Category: Religion / Topics: Change Culture Religion Trends

Sixteeen and Evangelical

Submitted by Stu Johnson

Posted: March 5, 2020

How could friends with a common teenage faith drift so far apart?…

illustration by Doris Liou

The following is an excerpt from an article by Laura Turner that was published July 15, 2019 on Slate. I found it in March 2020 on Pocket, a feature of the Firefox browser homepage. Presented here is Turner's introduction.. A link to the full article follows.

The church at the corner of Algonquin and Barrington roads was so big that it was often mistaken for a community college. At Willow Creek, a mile-long driveway wound around a manmade lake where believers got baptized in the summer months, and in the spring it was littered with Canadian geese and their goslings. The parking lots were so big that I learned to drive there, on uninterrupted swaths of flat Midwestern bog. My family lived three miles away; my parents were both pastors there; my first job was there. My friends were there. For a time that still feels like something out of a Pat Conroy novel, I had a group of wonderful friends. We moved as one organism in those high school days, submerged as we were in the urgent, heady waters of teenage faith in the middle of the cresting wave of American evangelicalism. Bound to them by the kind of affection born of knowing someone when they were 16, I still count these people as dear to me. But the truth is it has been a decade since we were all together.

When I was young, I had certain ideas about how the world worked, how God worked. One story of youthful zeal is that it fades with age, as life gets harder and more complex; that the center of an uncompromising faith structure cannot hold in a complicated world. As my friends and I have aged, though, we’ve all developed wildly different relationships to our religion. We’ve grown up and apart and orbited each other like satellites. I am almost 34 now. I am a mother, a wife, a writer, a homeowner, and it is just beginning to dawn on me—a realization I’m sure is not unique to me—that I will never again be a teenager. I have also noticed something that psychologists and poets have been saying for centuries: We become what we dwell on. And what we dwelt on in high school, what we breathed, was God’s goodness. And what I dwell on now is God’s goodness still, but also the loss that has attended my life and the lives of those I love and how a good God could allow it all.

I set out to write this because I wanted to know what has happened to me and to my friends since high school; how we have navigated faith and doubt as life has dealt us more hardships than we could have anticipated were coming, including the suicide of one of our own. I wanted to know how, and if, the faith withstood the hardships. I wanted to know where we had all gone.

A summary perspective is found near the end of Turner's article:

A world without God wouldn’t make sense to me. But it now makes sense to many of my friends. I finally understand that we never had a shared faith structure. We went to the same church, some of us for years. We heard the same sermons, slept in the same cabins at camp, read the same books of the Bible, listened to the same music. But we went home to different families. We heard different stories about what it meant to be gay, to be a Christian, to experience the death of someone we loved. After Laurie’s death, we were left holding the broken pieces of a faith some of us had never expected to falter. There are seasons of my life when the practice of going to church feels like the only thing that keeps my faith in God alive. I am, perhaps, not brave enough to imagine what would happen to me without those Sunday mornings. Or I realize that I cannot believe apart from other people. Either way, the foundation feels shakier now, but my feelings also feel less important.

In the rest of the story, Turner introduces us to those friends and the way their lives and faith have gone in different directions. These examples put a human face on many of the trends I have tracked in Religion in America.
Read more.

Laura Turner is a San Francisco–based journalist who writes about religion and culture.

Stu Johnson is owner of Stuart Johnson & Associates, a communications consultancy in Wheaton, Illinois focused on "making information make sense."

E-mail the author (moc.setaicossajs@uts*)

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Posted: March 5, 2020

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