Friday, February 15, 2008

Why I Love My Students

My American Religious Histories class has met twice now. They are a great class. They are bright and engaged and conscientious. Yesterday, I was finally beginning to get a sense of each of them as individuals in the course of a class discussion focussed on the required readings for yesterday.

The text was Nathan Hatch's Democratization of American Christianity, comparing and contrasting a number of American religious movements around the time of the Second Great Awakening (including the Methodists, the Baptists, the Christian Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the Mormon Church). We were discussing the remarkable outpouring of the Spirit that seemed to be taking place throughout the American Republic of the early 1800s.

This led to interesting comparisons between the time of the Second Great Awakening and our own time. All expressed a kind of frustration, a sense that the society we live in is stagnating. We face profound, terrifying challenges -- economic, environmental, social, and political -- any one of which might threaten disaster, possibly within our life times. And yet the society we live in seems incapable of organizing or uniting to deal with these problems. Instead we are at war with each other over which problems are more pressing and over how to solve them.

I was particularly moved by one 26-year-old student who spoke very personally about the general sense of hopelessness that seems to be prevalent in his generation and the upcoming generation, a sense that the problems we face are just too big for us, that it will take some kind of general break-down or catastrophe to wake people up to the seriousness of what is happening. Young people are either just tuning out and ignoring what is happening, or they are getting overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness. I've certainly seen both of these attitudes in the teenage kids we are closely acquainted with.

This morning on my way to work, some of my students' comments from last night were echoing in my head. And I felt oddly at peace, oddly hopeful. I felt a yearning for them each to find what they expressed a desperate hunger for: that outpouring of the Spirit that we observed among Americans of Joseph Smith's generation; that breakthrough that will endow all of us with power from on high and empower us to face the problems of this generation without fear or hopelessness.

But you can't find a solution until you have recognized the problem. That is what I pray for us as a class to achieve.

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