Sunday, November 27, 2011

Book Review: Lost in Transition

Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood. Christian Smith, with Kari Christofferson, Hilary Davisdon, and Patricia Snell Herzog. Oxford University Press, New York. 2011

This is a disturbing book. On one hand, there is not much inside which a competent chaplain (or campus minister) hasn’t seen or had to pastorally address. It was written after Christian Smith’s Souls in Transition. The researchers found that there was much more than the religious lives of this cohort that needed to be illuminated. Lost in Transition was the result. The “dark side “in the title refers to both the darker side of emerging adult behaviors, but also that this is the underrepresented and publicized side in the media.

This book differs from his previous reports of the National Study of Youth and Religion. It espouses the “sociological Imagination,” which attempts to understand individual experiences and larger cultural trends by explaining each in terms of the other. As opposed to the other books, there is only one graph and few quantitative results. Transcribed comments from the interviewed emerging adults are used extensively.  The book primarily uses data from the 230 in-depth interviews conducted in 2008 with the same group which has been followed since 2003 and interviewed in depth three times. The next round will be conducted in 2013 when they are 24-29. Thus this book concentrates on the younger (18-23) portion of emerging adults, and the ages in which we are primarily engaged.

The chapter titles succinctly convey aspects of the emerging adults’ experience.

Morality Adrift. Smith found widespread (60%) moral individualism and a sizable minority (30%) of moral relativists. Thirty-four percent did not know what makes anything morally right or wrong, and many had no tools and little experience in talking about how they knew what was right or wrong. This generation has grown up in an educational environment being taught tolerance and multi-cultural awareness while any serious discussion of differences or standards has been avoided.  “American emerging adults are a people deprived, a generation that has been failed, when it comes to moral formation.” (p.69)

Captive to Consumerism. An underlying goal for many was “whatever wakes you happy.” Sixty-five percent responded that “buying gives me pleasure”, and 54% “would be happier if they could buy more things.”  Most (over 90%) interviewees were uncritical towards mass consumerism.  Smith frames our culture’s unquestioning consumerism as addictive behavior. This addictive behavior will also play out in intoxication and sexual relations.

Intoxication’s “Fake Feeling of Happiness.” Smith tries to understand why mood altering drugs are so pervasive and important to emerging adults. Twenty-seven percent are non-users, 25% occasional users, 22% partiers, 21% recovering partiers, and 8% addicts. Emerging adults describe alcohol as a way to alleviate boredom, and to give them novelty and excitement. The older adults have reared this generation in a culture which advertises that good times require alcohol and that college is a time to cut loose and party.

The Shadow Side of Sexual Liberation
.  “A lot, though not all, of emerging adults today are confused, hurting, and sometimes ashamed because of their sexual experiences played out in a culture that told them to simply go for it and feel good.….not far beneath the surface appearance of happy, liberated emerging adult sexual adventure and pleasure lies a world of hurt, insecurity, confusion, inequality, shame, and regret.” (p.193)

Civic and Political Disengagement. Smith and his researchers found 69% of their responders to be apolitical, 27% marginally political, and only 4 % with genuine interest and substantive knowledge. “ …whatever any popular cultural or political observers have had to say about the political interests of young adults, we – without joy – can set the record straight here: almost all emerging adults today are either apathetic, uninformed, distrustful, disempowered, or, at most only marginally interested when it comes to politics and public life. Both that fact itself and the reasons for it speak poorly of the condition of our larger culture and society.”(p.225) The interview results this area have been the most surprising to adults with whom I have shared these findings.

It should be clear by now that in Lost in Transition, Smith has shifted from reporter into full Prophet mode.  Some of this is a result of using the “sociological imagination” methodology. Some of this is spill- over from his other recent book, What Is a Person?: Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up.

