Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 14, 2002
Generation X author spells out youth spirituality
God Moments: Why God really Matters to a New Generation, by Jeremy Langford. Orbis Books:Maryknoll, N.Y. 207 pages. Paperback.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
"We may not be able to describe God exactly," says 30-something Jeremy Langford, Catholic author and Generation Xer (a label he doesn't much like), "but we know exactly when we have a God moment. We know it in our souls."
This book is about moments of recognition when we are claimed by what is true, real and good.
Langford grew up Catholic in South Bend, Ind., got some faith exposure and developed a kid's perspective of God. The church building was God's "house." The Roman Catholic Church was the second in command to God.
Gradually he determined that God must have many houses. He wondered why God would be limited to just Catholic churches. Why couldn't God just be loosed on the world?
Langford stopped going to Mass on a regular basis. If God was everywhere he didn't need to find God in a church. In time, however, he came to believe that he needed to attend Mass in addition to seeking God in every other corner of his life.
What happened? He had located a Catholic community that accepted him and where he felt at home.
At church, Langford found himself among trusted friends who understood his personal doubts and spiritual challenges. Then he began giving talks and writing articles about the faith hurdles of his generation. Today, he helps run a famous Catholic publication house; is earning a theological degree and offers workshops on current faith issues to his peers nationwide. He will speak at World Youth Day in Toronto in July.
In God Moments, there are chapters on the characteristics of those born between 1961 and 1981. Langford doesn't presume to speak for everyone his age but he tells poignant stories of personal "God moments" to amplify his points.
His parent's generation was born prosperous and optimistic just after the Second World War. Having rebelled against the conformity of their own elders they became disoriented spiritual questers.
Langford inherited a "busted culture" marked by distrust of political leadership, the dissolution of the family and a chaotic system of education.
The author believes that to bring some order out of the chaos in the lives of his contemporaries the Church can again become a stabilizing community. His generation doesn't share his parents' feelings of betrayal and alienation.
He believes that discovering Catholicism could help Gen Xers see how a rich faith tradition can mesh with "the all-too-often sloppy details of my daily life."
Langford is not so much concerned about being the perfect Catholic. He is, however, committed to the process of "becoming himself" as a "becoming Catholic."
"We are closed to a church that has all the answers," he says, "but open to a Church that is both teacher and student. . . . If our parents were the revolutionaries, then let us be the rebuilders."
Langford believes young adults have a passion for the sacred. "We hunger for healthy personal identity . . . intimacy in relationships . . . meaningful work and . . . life-giving spirituality."
Are Gen Xers then all that much different from their parents? Perhaps we are dealing here with a common humanity shaped by a different set of generational experiences.
The rest of the book deals extensively with seeking, being transformed and acting upon a new way of life that the Gospel represents and the Church at its best proclaims.
Langford writes refreshingly and without arrogance on themes such as discipleship, building community and serving the common good. He calls Catholic social teachings "the Church's best-kept secret" but does not get bogged down in creedal statements or doctrinal minutiae. He tends to focus on the biblical record but his interpretation has latitude.
What does Langford's generation of seekers and Christians in process desire from their elders? We need "walking with," he says. We need "listening to," "talking with," "breaking bread with" and "empowering."
This is not a book only about the young. It is truly a study for anyone concerned about the Christian way for today.
The God moments experienced by the author are not exclusive but something to be shared, cross-generationally. "My hope is to invite all to come and see the God moments that make life so special," Langford concludes "and to realize that the Catholic tradition is a powerful lens through which to see God at work in our lives."
(Rev. Dr. Wayne Holst is a writer who has taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary.)