E-pistle May 14

The Future and All that Jazz

Last night I attended the end of the year concert given by the jazz band at Pennsbury High School. Will Sarver, our praise team drummer, is a member of the Pennsbury Jazz Band, and it was great to see and hear Will and his compatriots as they made some really good music.  (Those of you who know much about me know that for me to say that some music was really good is pretty meaningless since I have virtually no ear for the stuff. That’s true, but I was sitting next to Marcos Ortega, our Contemporary Worship Leader, and Marcos knows music. In fact, Marcos’ enthusiasm for the Pennsbury jazz was just barely containable. Yeah, it was good music.)
I may not know music, but I’ve got a pretty good read on people, and after two hours of watching the band members interact with each other and their directors – every kid in the band was given a gag gift or award by his or her fellow members – I’m willing to say it looks and sounds as if there are some really good young people in the Pennsbury High School Jazz Band. A great group of kids.
For the five or six seniors in the group, last night’s concert was their last of four year’s worth of concerts; four year’s worth of competition and lots of honors, four year’s worth of road trips and good times. When the seniors talked they mostly spoke about going on to college, but you knew they were thinking about it being the last time.
Of course, they were thinking about it being the last time, but not in some maudlin way. They are kids and they are naturally oriented to the future and bright hopes for tomorrow. Just this week the Barna Group released its latest study of kids just the age of those in the Pennsbury Jazz Band, and they are optimistic about the next ten years of their lives. Here’s the report.
Among the findings you’ll see are those that show 93% of our young people thinking they definitely or probably will graduate from college by the time they are 25. 81% think they will have a great paying job and 71% plan on having traveled the world. 63% find it at least likely that they will be involved in church and 58% figure they’ll probably be married.
Who is going to break the bad news to them? Or to us?
Another new-this-week survey shows that less than 30% of young people are likely to have graduated from college by age 25. Or this that indicates they are headed to lower real earnings than their parents and are more likely to be paying off college loans rather than trotting the globe. And since the since the median age for marriage in the U.S. is 28 years for men and 27 for women, even that 58%-married number is a bit high. As for those church statistics, well the latest numbers indicate that less than half will be involved in church and about a third will worship regularly. 
As those good kids from the jazz band look into the future, it looks pretty bright, and my guess is that it is brighter for them than for many in their generational cohort.  But if the statistics are anywhere near right, we’ve got to figure that the next ten years are going to be full of disappointments for a lot of our kids.  Not nearly as many who hope they do will earn that degree. They are as likely to be working at Starbucks as in that great paying, world changing job they dream of today.  
And somewhere along the line, God will drop out of their lives, or should we say, they will drop out of God’s life?
By the way, you don’t have to dig too deeply into this stuff to see that we can’t hide behind “that’s the way it’s always been.”  Of course, the bright optimism of youth is always tempered by harsh reality, but reality is harsher for our kids than it was for us.
I don’t know what to do about the harsh reality of “falling education attainment” or “paycheck paralysis” for “generation debt.” Pray for our leaders.
But what about those who leave faith and faith community in their past as they travel into early adulthood, emerging adulthood, as it might better be termed?
Well, that’s our job. And it begins with strong families. Den and Laurie Sarver, thanks for your example. It begins with parents who do not abdicate responsibility and have learned to say both “yes” and “no” with loving compassion. It has to do with parents who show up and know God gave them the job of nurturing their children; it is not to be outsourced to coaches, teachers and certainly not to their kids’ peers (which is not to say that coaches, teachers and peers are not incredibly important to a child’s healthy development).
The nurturing of strong, hopeful (take hopeful over optimistic every time) young people is also the job of the faith community, the church. It begins with families that worship together and serve in Christ’s name together. It has to do with solid youth programs and adults other than parents who are willing to invest in our kids’ lives, to “share the life of Jesus” as we like to say around LPC. It has to do with taking the time to learn names and make eye contact. LPC has a strong tradition of youth ministry, but traditions are in the past. When was the last time you asked Barb Chase how you might help in our youth ministry today or tomorrow?  (And a huge thanks to all those who are involved on a week-in/week-out, year-in/year-out basis.)
The thought crossed my mind as I enjoyed the concert last night, “Oh, to be young again.” But really, no thanks. Ten tough years ahead for most of them. “What can I do to help them through?” is a better thought.