Emerging Adults are reaping what the older adults have sown. In the Conclusion, Smith, with appropriate academic qualifications, includes some prophetic suggestions. These won’t be easy, he says, because they require cultural change. He doesn’t think that macro level social changes can be made before lower level changes are made. He addresses mid-level changes to politicians, alcohol and tobacco industries, secondary schools, and higher education.  Then he addresses micro-level social changes to parents, families, neighborhoods religious congregations, and voluntary associations.
“Colleges and universities could…play a more proactive role in promoting and enforcing more responsible, healthy, and respectful lifestyles among their students.” (p.240)

Chapters in this book could be good discussion starters with student affairs professionals.  They could also provide ideas for programs, series, and Bible studies.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Best Books for Reading Over Christmas Break

Christmas Break is a good time to do some reading for nurture and stimulation. A few good books have been published this fall which would be particularly useful. Perhaps one of these would be a good way to spend some of your book allowance*.
You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church...and Rethinking Faith. David Kinnaman, The Barna Group, Baker Books.  Emerging adults who are not involved in church, but who were active when they were 15, were surveyed. This should be required reading for every pastor, youth group leader, or college minister.

Worlds Apart: Understanding the Mindset and Values of 18-25 Year Olds. Chuck Bomar. Youth Specialties. Written to help parents, grandparents, and church leaders understand this generation.
Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood. Christian Smith, Kari Christoffersen, Hilary Davidson and Patricia Snell Herzog. Oxford University Press. Smith and company look at the data which Souls in Transition pulled out for religion, and find that the culture of consumerism Emerging Adults have grown up in has repercussions in college behaviors.

College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture. Stephen Lutz. The House Studio. Challenges evangelical campus ministries to be more missional, and along the way provides an introductory workbook for college ministers.

* Every collegiate ministry board or supervisory committee needs to be reminded that those doing ministry in an academic environment need to have continuing education, including some funds for professional books. (Even if those funds are meager and symbolic.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Worlds Apart

Worlds Apart: Understanding the Mindset and Values of 18-25 Year Olds is the latest book from college ministry leader and thinker Chuck Bomar . It is an easy read. Bomar is able to clearly synthesize data and combine it with an obvious passion and love for emerging adults to make a handbook for parents, grandparents, ministry leaders, and others who want to better understand 18-25 year olds.

He provides insights into some characteristics of this generation while highlighting some generational differences as well as common ground. He calls the 18-25 year olds the “Generation Higher Ed.” This new stage of life, which has never existed before, developed as the percentage of Americans having some college education exploded (from 9% in 1950 to 76% in 2209) and the length of time to complete a bachelor’s degree lengthened to six years for approximately 57% of them.
Bomar builds on the identity stage development of James Marcia and forms his own five stage search for identity stage. This is perhaps the weakest part of the book. For his stages, Bomar says that Generation Higher Ed is always in multiple stages, shifting within each day. These are perhaps more illustrative of different ways emerging adults make meaning, rather than a stage.

There are appendices with practical notes for church leaders and for parents. These are broad brush thoughts, short on specifics. A better source for specifics might be in his College Ministry from Scratch.

The necessity for intergenerational relationships is a foundational concept for Bomar’s vision of ministry. In this volume he uses healthy relations to build bridges between the generations, and says that these relationships must be done with humility. For the older participant That includes listening, suspending judgment, and developing a reciprocal relationship. This means that the older adult also needs to ask of the younger, “How am I doing?”, “Where, in my life, do you see areas for growth?”, etc. Bomar acknowledges that this could be scary, but it takes the notion of relationships seriously.Such “learning with humility” may even strengthen your faith.

This is a good book to share with someone who needs to better understand college age people, but who would not be ready for the study required to read Jeffrey Arnett or Christian Smith. It is orientated toward the parent or ministry leader wanting to better understand the 18-25 year-olds in their life.

Worlds Apart: Understanding the Mindset and Values of 18-25 Year Olds. Church Bomar. Zondervan (Youth Specialties). Grand Rapids, MI. 2011