“I think one of the things that is really tricky, particularly to convey to parents and the congregations as well, is that if you are trying to form your kids to be Christians, it’s not going to fit them very well for American culture. And actually, it’s probably going to deform them for some of the things that we value as a society.” (Kenda Creasy Dean in an interview with Ken Myers for Mars Hill Audio Journal)
The soccer career of one of my daughters came to its anticipated conclusion in November. She has played organized soccer since she was five, first for Boys and Girls Club, with a local club team, for four years in high school, two years art Community college and finally two years for a DIII college. But now it’s over.
As parents, we invested hundreds of hours driving to and from practice and games, and sitting through sun and snow to watch her. We have invested thousands of dollars on shoes, shin guards, uniforms, sweats, bags, balls, tournament fees, travel to tournaments and probably numerous hidden costs. But it’s all over.
We intended to provide her with opportunities to maintain good health, grow through team competition experiences, and possibly excel to a level where she would earn scholarship money for college. We achieved the first two goals and partially the third goal. She did receive book vouchers at the community college. Unfortunately, DIII schools cannot give scholarship money.
In some ways, we blended right in with American society. Visions of athletic glory dance in the minds of millions of American children – and their parents. The amount of money spent in one year on youth sports would probably rebuild all the houses destroyed by the earthquake in Haiti, plus feed the entire population for a year. (My guess is informed by my income as a high school volleyball official – about $9,000 last year.) Americans border on an addiction with sports.
In other ways, we avoided the excesses that ensnare many families. We scrupulously refused to invest more money on elite camps, elite club teams and coaches. (Actually, we didn’t have the money.) We tried to avoid fanaticism (although my behavior at some games was not exemplary). We attempted to keep the perspective that it is, in the final analysis, only a game.
Now that it is over, I wonder how well we really shaped my daughter’s heart to serve Christ and live for his kingdom through that investment. Limiting her soccer to only recreational play may have been more difficult for me than running the Chicago Marathon without training. Restricting her from organized sports would have surely deformed her for the American culture. But would it have better formed her for the kingdom of God? It is difficult to evaluate.
Kenda Creasy Dean worked with Christian Smith on the research project that resulted in Smith’s book, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. As a follow-up, Dean has written Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. She concludes that the faith of America’s teens is “not durable enough to survive long after they graduate from high school. One more thing: we’re responsible.”
Smith discovered in his research that teens mostly mimic the religious commitments of their parents. Although most teens could speak the language, Smith found that their faith lacked depth as well as breadth. It resembled the same search for a therapeutic spirituality that characterizes many American adults. We want to feel good about ourselves and our lives, and we want it now.
Dean identifies two dominant American values that are eviscerating the spiritual lives of our teens: consumerism and individualism. This dynamic ism-duo promises an immediate fix to all your problems on your own terms, but they flagrantly resist the call of Jesus to a discipleship of self-sacrifice and self-denial.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself …” (Luke 9:23). In a culture obsessed with the self, we struggle to teach our children self-denial for the sake of following Jesus. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). How do we model for our children that our love for Jesus exceeds even our love for them?
Many of the values of Jesus’ kingdom oppose the values of American culture. Raising children who do not fit in defies our parental instincts – and maybe our own insecurities. Yet, this is what Jesus instructs us to do. Are we raising disciples of Jesus or disciples of American success?
For the record: My daughter chose a DIII college rather than seek a scholarship at another school, because the college offered a degree in her field of interest. She is training to work in the construction field so that she can serve with a non-profit organization that builds houses for the poor and underprivileged. Somewhere along the way, she became a passionate disciple of Jesus.