Guests on Volume 68: Murray Milner, Jr., on American teenagers, schools, and the culture of consumption, and on how the choices of parents create the institutional framework for the lives of adolescents; Steven C. Vryhof, on faith-based schools and the maintaining of community; Douglas J. Schuurman, on recovering the Reformation's vision of vocation as neighbor-love and instrument of providence; Robert Gagnon, on Biblical teaching about homosexuality and how it is being ignored; Richard Stivers, on the role of technologies and “technique” in creating a sense of loneliness; and Quentin Schultze, on the role of religious paradigms in the American understanding of mass media.
In his book Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids: American Teenagers, Schools, and the Culture of Consumption, professor Murray Milner, Jr., studies the relationships between teenagers, schools, and consumerism. When Milner began to study teenagers and their school environments in order to better understand the former’s consumerist tendencies, he found that the current structure of schools and education renders increased adolescent spending nearly inevitable; the current structure makes many decisions about the lives of teens for teens—how many years they will attend school, what curriculum they will study, what teachers the schools will employ, and who will attend which schools. Because teenagers expect more autonomy and freedom in their lives than that which they retain, they exercise tight control over the one area of their lives that is not controlled for them: who is cool, and who is not. They can and do control their peer status systems, and, consequently, often become obsessively preoccupied with who is making the A-list. Criteria for inclusion induce considerable spending habits, Milner explains, as more often than not status depends on ownership of the moment’s fashionable goods.
In his book Between Memory and Vision: The Case for Faith-Based Schooling, professor Steven C. Vryhof describes three faith-based schools that are members of Christian Schools International, an organization of schools within the Reformed Christian tradition. While Vryhof does compare the performance of the three schools to that of public, Catholic, private religious, and private non-religious schools, his main focus is the social and cultural effect of CSI schools on the communities that support them. The schools have strong ties to their communities, he says, and work not only to impart skills and knowledge to the young, but also to bequeath the memory, values, and worldview of the community to them. These schools act contrary to many of today’s institutions, which shy away from imparting the faith and worldview of older generations to younger ones. In embracing just such a transmission, the schools that Vryhof depicts endeavor to build intergenerational relationships so that the identity of the community will be preserved.
Professor Douglas J. Schuurman discusses the classic Protestant notion of calling, which entails being called not merely to a particular type of work, but to seeing one's life and how one lives as a response to God’s grace. In his book, Vocation: Discerning Our Callings in Life, he explains that the orientation of one’s heart either prompts or impedes one in developing a sense of calling. He names several experiences and emotions that generate sensitivity to calling, including an awareness of obligation, dependence, and gratitude, along with a need for meaning. Schuurman outlines two ideas that are central to the idea of vocation, the first concerning how one sees one’s own life, and the second, how one understands providence; historically the Protestant notion of calling suggests that one first understands one’s own life as shaped by God through providence, an understanding which then prods one to ask: “Considering all that God has given and made me to be, how can I serve him in a distinct way in my life?” The notion also suggests, he continues, that God provides for his creation and creatures through the work of both those who knowingly cooperate with him, and those who unknowingly do so.
Professor Robert Gagnon set out to write an article explaining the “clear sense” meaning of the biblical text regarding homosexual intercourse, and ended up with a full-length book. The intended article developed into the substantial The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics as Gagnon confronted an increasing number of arguments from scholars that obscured the meaning he was trying to explain; before he could attend to why the biblical text is opposed to same-sex intercourse, he first had to clear away the arguments that decry that opposition. The Bible’s disapproval of same-sex intercourse, Gagnon says, is based in the guidelines laid out for human sexuality in Genesis. Both Paul and Jesus refer to the First Book of Moses when they discuss matters pertaining to sexual purity and impurity because it offers normative and prescriptive wisdom for human sexual relationships. Gagnon states that universal reasons for objecting to homosexual intercourse, and all improper sexual behavior, depend on those structural prerequisites for such relationships.
In his book Shades of Loneliness: Pathologies of a Technological Society, professor Richard Stivers addresses the relationships between mental and emotional disorders and loneliness, and between technological society and loneliness. Stivers refers to the work of J. H. van den Berg when discussing the former; van den Berg, he explains, argues that loneliness is the cause of most mental and emotional disorders. In turn such disorders reveal widespread loneliness, and it is no mere coincidence, says Stivers, that they are rife in today's technological society. Unlike some psychologists and psychiatrists who ignore society as a contributing factor when treating people with mental and emotional illnesses (focusing instead on their individual personality types and family relationships), Stivers pays it much heed. He asserts that the very organization of technological society ought to bear much of the blame for the loneliness that leads to the disorders.
In Christianity and the Mass Media in America: Toward a Democratic Accommodation professor Quentin Schultze explores the role of the mass media in public communication in America. Americans put their collective hope, fear, and concern about public communication in the mass media, states Schultze, and the rhetoric they have applied to it has been religiously pitched. Schultze names the various religious metaphors people have used for the media and its work, including the metaphors of conversion, discernment, communion, and being “set apart.” He also notes how highly Americans praise technological tools. Schultze recognizes that this tendency to view media in a religious light is found mainly in America, but that it is also beginning to emerge in other areas of the world where evangelicalism is gaining momentum, which suggests that it may be an evangelical and protestant phenomenon.
In Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids: American Teenagers, Schools, and the Culture of Consumption, professor Murray Milner, Jr., attends to the complex social structures found among high school students. Milner, who is interested in how people achieve social status and what role it plays in society at large, did not intend to pause long in the world of high schoolers when he set out to study an environment which could help him to understand and to explain various theories of status. His plans changed, however, when he realized the extent to which the hierarchical social worlds of these students explain the workings of the broader society. He set to work examining how teenagers order their social lives and how they attempt entry into the in crowd, and to determining how parents unwittingly support their children's obsessions with popularity and consumerist habits. Milner suggests that amending these trends will require multiple and varied changes to the current structure of high schools.