A Culture of Noise--Or Not

Originally published in April 2004.

You know we are a culture of noise when you try to enforce the rule on your weekend retreat of no outside music.  Teens always balk at it.  You have to continually confiscate all sorts of electronic devices that earphone music into their heads.  These days you even have to look for the jackets and sunglasses that have electronic noise makers wired in.

Then there is the issue of cell phones.  Do you ban them at group meetings?  Do you accept them with rules?  Round and round you can go with that issue.

Oh the quagmire technology has brought us!

The following are some quotes.  Some are from current young authors who are clearly not coming from a Biblical worldview.  Some are from ancients.  See if you can find the common denominator. 

Author Marty Beckerman of crass cultural insight books, Death to All Cheerleaders: One Adolescent Journalist’s Cheerful Diatribe to Teenage Plasticity and Generation S.L.U.T.: A Brutal Feel-Up Session with Today’s Sex-Crazed Adolescent Populace, was quoted in a magazine interview:  “We have a sense of lukewarm contentment.  All of our pleasure zones are plugged into a central electric buzz that kind of keeps us pacified but doesn’t really fulfill the soul.” (The Age, August 10, 2004)

You may be familiar with this one:  “Be still and know that I am God.”  (Psalm 46:10) Or this one:  “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.”  (Psalm 116:7)

Koren Zailckas wrote a book about her teenage drunken years called Smashed.  She wrote the following about a birthday party she attended when she was 14-years old, which was also the first time she drank alcohol:  "The party is in a basement.  We're made to hide behind the sofa and yell 'Surprise.' There is a cake, and a horror movie in the VCR.  The birthday girl's mother periodically comes downstairs with more Pepsi or plastic forks, but for the most part, she simply leaves us alone.  It's summer, after all.  We have a ping-pong table, Sega Genesis, Slip 'n' Slides, a basketball hoop, MTV, a giant trampoline, and the pleasure of each other's company.  If only she knew:  It takes so little to entertain us."

“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, ‘Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”  (Mark 6:31) “After He had dismissed them, He went up into the hills by Himself to pray.  When evening came, He was there alone.”  (Matthew 14:23)

From the conclusion of “Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year Olds,” an extensive study on the amount of media absorbed by this age group:  “It is difficult to conceive of when (or how) today’s young people might avoid media and media’s messages, even if they wanted to limit their media exposure. ...Without question, this generation truly is the media generation, devoting more than a quarter of each day to media.  As media devices becoming increasingly portable, and as they spread even further through young people’s environments--from their schools, to their cars, to their pockets--media messages will become an even more ubiquitous presence in an already media-saturated world.  Anything that takes up this much space in young people’s lives deserves our full attention.”  (Kaiser Family Foundation)

“The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.“ (1 Kings 19:11-12)

From 14-year old Bronte as interviewed for a Time cover story, "My parents always tell me I can't do homework while listening to music, but they don't understand that it helps me concentrate.”  (Time, March 27, 2006) 

Also as quoted from thousands of teens to me over the years, “I have to have my music on when I fall asleep otherwise I can never fall asleep.”

“I will lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.’  (Psalm 4:8) “On my bed I remember You; I think of You through the watches of the night.”  (Psalm 63:6)

We are a culture of noise.  Noise is also a part of current youth ministry.  For more welcoming youth room dynamics, background music blares.  Maybe even video screens.  We start a meeting with a shout to God or a loud “up” worship song.  Some teen worship bands think that if they are not crunching loud then they are not leading in worship.  Some members of your church have probably complained that the youth group is too noisy.  Some high-tech youth groups have “a ping-pong table, Sega Genesis, Slip 'n' Slides, a basketball hoop, MTV, a giant trampoline, and the pleasure of each other's company.”

Here’s a thought.  Maybe our teens are saying, “It takes so little to entertain us.”

If you have been convicted of contributing to this noise culture or if you are at least interested in mixing this up, the following are ideas you can borrow to schedule in silence:

∙    Verbally encourage your youth to turn off their televisions, music, whatever, which is on when they are trying to go to sleep at night.  Encourage them to spend that time praying.  Even if they fall asleep while praying, their minds will have been quieted.  And the youth lose the excuse that they can’t sleep unless music or whatever is on. 

∙    For a meeting or two, turn off the background music/video etc., that you normally turn on as a way to make the room more inviting.  Watch for the reactions of the youth.  Do they miss it?  Why do they miss it?

∙    During a youth meeting, set aside 20 minutes for silence.  Prep the 20 minutes with the verses from this article or others, set the clock, and see what happens.  Some may giggle.  Some may whisper.  Some may doze.  Some may appreciate this more than they know.  Some may hear personally from God, maybe for the first time.

∙    At a retreat, schedule in 2 hours of complete silence.  Allow the youth to spread themselves out to their own alone spot and to take only their Bible with them.  Some may giggle.  Some may whisper.  Some may doze.  Some may appreciate this more than they know.  Some may hear personally from God, maybe for the first time.

∙    Have an Annual Boredomfest.  Put away with all the big stuff you normally provide.  Allow the youth to only bring their Bibles.  Then see what happens.  Follow the Holy Spirit. See what types of memories are formed out of boredom.