It seems like we can’t turn on any type of speaker or screen without seeing and/or hearing more discouraging news about young men employed in the NFL. In typical contemporary fashion, the talking heads ponder what did happen, what didn’t happen, what should happen, and even what’s not happening in response. This is a true media frenzy.
A few minutes ago, I pulled an old book on youth culture off my shelf. . . only out of curiosity. It’s Ross Snyder’s 1969 Young People and their Culture. It’s not a book I have read. In fact, I found it in the dark corner of a used book store just a couple of months ago. I glanced at the books first few paragraphs and couldn’t help but think about what’s been so newsworthy in our world this week. Snyder writes, “Always in every civilization there are persons who live out of values they have felt, thought about, originated. So that they have some integrity about lifestyle. They can be encountered. With them, life can be made. Their life develops – it is a river flowing across a continent, rather than a flutter of wavelets pushed up and dropped by the wind.”
Snyder is describing two types of people: those who consciously seek to create and rudder themselves with intent and integrity, and those who just let the winds of culture blow them wherever those winds take them. Snyder goes on to describe what happens when it is the latter group that populates a society. . . “It is all too easy for a civilization to slip into becoming institutionalizations of its sickness. And, to lose grasp on what is healthy human existence.” Snyder’s hope for young people back in the turbulent sixties was to see them “expand into life rather than shrivel in mediocrity and impotence”. . . to shape a society rather than surrender to massage by the gods of masscomm.”
Keep in mind that Snyder wrote those words 45 years ago. Now, we have to ask ourselves which of Snyder’s versions of life is being realized in our world today.
We are always building culture and building our selves. . . whether we know it or not. When we know it, we tend to be deliberate. For the Christian, this means deliberately finding our place in God’s story and in God’s world. When we don’t know it, we still build culture. However, it’s a culture that usually reflects the fact that the world has found and established its place in us.
One of the shows that captures the battle we face between good and evil is HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. It just so happened that I flipped off the constant stream of NFL news the other night to catch-up on the first episode of Boardwalk Empire’s Season 5. In the opening scene, viewers are taken back to Nucky Thompson’s childhood and a series of conflicting experiences that battled in Nucky’s young mind and heart. Would he choose to pursue good, or to pursue evil. As the show opens, a narrator reads George Birdseye’s children’s poem, “Be Honest and True.” The poem appeared in an 1877 edition of Golden Days for Boys and Girls, a copy of which young Nucky treasured enough to hide under his pillow.
And so goes these truths about what it is we choose to pursue in life. . . a message that’s still wholly appropriate for our kids today. . .
Be honest and true, boys!
Whatever you do, boys,
Let this be your motto through life.
Both now and forever,
Be this your endeavor,
When wrong with the right is at strife.
The best and the truest,
Alas! are the fewest;
But be one of these if you can.
In duty ne’er fail; you
Will find ’twill avail you,
And bring its reward when a man.
Don’t think life plain sailing;
There’s danger of failing,
Though bright seem the future to be;
But honor and labor,
And truth to your neighbor,
Will bear you safe over life’s sea.
Then up and be doing,
Right only pursuing,
And take your fair part in the strife.
Be honest and true, boys,
Whatever you do, boys,
Let this be your motto through life!