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How To Help Your Kids Sidestep The Crazy, Part I

J.R.R Tolkien....a guy who knew a thing or two about the difference between hope and optimism.  Read Lord of the Rings.  Seriously.  Read all of it.
J.R.R Tolkien....a guy who knew a thing or two about the difference between hope and optimism. Read Lord of the Rings. Seriously. Read all of it.

Perhaps, when you read pieces like my series on patterns of student thinking I’ve noticed during my teaching career, or when you survey the general culture out there, you might feel a tad overwhelmed, and wonder what you, as an adult, parent, or pastor (students pastor or otherwise) can do to help the kids under your charge navigate through all this.

Rod Dreher, whom I quote and reference a lot in this space, puts it this way:

On the religion front, the unwillingness of so many Christians, both clerical and lay, to face the facts about the ongoing collapse of the faith is a form of denial that is going to bring about what they most fear, or ought to most fear. I keep going back to things like Christian Smith’s work on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, and the late Philip Rieff’s analysis of the therapeutic culture, because they offer valuable insights into the state of Christianity in postmodernity, and why the faith is being hollowed out from within. In talking to Christian college professors around the country, I hear the same story over and over: most of our students lack the basic conceptual framework to see the world in a Christian way, and to aspire to lead authentically Christian lives. If they identify as Christians at all, the summit of their faith is Being Nice and Non-Judgmental. Many of them don’t even know the basic stories of the Bible, or if they do, why those stories matter. This is true at both Catholic and Evangelical colleges, I have found in my personal investigation. Christians have raised a couple of generations who have been far more catechized by secular, capitalist, hedonist, individualist culture than by the church. Something that can’t go on won’t go on. If Christian churches and families don’t radically re-assess what we are doing, and change our ways, things will continue to unwind.

So the question becomes “what to do?” It can seem like a sisyphean task...but I emphasize the word “seem.” In Lord of the Rings, Mordor did seem like both an immovable force and an unstoppable object. But prevail the Little Fellowship did. The simple Hobbits et al sent Sauron packing. Optimism have I none, but plenty of hope. There *is* a difference. What is the difference? As Dreher puts it, optimism is the assumption that everything will work out fine. Platitudes and pasted on smiles. Hope, in its Christian form, is that things might not work out “fine,” at least in the typical success-driven middle-class America way that prizes comfort and cultural/political power, but that sacrifice and suffering has ultimate meaning in Christ’s economy. It is a Matthew 16:24-26 way of looking at things. Hope means that there *are* things we can and should be doing. We are still to be faithful. We can’t simply lament in sackloth and ashes and only offer up Jeremiad complaints. Optimism is unreasonable. There really are storm clouds on the horizon, and we must prepare. There really is an incredible amount of instability in our culture, and this instability has likewise entered the Church. At the same time, despair or simply doom-and-gloom complaining, is equally unwarranted, because not all is lost. Not by a long shot. The facts are that the furniture in heaven has not and will not be upturned. God is still sovereign. The God that split the Red Sea is still active today. Aslan is always on the move. What’s more, we have substance to stand upon and to offer the culture. Christianity is not weak; it is immensely strong, and it speaks deep wisdom to the challenges of our day. We have an embarrassment of riches in our tradition and inheritance, that we *can* pass along faithfully to the next generation. We can leverage that deep bench, but that will take thoroughgoing purposefulness, intention, and decisiveness, to a degree that many might not be used to. There are things that The Fellowship of the Ring did to overcome. We might not be able to revamp the larger culture, or at least we might not be able to do so using the tools popularly leaned on in the last few decades of evangelical culture, but there *are* things we can do to build our own little space of renewal.

Brett Kunkle has a good, short overview of what this means in the home. In the next few posts, I want to build on that by offering some specific suggestions on what that might look like in the home and in the church. These suggestions are based on my observations and experiences in my short 41 years (the last 9 as a parent myself), so take them as just that: the observations of one guy who is walking the same path as you. My perspective is, of course, limited, but I offer up what I have. These are simply things we have done in our own home in my family; they are not guarantees.

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