My youth minister friend from college recently published a blog post comparing teenagers who flake on youth ministry events to his toddler shitting on the floor. This is the same fellow whose wife was spamming Facebook with marketing copy for her Jamberry franchise during Advent. To be very clear, these two are uncommonly decent and ethical people in most regards, and I would feel bad if anything that I’ve written about them is construed as ad hominem. The problem is that in a few crucial areas of their lives they’ve apparently been taken over by what are frankly cults.
In this regard, Jamberry is probably worse. I have a relative who has been taken over by Amway for decades. He probably has Asperger’s Syndrome, and in any event he’s extremely introverted and a bit socially awkward, so as far as we can tell he hardly sells a thing through his distributorship, but he keeps paying the dues, even when he’s indigent and sporadically homeless. If the solution to this fraud isn’t jamming Amway up in court until it coughs up the back dues it stole, the solution is the joint armed robbery of the DeVos family by Mr. Orenthal James “The Juice” Simpson and (I know, this will come as a shock) Kwesi “Northside Juice” Millington. (No, it isn’t entirely because he’s black; Mark Saunders is but an occasional secondary meme in these pages.)
I’m not being entirely flippant here: justice in the courts does in fact prevent vigilante justice in the streets, and Amway and Jamberry are the next thing to lawless. Violence isn’t actually senseless all that often. The manslaughter of Robert Dziekanski made sense insofar as some cops are just plain violent, so sometimes a Hootie and the Blowfish squad of Mounties, including Monty (you can’t make this shit up), electrocutes a man to death because he’s agitated and throwing small tables around in an airport terminal. O. J.’s armed quest to be given back his fucking stuff made sense: the victims had it, and he thought it was rightfully his. When the US government does that to Muammar Qaddafi over oil, it’s called “regime change,” “nation building,” and “liberation.” The fragging of combat lieutenants in Vietnam made sense: they were turning grunts into vegetables and hamburger meat for the aggrandizement of Bob McNamara’s feels. Robert “Sick Willie” Pickton unleashing pig squalor on all DeVos family estates would make excellent sense as a punitive, although not compensatory or restorative, measure of justice. People who get rich by squeezing distributorship dues out of car mechanics so indigent that they’re sleeping in their own cars deserve to stumble headlong into a pile of pig shit every once in a while. By some reckonings, pig shit makes for good walkin’ in high boots; the DeVoses need low boots. They’re a family of self-righteous racketeers. The Jamberry sisters are better, but maybe not by much.
Anyway, my youth minister friend and his wife have a toddler who sometimes shits on the floor (a mess I feel blessed not to have to clean up), and he’s musing on his blog about the similarities between toilet-training this kid and reaching out to unchurched teens. The obvious difference (or one that should be obvious, at least) is that these teens don’t include Chuck C. Johnson, so their own floor-shitting days should be over for the time being. (The very elderly do that sometimes, too, a lovely thing for any society whose age curve is skewing towards the right.) For this group of teenagers to compete with erratically incontinent small children as causes of upset, you’d think they’d be wildly out of control. What they actually are, according to my friend, is a bit moochy or flaky. They’ve been accused of only showing up at youth group meetings when they want something (pizza night?) and prioritizing school, sports, and work over religious education. This is said to upset some of their youth ministers.
It shouldn’t. Who are the real adults here? The organizers induce attendance at their functions by offering junk food, and then they express hurt that the kids only show up for the junk food. Or their teens have conflicting obligations, like any fucking adult might, and they act like they got stood up on a date. I’m all for cutting back on the overscheduling of K-16 students, but youth ministry is obviously a source of overscheduling in this arrangement, so if work can’t be cut (probably for financial reasons), school can’t be cut (mostly for bullshit reasons having nothing to do with actual education, I’m guessing), and sports can’t be cut (probably for pseudoacademic psychosociosexual reasons only tangentially having to do with a love of athletics), maybe youth ministry is the thing that has to be cut. The youth ministers are party to students’ triage decisions. They’ve chosen that burden for themselves. They’re complaining about something they should have expected all along.
Right now I’m really admiring the leadership of the kid I sat next to on a flight from LAX to JFK who held down a 0.6 GPA at Whittier College. We need more people like Colin what’s-his-name in this country. It’s not like the neurotic, over-the-top work ethic of these overachievers is doing jack shit for society even ten percent of the time. Frankly, I’ve got nothing against kids who skip LifeTeen meetings to smoke dope all night. It’s not that there’s nothing wrong with that; it’s that there’s a lot wrong with badgering teenagers into committing themselves to extracurricular activities that they don’t personally find compelling, and that the potheads are at least living in truth. A broadly lazy population is bad news, but the US population is not nearly as lazy as the pearl-clutchers assume, and the portions of it that are the most destructively lazy are not the ones that get the lion’s share of the blame. (O’Hara! Cut cane, you hear!) What we really don’t get in this country is the value of not doing anything destructive. We esteem MBA’s conspiring to ruin other people’s careers as work no less honorable than engineering the next generation of 737. At least they’re doing something with their lives, right? Hey, that’s why Millington went to Depot: to do something with his life. Bill Bentley, too. No, not the football player; the creepy fucking ginger. God protect Canada, I finally looked up photos of him, and I can say that Trayvon Martin was right about some crackers.
Come at me, MPC.
This blog post that I mentioned, the one comparing flaky teenagers who aren’t all about catechism to toddlers who shit on the floor because they haven’t been toilet-trained, isn’t nearly as bad as it might be. It’s actually pretty thoughtful and focuses mainly on what youth ministries can do to appeal more effectively to teens. The insurmountable problem with it, though, is that it compares a ministry’s target demographic to floor-shitting toddlers. It betrays a certain contempt, I’m afraid. It tells the flock that those who aren’t committed to the program are exasperating in the same way that a toddler who craps all over the floor exasperates his parents. This is the saintly level of patience that youth ministers admit to needing in order to deal with noncommittal teens. This is the territory of Chris Erskine being taciturn because his own teenagers don’t hug him enough. It’s hard to blame a teenager for not wanting to be involved in a ministry like that. Comparing teenagers to half-continent toddlers will never come across as good humor to all teenagers, no matter how well-intentioned or otherwise good-natured the rest of the commentary is. It just won’t.
By the way, youth ministry is pretty much downhill from there. I’m not kidding. This friend of mine has to be more reasonable than most youth ministers in the United States. I’m sure of it. There’s a fucking incredible amount of garbage in that business. It’s a nightmare of bottomfeeding. We may have enough whores in this country, but we definitely have too many preachers.
How is any of this relevant to my own life when I’m regularly sleeping in my car? Ask some kid whose parents are out of work and on food stamps. “Jesus loves me, this I know” won’t cut it in a society as vicious as ours. We aren’t a post-Christian country, as my youth minister friend suggested; we’re anti-Christian, and the well of poison from which we drink is deep and ancient.
Take me to church, Mr. Cruz. Take me to church.