces, on phones and tablets. They can’t escape from it, even as they try to do something as innocuous as chatting with friends online.

I wonder if dystopian literature and movies are trendy right now precisely because they hit on this fundamental fear our children are encountering. Could it be that our students are seeking a way to cope with their fears by projecting their worries into sci-fi scenarios with clearly defined good and bad guys battling against each other?

We often overestimate the emotional maturity of our teenagers—after all, they seem so adult-like in so many ways.

Reality paints a different picture, though. Our teenagers are worried about their classmates and teachers. They fear the future. They’re pained about the world around them. They’re physically stressed out and constantly on edge as they await bad news.

As adults, our tendency is to hug our children close to us in dangerous situations. However, perhaps that’s part of the bigger problem. Our kids are being kept stunted and dependent on us for longer than past generations, which is disabling them from feeling capable of handling these fears.

It’s not a matter of not wanting to expose our children to evil. It’s a matter of preparing our children to face the evil that they will unquestionably encounter in their lifetime.

As adults, our greatest challenge is to have the courage to be responsible adults. Our primary task is to prepare our children to be the leaders of tomorrow. In the words of Tim Elmore, “We must prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.”

We can’t ignore the problems in our world by turning off the television, but we can wisely process the news with our children.

We can’t just snap at our kids to “get over it” and discount their fears, but we can demonstrate self-control and understanding to a generation that worries incessantly.

We can’t just spout off that it was different in our day and we managed to survive just fine, because this is a new world and the old way has already disappeared.

Every teenager I’ve ever met wants a trusted adult to confide in. Whether that means crying, venting, or processing matter-of-factly, it’s desperately needed. Most importantly, we need to comfort our teens with Christ’s unchanging love and His hope. In this generation steeped in fear, our teenagers will never know peace outside of Jesus—and it’s our job to help navigate them towards this Truth.

Our fervent prayers need to be surrounding this “Homeland” generation as it continues to grow up. These kids need strength and self-control that many generations before them have never exhibited. They’re navigating a world brimming with evil, and they need wisdom and understanding as they wade through these dangerous waters. We must teach them the true cost of freedom and the meaning of right and wrong.

I foresee a return to a united national identity and justice, but we must prepare this generation for the terrible cost of such a lofty goal.

True peace is an ever-constant effort, fraught with setbacks and detours, and it can never be abandoned.

In the words of Thomas Merton, “Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.”

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A Call To Authenticity…and Only Read If You Want Raw Honesty (Otherwise, I WILL Offend You)

10 10 2010

Whether you’ve known me for thirty seconds or twenty years, you can readily surmise a few key things about me:

  • I’m confident and outgoing, and have never yet experienced a situation in which I was truly intimidated.
  • I’m curious and hungry to constantly learn.
  • I’m driven and purposeful, and attempt to plan everything in my life.
  • I’m steady and reliable, and will get the job done at any cost.
  • I’m brutally honest and open about who I am.

Lest you think I have an elevated sense of ego, let me quickly point out some negative qualities I possess:

  • I doubt and wrestle with literally every decision I’ve ever made.
  • I love people, but often run out of compassion and tolerance for them.
  • I’m competitive, and constantly have to refocus my zealous nature so it doesn’t consume me.
  • At some point or another, I scare the living daylights out of others because I’m “too much person in one body” (a statement made by not one, but two ex-boyfriends)
  • I feel and think more deeply than anyone else I know, which makes my life feel like a rubber band constantly stretched out and tight with tension.

In short, I am human. Fashioned in the image of God, but riddled with sin.

I think I’d be lying if I said my life was terrible—it’s far from that. I’ve been incredibly blessed by an amazing and relatively pain-free childhood, a wonderful family, and a loving and understanding husband. I danced through college and graduated with high honors, and secured a job in a highly competitive field before I was even done with my education. And, while facing daunting choices in the last few years, God has been faithful in every situation and every time.

But so often, I still feel unsatisfied and jaded. My life feels overly complicated, and I feel like I’m lost, stranded alone in the middle of a storm on a wild and unpredictable ocean.

I feel like no one can possibly understand me completely, and that I can’t hope anyone ever will. My zeal to win drives me to want to do anything it takes to achieve status, purpose, and acclaim—yet reaching one goal after another feels empty. I’ve given my life to work with people and share Christ with them, but I can’t help myself from wanting to sucker-punch a lot of these people in the face for being bean brains.

Remember that part about brutal honesty, and scaring people away? Yep. Guilty.

In all seriousness, if that last line offended you, you probably never should’ve started reading my blog in the first place. Trust me, there are plenty of nice people who write about loving kittens and needlepoint, and who like nothing more than Thomas Kinkade art plastered all over their walls.

