I talked with the Beacon Lights staff, that is with the usual faithful 33%; I left concerned. I went to the South East Singspiration and sang with the faithful few; I left troubled. What to do? At least this: imitate the political higher-up and, instead of a “State of the Union” address, deliver a non-conventional “State of the Federation” message. Well, here it is, my first, and I hope my last. Let me begin by answering the question posed by the title.
Fellow members of the Federation of these Protestant Reformed Young People’s societies in what state is our Union? Our Union is in a state of illness. Viewing its condition I would hesitate to be so hasty as to say that the “patient” is sick and going to die, but this I can say with certainty, that we are quite far from being healthy, vigorous, and enthusiastic. If anything, we are quite listless. Any and every activity which concerns and discloses our spiritual well-being calls for too much effort, as evidenced by our singspiration turn-outs. We seem quite feeble, acting as though any response were too exceedingly strenuous, as evidenced by the lack of any observable interest we have in our magazine. It is hard enough to draft writers (especially young people) who will consent, let alone receive voluntary responses. I am well acquainted with the situation simply because all I need to do is start with myself.
For singspirations it is very simple to find excuses; I’m too busy, it is such a rush, I have been in church all day as it is, etc. Sometimes I think of things that could be done, which I would rather do. But really, what is there to do on a Sunday night that could be more important? What could be so pressing that we could not have done it on Friday or Saturday night, or are they our nights off since school demands the other nights? In answer let me put it a bit bluntly, school has its nights, you have yours, is it too much to set aside a special night every other month for God’s praises? Are studies that important? Does TV beckon that strongly? I will even be so indiscreet as to ask, “If you have a date, what better activity for a Sunday night is there than attending the hour long singspiration?” Like one of my gadfly friends told me when I said — that I would not be able to attend because I had to study. “You can find time to make up for the lost hour of study anytime, right now I find this more important.”
Young People, if we do not have the decency and desire to show interest in our own inspirational Federation activities, how can we expect others to show their interest by their continuous financial support? It is inevitable that people become disenchanted. If someone does not support us financially, we shrug him off as one with no concern. Well, how can we expect others to be concerned enough about us to support our fun activities if we don’t show any concern ourselves? The singspiration is for us, not for others to give to our collections, though it is a benefit. It is not unlike one giving a party, making arrangements for a master of ceremonies, inviting others to come as guests
with their gifts, only to have them find when they arrive that the host is not there, but that he has been so “considerate” as to leave a note telling them where to leave the gifts. It is a tribute to them that they do not leave them in their pockets. The symptom of our illness is our lack of interest, but of primary importance is the serious question of where our priorities lie.
As is the case in all illnesses, unless proper precautions and medicine are taken the condition can worsen rapidly. We become more and more susceptible to outside influences and attractions as time progresses. I ask you what better medicine is there than to participate in spiritual activities such as singing. We can shrug it off and say that young people were always like that, and no lasting effects carry over when we become older. It could be argued that such an argument is based on an attitude that is itself inexcusable, but to address myself directly to the statement I ask. “Was it always like this?” I can still remember singspirations when Hope had to bring out chairs to make room. We do not even half fill South East’s auditorium now, let alone a bigger one. Well, maybe there are just too many other activities conflicting with ours, such as choral groups. Not lately though, because our publicity committee has made every effort to plan around them. And that brings up another point.
Our lack of interest carries over even into our publicity committee. It does not see itself as very important since few take interest in its planned activities, and as a result it becomes disheartened, and then complacent. Just ask the chairman how many appear at the meetings and who accomplishes what. With poor participation less and less is accomplished, which determines the amount of planning that can go into a program. And so it goes. We are in a rut, and now is the time to put it in gear to get out. It is so easy, you know, to be satisfied with pointing out the error in misdirected enthusiasm of things like S.W.I.M., and Key ’73. Although it may be misdirected, at least one can say this much, that there is a desire for involvement and voluntary participation in spiritual activities. Instead of contentedly considering ourselves as Christians because we know how to upbraid others, let us positively show how it should be directed. God can countenance lukewarmness even less than misdirected fervor. Christianity is more than guarding against falsities, it is more than apologetics, although such has its place. Christianity is an expression of faith in a positive thankful fashion. This can be done effectively through song. Is not the joy of singing worth the “sacrifice”? Certainly one must admit that once one has attended and sang praises, one experiences a feeling of joy. If not, then it may be that the sickness is such that the state of our union is critical. For your own well-being as well as an encouragement for others, show up.
