A decade ago, I never thought I would be
On the verge of spontaneous combustion
Woe is me
But I guess that it comes with the territory
An ominous landscape of never-ending calamity.
I need you to hear, I need you to see
That I have had all I can take
And exploding seems like a definite possibility to me
So pardon me while I burst into flames.
I've had enough of the world, and its people's mindless games
So pardon me while I burn, and rise above the flame
Pardon me, pardon me. I'll never be the same.
(Incubus, "Pardon Me")
Well, the guys down at the FBI caught the Pipe Bomber, and wouldn't you know it—he's a 21-year-old rockstar-wannabe. After authorities trailed him across several states following a rash of mailbox-bombing incidents, Lucas John Helder surrendered Tuesday on a desolate stretch of I-80 in rural Nevada.
Lately, I have been pondering just what, exactly, my generation is so angry about. I am also twenty-one, born within months of both Lucas Helder (confessed pipe bomber) and John Walker Lindh (American Taliban). We are among the firstborn of a generation that counts the school shooters, the murderous 'prom mom', and Britney Spears (come on, you know she's just as much a crime against humanity) among our number.
A quick spin of the radio dial reveals angry, bitter lyrics set to driving beats on the most popular music stations. Suicide, physical violence and depraved sexuality are common themes in media aimed at the twelve-to-twenty set. One chart-topping song by Christian group P.O.D., entitled "Youth of a Nation," chronicles all of these abjectly depressing topics in under four minutes.
The surprising thing about all the angry pop culture is what it's angry about. America's youth seem to be searching for something; something they're not finding from their parents, school or society. If you listen closely...it sounds like they're searching for spirituality.
Sadly, they are missing the mark. Lucas Helder (the pipe bomber), left a rambling message signed, "Someone Who Cares." The contrived, vague letter alludes to an afterlife for those the bomber supposedly "dismissed from this reality," but mostly just reads like a hodge-podge of different paranoid and/or anarchist ideologies he compiled by watching CNN. Helder followed up with a letter sent to the University of Wisconsin newspaper. Alongside even more convoluted, pseudo-spiritual babble (the most coherent portion of the lengthy screed is a section canonizing marijuana), Helder declares, "I will die/change in the end for this, but that's ok, hahaha paradise awaits!" Some paradise—a 12x12 cell with an overly friendly roommate and nowhere to hide? Perhaps Mr. Helder should reevaluate his theology.
Another failed spiritual seeker, John Walker Lindh, left tony Marin County, Ca. as a teen to travel the middle-east in pursuit of 'true' Islam. His search eventually led him to a band of roving terrorist thugs (they call themselves the Taliban), from whom he learned to use machine guns and other weapons against his American peers when they arrived to eliminate the terrorists. Today, he faces life imprisonment for conspiring to kill his fellow Americans.
How can we expect this generation to find true spirituality if no one is willing to provide leadership? We are a generation that grew up in homes where most parents were ambivalent about religion—or just weren't there at all. They were out worshipping the gods of money and prestige, and never realized just how badly they were neglecting their children's fundamental needs.
Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it." There is an entire nation of young people coming into adulthood today who have had no spiritual training whatsoever. The only things many of us have known in our lifetimes are unchecked consumerism, self-centeredness and instant physical gratification (if it feels good, do it). As young adults, it seems we are collectively rejecting this false value system, but what are we going to replace it with?
Spiritual beliefs and value systems are arguably the biggest factors in a culture's ultimate success or failure. Even a cursory glance through a history book will reveal the principal catalyst for nearly every major cultural development, good and bad—and it's not the hollow materialism of the late 20th century.
We face a precarious moment, as these spiritual 'blank slates' take their first steps into the adult world. What is written on those slates—and in tomorrow's history books—is up to all of us.
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