According to an AP article on the front page of The Oklahoman young people grow more materialistic. Seems since 1966 incoming college freshmen consider financial prosperity very important. Pew Research Center indicated 80 percent of 18-to 25-year-olds ranked getting rich as their top priority.
When wealth becomes the marker of success how could we possibly expect young people today to rank anything higher than getting rich as a top, or the top, priority? The late Leslie Newbigin asks, in Foolishness to the Greeks,
"What would be involved in a missionary encounter between the gospel and this whole way of perceiving, thinking, and living that we call "modern Western culture"? (p.1)
Certainly we must understand what drives the lust for the material. Little doubt we must look to the social environment in which these 18- to 25-years olds find themselves enmeshed. Oprah Winfrey noted in response to a question about building a school in South Africa opposed to the USA,
"If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers."
When you compare that to the needs of other young people around the world, the cost for an iPod or sneakers looks like a year’s wages for the family. Recently you may have seen the Global Rich List mentioned here. How often do we talk about a view of the world that takes into account "others?" I know it is on those occasions where we do not want to let go for an iPod and sneakers or we want our children to finish the food left on their plates. But is that really talking about "others" in a way that connects us with the world community? Does it reflect an understanding of responsibility to think in ways that, as Bob Roberts terms it, reflect a local understanding about global realities – "think globally, act locally" or "glocal."
Our common language does not normally include "empire." On occasion we will talk about Walmart or Microsoft as empires. We may consider Buffet and Pickens empires in their own right. Here in Oklahoma City we watch Chesapeake continue to buy and build and may think "empire." Yet, our daily experience does not include references to "empire." However, to approximate what may be needed in our day to help our young people live "counter-intuitive" lives we may need to grasp "empire" as a metaphor to describe the all-consuming "Western cultural complex." If we could view the social structure as something of an empire, and often an oppressive, evil one at that, we may well consider the need to subvert the empire just as the Justice Department considers monopolies and just how to protect the consumer from such oppressive rackets.
Subverting the empire may be helped with bringing the realities of a broader experience for the world’s more than six billion people. Recently we were asked about our regular references to the trouble in Darfur. We are quick to note the terrible injustices surrounding us everyday. But, these are often too close for us to see them as the horrible events they are. We need to associate injustice with the harshest of images so we may be more sensitized to its presence all around us.
Injustices do not only happen to ethnic minorities. Wade Burleson, Marty Duren and Ben Coles combine to point out the injustices taking place in the "empire" that is the "triumphal SBC." I recently spoke with a gentleman who encountered one of our more popular NAMB employees. He came away thinking how "triumphalistic" Southern Baptists sound – as if the only way God will find fulfillment for his redemptive project in the world will come through Southern Baptists. This NAMB representative only echoes Malcolm Yarnell in the recent edition of Southwestern News when he notes anyone who would read the bible would be a Baptist.
Our failure to talk with our young people in a way they understand the "empire" under which they live only results in our young people becoming patriots to that "empire." Walter Brueggemann helps conjure Scriptural images helpful in talking about subversion. His regular reference to "exiles" signals a way forward in subverting the empire. Rather than learn the manners and customs of the "empire" we should hear the prophetic call to remember the manners and customs of the people of God. We are not talking about reading, The New Manners and Customs of the Bible. We refer to the ways in which God intends his people to exhibit the manner of His Kingdom and the customs intended to open up the world to the goodness of God.
Only when we intentionally subvert the empire may we expect to change the statistics that reveal our young people are simply following in our footsteps.