Sunday, March 25, 2007

Practicing Discernment with Youth

I need to quibble with Kenda Dean on this one. I'm not sure that White is "the most thoughtful scholar in youth ministry today." He is thoughtful but his innovations in terms of integrating practices of discernment into youth ministry suffer from insufficient grounding in a well reasoned normative theology. There are lots of vague references to the "Holy" (as if you could have holiness without the tension of God's grace and anger), social critique more rooted in Adorno than Amos, and a Jesus who did a lot of nice things. In the end, I struggled to place Whites insights into my context.

White clearly operates from a praxis (in the Marxist sense) methodology when it comes to culture and faith. Culture deadens adolescents with its false promises of happiness through consumption. The church must raise critical conciousness in adolescents. We do that through discernment which is a continual cycle of listening (to our true beings), understanding (to those things which deaden our true being), dreaming (connecting our true beings to Scripture and theology) and finally acting (expressing our true selves).

I can agree with most of this but I was always left with the feeling that I could read someone like Naomi Klein and get this. For instance, isn't discernment both horizontal and vertical? Shouldn't I care both about how social studies can explain something and how God continues to act in the world? Is there no personal God that I must attune myself to in some way? I'm not asking for a simplistic Jesus-is-my-boyfriend theology here. I have more than a passing knowledge of St. Ignatius of Loyola for instance, and he clearly had a concept of God's providential activity in the world. Given that White cites Loyola on more than one occasion, where is an Ignatian sense of discernment which recognizes both feelings and the Spirit?

I will use this book in my own ministry but am sad that its audience is so limited. I teach at an evangelical school and we use many different sources for theological reflection. Sadly, Whites animosity towards evangelicals and/or any traditional orthodoxy will make it difficult for me to assign this book. It isn't that I don't want students to get exposure to other theological traditions. This book however has such a narrow focus that I think that to ask students to persevere through the whole thing would not be worth the time investment. What is even sadder may be that I don't get the sense that White cares about this which is a pity because his thoughtful innovations are worthwhile for more than just his small part of the youth ministry world.

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Anonymous Sarah Dickinson said...

hi Blair,

This is off topic completely, but I am hoping to get in touch with you but don't have your e-mail address. I am an aquaintance of Kenda Dean, and am hoping to have a chance to chat with you, Sarah Arthur, and Kenda at the Princeton Forum about adolescent organized conversation perhaps? Im working on a MA dissertation around the subject out of King's College, UK, and Kenda suggested I get in touch with you! My e-mail is if you would like to get in touch and start a conversation! Thanks!
-Sarah Dickinson
Director of YM
First Pres Church of Ambler,PA

1:09 p.m., March 29, 2007  
Blogger sarah said...

Hello, all! I was just getting ready to write a comment about White's book, and lo, there is my name in the previous comment. How odd. And few of us have ever met, though apparently this is being arranged by some Great Cyber Wizard (pay no attention to the man behind the curtain). Yes, by all means let's meet at Princeton -- we the subversive cohort of biblical hermenuets, as Kenda called us. My email is

Okay, so my comment on White:

Couldn't agree more. We were assigned this book in preparation for staff training at the Duke (Divinity School) Youth Academy for Christian Formation last summer, and at some point I raised my hand and said, "I guess this leaves me wondering, What are we listening FOR? What are we listening TOWARDS? Are we just getting in touch with our feelings here, or is there some sort of normative story/voice that's trying to tell us something?" The heart of the word "discern" is the idea of separating apart, of stepping away in order to see. This is hard to do if all we have is our limited human understanding, if there's no outside place from which to stand and observe. "List, list, O, list!" says the ghost of Hamlet's father; and poor Hamlet says, "Listen for WHAT?"


9:20 p.m., March 29, 2007  
Blogger sarah said...

The above comment was by Sarah Arthur, by the way. That's me.

9:23 p.m., March 29, 2007  
Blogger blair said...

Sarah (both of you?), by all means let's get together at Princeton. I'll send you (both)an email. Forums get busy quick so let's set up something definite before I get there. Do you want KD involved because, while wonderful, makes life more complicated.

Sad to hear about your Duke experience. There are a number of good things about the book but the nagging lack of God does get in the way.

12:34 a.m., April 02, 2007  
Blogger sarah said...

Looking forward to meeting you all! I've never done the Forums thing, so whatever you think is best regarding getting together is fine with me. An email discussion would probably be best.

As to reading White's book for Duke Youth Academy staff training, the staff had a very vigorous and healthy discussion about it, with Dr. Edie (our director & professor of CE) acknowledging the weaknesses of White's approach. So all in all, DYA was a good place to read & discuss it (or I wouldn't be starting my MTS at Duke this fall). Good things!

Sarah Arthur

10:55 a.m., April 02, 2007  
Anonymous Sarah Dickinson said...

Sarah A and Blair,

How about we plan to chat on Wednesday afternoon at the Forum-- after lunch or during? If I remember correctly, we don't have anything on Wednesday until 2:30.

Blair, still don't have your address, otherwise I'd e-mail you since I know that's easier!

Let me know what you all think! I am pretty new to the study of hermeneutics, and am looking forward to the chance to converse with you both!

Thanks and peace,
Sarah Dickinson

11:32 a.m., April 18, 2007  

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