If that appeals to you, quit this page while you’re still ahead.

Why write all of this out and share it with the world? Because I had a moment this last week, when I was attending the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta. (Actually, I had several moments—but let’s be honest, I don’t want to write out every thought and you don’t want to read it.)

One of my biggest “Aha!” moments was this: I’m fed up with our shallow world.

I crave authenticity, not more meaningless, trite drivel. If I wanted that, I’d spend my life watching “E News” and reading Cosmopolitan.

I’m tired of filtering my words, walking on eggshells, and trying to say things in the most bland, politically correct way I can—and thus effectively not saying much at all.

I’m sick of living in a world where people think more about updating their Facebook page than about how to truly understand each other.

I’m annoyed with people who arrogantly think they know it all in a big world that’s constantly growing and ever-changing.

I’m fed up with a Christianity that attempts to summarize itself onto a t-shirt or bumper sticker, when I connect with and revere a Savior who defies description and operates in ways far beyond my pea-sized brain can ever attempt to understand.

Part of the courage I feel in saying this is that I think we’re truly at a crossroads in our world, at this point in history. Our world is changing and shifting literally every day—but at the same time, Christ is timeless and unchangeable.

And in a world that never stops moving, we can only find rest, relief, and richness in Him.

That’s what our world needs to realize.

I’ve read a lot of books lately, and have been weaving together a lot of challenging concepts and keen words from people who seem to be saying these same things I’ve felt for a long time. I just flew through Pete Wilson’s book, Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up The Way You Thought He Would?, and recently pondered my way through Josh Riebock’s My Generation, Tim Elmore’s Generation iY, and Dick Staub’s The Culturally Savvy Christian.

In short, all books that deal with understanding our world, the emerging generations, and what our society most needs to hear.

In all of these books, I see a calling for more people to shed the lame, crippling superficiality that punctuates every nuance of our lives.

I see a calling for the true Jesus to be shared—our incomprehensible Savior who didn’t walk around giving out daisy-chains and pats on the back, but who powerfully spoke the truth, hung out with the unlovable and marginalized people in society, and wasn’t afraid to flip tables around in a sacred place to stir up a place rife with mediocrity and apathy.

I see a calling for us to shed the stigma that we all have to fit in one perfect box with a nice Christian label, to operate a certain way or be a specific gender or have the right degree in order to effectively reach people.

I see a calling for Christians to speak the truth in love, in a post-modern society that barely comprehends what absolute truth is, and to offer a deep and satisfying Truth that defies earthly explanation—a Truth so rich and consuming that it stands in stark contrast to the empty, meaningless sham of society we’ve brought about through chasing empty foolishness for far too long.

Hey, if you’re offended, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Frankly, I don’t really care what you think—not when my brain is fired up with wrestling with divine truths. Sorry.

As much as it bugs me, I know not everyone likes me—but as screenwriter Randall Wallace quoted his mother’s wisdom this week in reference to being well-liked, “If they crucified Jesus, don’t you think there are probably going to be some people out there who don’t like you?”

One of the real privileges of my job is that I get to roll up my sleeves and not only study culture from a front-row seat, but connect with teens before they’re overly consumed with the pressures of adulthood and forced into a one-size-fits-all mold of a person.

And I think maybe my willingness to be transparent in who I am and how I feel—the way I can admit my faults and failures and not pretend to be something I’m not—helps them feel like they, too, can be honest with me. So, I think I probably hear a lot more brutal and unfiltered stories and emotions than your average person.

So, what do these honest kids say to me?

“I’m fed up with the bull crap.”

“I’m sick of this world.”

“I hate the fakeness of everything.”

“Life feels totally empty.”

“Why am I even here? Where am I going?”

If our thirteen and fourteen year-old kids are saying this, what are our thirty-five and fifty-year-olds saying?

More importantly, what are they feeling?

What are they daily wrestling with, doubting, fearing, questioning, and dabbling in? And who can they possibly share it with?

We’ll never know what truly goes on in our world, with the people we claim to love, and never be able to reach them with the Truth they desperately need to hear until we can first shed our protective layers, risk vulnerability and rejection, and take the step to be real with others—to show our mistakes, fears, failures, and personality flaws to them.

And, at the same time, powerfully show them without words that we have a Savior who’s bigger than our biggest screw-up, faithful even when we’re not, restoring and life-changing, and utterly incomprehensible in power and majesty–in contrast to a world where everything is explained and detailed on Wikipedia and the only real mystery is why they can’t make a mascara that doesn’t flake off after twelve hours.

Authenticity. Maybe that’s our simple calling in this century.

And hey, if I offended you? Just spend some time playing with your kittens and gazing upon your Thomas Kinkade prints. You’ll feel better in the morning.