Now, I also made mention of our magazine, mentioning its staff attendance problem, and its difficulty in obtaining material. A few carry the load with little encouragement, which leads them to wonder whether they are accomplishing anything. The effort seems but slightly appreciated, and they wonder if it is worthwhile, i.e., — whether people are actually deriving benefit or whether they who search for material and they who submit material are doing so just to fill space. What can be done?
This is a tougher problem in that more is involved, although the other is probably more basic. Interest is important, in fact basic; but for a magazine to survive, or maybe I should say thrive, there must be material submitted and response elicited. Admittedly, the ideal solution is quite obvious and on the surface, simple, while to realize the ideal is not that easy. The simple answer is difficult to actually bring into practice. I have been in society for about seven years and have written but one article before this one, which is not what one would call prolific writing. There are all kinds of reasons for refusal: no subject, no time, no ability, don’t know anything about it, who am I to tell others what is right, I do not want to offend so and so, because he is a friend, or because he does not think too much of me as it is, and so on. But let us face it, these are excuses that arise out of misconceptions, some more or less honest, some on pretense. Time? Of course there is no time if there are books that we would rather read, TV programs we would rather watch, or sports we would rather entertain ourselves with. The point is that time can be sufficient if we decide to take it. It matters where we place our priorities. Subject? But is this legitimate? Really, when are there more possible subjects than at our age, simply because there are such a great number of questions that confront us as adolescents and young adults. We are making the difficult transition from dependency to independency, and making our first serious, mature, intelligent attempts to come to grips with various problems. Of primary importance is the desire to apply what we have accumulated in our years of education, both formal and informal, as well as a will to continue learning. It should be done with honesty and in sincerity, which it can be, even if tinged with doubt. We are at the age of decision making, highlighted in a confession of faith, and we also have our differences of opinion, as evidenced every so often in our society discussions. We want answers and we have some of our own, yet we hesitate to put them down in black and white, either because we are afraid we will not reach certain standards of content and insight, or we do not like to have our name under it, being self-conscious. Both problems are real, and all young people experience them to a certain degree, but remember the Beacon Lights was not intended to be on the same level as the Standard Bearer. Maybe we do not have as much ability as we would like, but I think that we tend to underestimate our education and its results too much. One is surprised what can be put down on paper clearly, if he or she takes the time. Ideas do not jump full blown into one’s mind, but take some thought, of which we are all capable, if we want to be. It is there but for the attempt.
I can understand the reluctance we have to sign our John Henry under an article. We are at an age of extraordinary sensitivity to peer approval, as well as having a dislike of having our mistakes shown to others. We are wary of having critics examine our material, and then forcing us either to take a stand with proof, or to recant on certain points. We would rather observe than to participate in this revealing fashion. The trouble is, I think, that we find it difficult to accept criticism as instruction but rather tend to view it as a personal put down, as though the criticizer were attempting to shame our person before others, making us feel foolish. For the same reason we hesitate to respond for fear that the person whose article we are responding to will imagine this to be the case. This ought not to be between Christians, for we are both honestly seeking how to apply our knowledge, which is based on God’s Word, to our life and its proper practice and attitude. The common bond of unity is made more secure and experienced as a reality when we learn from each other. Too often we have a response but suppress it, not wanting to criticize for fear of being labeled as one who thinks that he is superior. Other times we think. “Boy, I have a problem with this, but I know that others have said that this is right, and so, if I question it, I will be labeled some kind of radical.” This can be solved,
I feel, if we once again realize that our reasons for writing arise from and are motivated by an honest concern, and that the positions taken are the result of our opinion of and inquiry into the subject based on our desire to apply the Word of God properly to our lives, and a willingness to learn. It would also help matters if our editorial policy were changed somewhat, so that if a person wishes to remain anonymous in his article or response, he may do so as long as he signs his name for the editor to validate and asks to be labeled as Mr. K. or Miss C. I am not saying that this should be done in every instance, because we should learn to be willing to stand behind what we write as we become older and perhaps less sensitive. But, this should be considered a legitimate option.
Let me also add this for those who still feel at a loss for subjects; there is much potential in many of the after-recess papers we contribute to our society discussions. One may feel they are too brief, but one could expand by utilizing the discussion based on it. It would make for interesting results, both in quantity and perhaps also in quality.
In conclusion, remember that the Beacon Lights is a forum for argument and debate not in the sense of attempting to prove our cleverness and ability to argue all positions with equal force, but rather in the sense of it being a forum for discussion. We are seeking illumination through but one Truth, and attempting to clarify our position and practice in life in harmony with God’s Word. I believe there is enough interest in our magazine (maybe not in great quantity as numbers go or as much as there should be), but enough so it could thrive. We must start with ourselves and hope that the ostensive demonstration of interest of a few will rub off. The state of our union depends on each one of us. Speak up silent majority.