Let’s pretend materialism is the real issue
I’m not denying that materialism is a major issue, a distraction from living fully in the kingdom of God, and that we’d be irresponsible as youth workers not to talk about this with our teenagers. It is, and it does, and we would be if we didn’t (did you follow that?).
Jesus spoke clearly about the love of stuff and how it erodes real life. That gadfly teaching of his about the guy with the perfect pearl is the annoying pea that distracts all of us under our princess-like pile of mattresses.
If we believe that Jesus knew what he was talking about, we have to embrace the fact that the accumulation of “stuff” impedes teenagers’ ability to live the fullness of life Jesus promises in John 10:10. Of course, the problem is, our teenagers are soaking in a culture that constantly tells them the accumulation of stuff is fullness of life. So merely talking about the evils of materialism is like talking about the evils of water to fish – it just doesn’t compute. Our once-in-a-while diatribes about the love of money just come off sounding like antiquated sentimentalism for the good old days; or worse yet, like complete and utter hypocrisy.
Think of it this way: simply telling teenagers “sex before marriage is bad” doesn’t do much to reframe their thinking about a message that is so counter to everything else they hear and experience. To effectively talk about sexuality, we have to offer a counter-story – a better story about goodness and ultimate fulfillment, not just condemnation and consequences.
The same is true with materialism. Our teaching can’t focus on the negative. We have to propose an alternate reality – a better reality, a “more real reality” – of how living fully in the Kingdom of God, without a focus on getting more stuff, is a better way to live. And not just better in its moral value, but better in its fruit. We have to show examples of passionate, highly-fulfilled people who haven’t found their meaning in possessing more. We have to teach about the revolutionary way of Jesus, the upside-down realities of the Kingdom, that promise the greatest meaning and passion and purpose in life through serving others, through selling what we have and giving to the poor.
Don’t forget, all this is highly abstract. And most teenagers are fairly limited in their ability to fully grasp abstract ideas. So we have to work hard to concretize these truths – talking about what it really looks like to live in an affluent culture and still embrace life-giving Kingdom values.
Of course, the best way to teach this is to live it out in front of your teenagers. Ah… that’s part of the rub, isn’t it?
(next, in part 3: i don’t think materialism is actually the issue)