Monday, December 19, 2011

The Ennuim: No Hope, No Risk

Over the last several months, I have offered occasional reflections on what I coined as the "Control-F Generation." Today, I should like to reflect on what I see as the spirituality of the Control-F Generation.

Let me begin with the positive contrast. In the Hebrew Scriptures, we encounter the Anawim. The Anawim are the poor, the destitute; they are those who have neither land nor power nor riches by which to establish their place in the world. The paradox of the Anawim is that, throughout the Scriptures, God uses them to demonstrate His saving power.  Time and time again, God chooses the unlikeliest women and men and uses them to show forth the power and wonder of the Creator. Rather than give them magical powers to overcome their obstacles, He does something even more profound: he gives them Hope. The Anawim are willing to risk their lives and their futures on the promise of hope, on the trust that they put in the living God who has summoned them to be His people.

You could say that the slogan for the Biblical Anawim is, simply, "Know Hope, Know Risk." The gift of Hope pierces the darkness and spurs people on toward itself. Hope shakes at its foundations the self-enclosures we erect for ourselves, rattling us to move forward on our human pilgrimages. As Pope Benedict XVI writes in Spe Salvi
Here too we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. (2)
The Anawim may not have the structural securities that so many of us take for granted - riches, honors, positions, etc. - but they have something much more powerful, the "great hope: 'I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me - I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good." (4) Because of this confidence in the power of Love, the Hope of the Anawim enables them to take great risks. They know risk because they know hope.

Compare this to the traits we see amidst the Control-F Generation. I should like, consequently, to dub the spiritual state of the Control-F Generation as the Ennuim. Taken from the word ennui "world weary," I believe the defining mark of the Ennuim to be encapsulated in the slogan "No Hope, No Risk."

What strikes me about many of the students I teach is that they have no hope. They look out at the world and see it as a bleak landscape. They experience themselves as being reduced to mere numbers - their GPA, their SAT/ACT scores, their class rank, the number of AP and Honors courses they take - and they feel constant pressure to test well, to score well, to look order to what? They feel pressure to go to a good college so they can get a good job so they can have nice stuff and send their kids to a good school so they can go to a good college and.....and what? Well, repeat the cycle.

If my description of the Control-F Generation is remotely apt, consider how they live their lives. They are totally wired to the internet, in constant communication with the world around them, and they expect to get answers immediately. Everything they could want to know is just a few clicks away. No longer must they work patiently at a problem or search diligently for an answer: they just have to Google it. No longer must they reflect on the meaning of a poem: countless web sites will give the 'correct' interpretation of the text's meaning. No longer must they risk hazarding a novel interpretation or innovative approach, lest they be marked 'wrong' or lose points. They can live within the safety and security of convention.

I shall shortly post another gloss on this topic (probably within the next hour) but I wanted to float this out onto the web to see if it gains any traction. It's a first stab, a beating about in the thicket, to see if we can't come to a better understanding of those to whom we minister and those in whom we must place our hope for the future. I don't know that I've added anything of substance to the conversation but, if Ennuim helps to acknowledge the spiritual dimension of this generation, then perhaps another small step has been made toward gaining greater understanding.
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