The Common Good
September-October 1999

It's the Real Thing

by Aaron McCarroll Gallegos | September-October 1999

Notes from a new generation

Responding to the tragedy at Columbine High School, educator Thomas de Zengotita wrote in a recent issue of Harper’s that a "hybrid entity with a structuring life of its own has emerged on the planet." This "entity" is identified as a new public culture that blurs the borders between reality and simulation. Littleton’s Eric

Harris and Dylan Klebold became caught up in this limbo, as have countless other teen-agers and adults—though the vast majority with consequences that are less destructive, yet not completely harmless.

This illusory culture, which De Zengotita calls an "entity" but the Apostle Paul might call a "principality and power," is able to consume those who haven’t established their own sense of who they are—especially, but not exclusively, young people. For young Christians and those who walk along beside them, the call to engage this invasion of illusion is especially critical.

For nearly 2,000 years, the power of God has kept the onslaught of such principalities and powers at bay through baptism, confirmation, holy communion, and the other sacraments of Christianity. Spiritual direction, discipleship, and biblical teaching also have proven themselves to be effective in guiding people into maturity and freedom. Though the gospel has always been about the discerning of truth from deception, the new paradigms and tools at the end of this century create a context that is dramatically different than ever before. Will the church of the new millennium be as successful in creating safe space for young people and at helping them distinguish the simulated warfare on a computer screen from the spiritual warfare of the heart?

THOUGH nearly invisible to the radar screens of pop culture, examples abound of Christians who are connecting with those younger than themselves and helping them grow into healthy, whole human beings. Last April, adults and youth from the Harambee Christian Family Center in Pasadena, California, journeyed to Jackson, Mississippi, to see and experience the context of the civil rights movement that they had been studying. In an e-mail log, Rudy Carrasco, one of the adults on the trip, wrote that because more than half the boys on the immersion didn’t live with a father at home, there were "many opportunities for fatherless young men to sharpen themselves against father figures. Imagine that fatherless young people are glimpsing not just history, but possibilities."

Young people at the East Side Children’s Garden Project in St. Paul, Minnesota, experience possibilities of a different kind. This project maintains seven gardens in an area of St. Paul where there is a high rate of poverty and child neglect and focuses on urban agriculture, ecology, nutrition, and community building. The gardens are planted, cared for, and harvested by young people who also sell the produce to local restaurants, neighborhood co-ops, and community residents.

"The funny thing," says Kristin Brennan, a member of Lutheran Volunteer Corps who works with the project, "is that these kids are not gardeners in the sense that we might think. The majority are processed food addicts and prefer television to moving their bodies. What keeps them coming is the persistent presence of these gardens within their ever-transient life and neighborhood. It is partially about safe space, partially about something to do, partially about food and earth made accessible and interesting to them. The neighborhood where we sow seeds is magnificently diverse and terribly devoid of resources."

Both these examples are staffed by members of Generation X—the young people formerly known as "slackers"—which shows that no matter what our age, each of us can participate in the spiritual, social, and personal nurture of future generations. But before starting, we must undertake our own spiritual work and be secure and settled in who we are and what we believe. The necessity for all of us is to crystallize our intentions and play this game with the seriousness it requires. It’s the most real thing around.

AARON McCARROLL GALLEGOS, a Sojourners contributing editor, is a writer living in Toronto.

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