Came across an interesting piece in the New York Times today. I was going to blog about the Palin-Biden debate but I decided not to after perusing this article, entitled “If Only the Cool Kids Could See Him Now” by Bruce Weber. The tagline on the NYT homepage was this: “Adolescent anxiety is the subject of Jason Robert Brown’s new musical.” This line piqued my interest because cultural adolescence is a current field of personal interest.
Think about these sections from the article in light of our culture’s obsession with adolescence: “Mr. Brown wrote the music and lyrics for “13,” working with Dan Elish and Robert Horn, who wrote the book. His score is full of hormonally fueled rock songs and melodic, Billy Joel-esque ballads about early-teenage concerns like the meaning of friendship, the cliquish strata of junior high school and the terrors of French kissing, but it is especially notable for its focus on the burning earnestness of youthful feelings.
“It’s the same angst that comes out in all my stuff,” Mr. Brown said. “I’ve never been particularly good at explaining or even understanding what this sort of rage is that is so accessible to me. I’m not an out-of-control person, but I can access in my work very easily a feeling of real fury. Thank goodness I’ve channeled it into my work, I guess.”
This piece might not seem all that interesting or important from the outset. If you look deeper, though, it’s pretty telling. Here’s a 38-year-old man, twice married, who despite being almost 40 years of age is still exploring the themes of what are typically called the teenage years. This is culturally significant. It’s also quite pervasive in the current day. It’s quite common for men and women in their 20s, 30s, and even 40s to think and live in the patterns and rhythms of adolescence. Despite being decades removed from prom and physics class, many adults today devote great amounts of attention and interest to the things of youth. Jason Robert Brown is one such example from the artistic community, a 38-year-old man who devotes considerable time, energy and money to the parsing of the teenage years.
Can we say that it’s fine to reminisce once in a while about the last year or the first crush, the big game or the little insecurities? I think we can. It’s all part of being human, this work to remember and even savor the past. But should we live in the world of teens while still adults? Is that a healthy thing? Should we obsess over high school football or basketball, or watch typically teenage-themed shows, or dress in teen fashions as adults? These things I’m less sure about. There’s always some cultural overlap between the generations, but I wonder if things haven’t gone overboard for many adults.
It seems to me that one decides which world to focus on: the world of adults or the world of teens. If one focuses on maturity, and personal growth, and fighting weaknesses, and conforming in healthy ways to a responsible adult lifestyle, then one will look and talk and act like an adult. If, however, an adult focuses on personal fulfillment, and self-interest, and the unfettered expression of one’s thoughts and inclinations, such that one acts much like a grown-up child, then–surprise!–one will look the same.
It seems a unique part of Christian discipleship today that we need not only to clarify for adults how to live as a Christian, but how to live as an adult, and more than this, a Christian adult. We can’t let social concerns overwhelm theological ones, of course, but neither can we ignore fundamental matters of maturity. While the world around is entranced with adolescence and shrugging off age-old norms of adulthood, namely, the cultivation of character, the assumption of serious responsibility, and the development of social maturity such that one behaves with dignity and propriety, we should teach these things. Though it lives in all of us in some form, immaturity gets old and tiring. Just think of how long it’s taking Jim and Pam to marry on “The Office.” Honestly, how much longer can that relationship stretch out? Time for art to learn from life, Christian life at that, and not vice versa, as seems to happen all too often in our churches and homes. Time for the gospel to transform not simply theology, but behavior.