The Fabric of Faithfulnessby Steven Garber
Length: Approximately 8 hours. To read (222 pages).
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Why do young people leave the faith? That’s a question many ask these days. We like to discuss and argue and point fingers; the Church is to blame, or the culture, or perhaps the shallowness of the theology taught to young people. Regardless of the reason, everyone wants to talk about the students who leave. But Steven Garber wants to talk about the ones who stay.
Who should read this?
This book is a necessary read for anyone working with young people, yet just as important for young people themselves, to give a vision of what we can and should be.
In The Fabric of Faithfulness, Garber tells the story of “men and woman who sustain visions of faith over a lifetime [and] learn to take into their hearts the disappointments and sorrows that come to them, finding a deeper, truer faith as they do so.” (p. 18) From survivors of Tiananmen Square Massacre, to an artist in Washington DC, to a successful Brazilian whose grandfather protested the Nazi regime, each thread weaves together to the form the tapestry of his thesis:
“The years between adolescence and adulthood are a crucible in which moral meaning is being formed, and central to that formation is a vision of integrity which coherently connects to behavior, personally as well as publicly….
[I]t is those who develop a worldview that can address the challenge of coherence and truth in a pluralist society, who find a relationship with a mentor who incarnates that worldview, and who chose to live their lives among others whose common life is an embodiment of that worldview who continue on with integrity into adulthood.” (p. 34)
The Fabric of Faithfulness begins by explaining why adolescence is so integral in creating the connection between belief and behavior, and then moves on to examine the conditions and culture that make it so difficult for young people to create that connection today. Its third chapter examines the history of ideas that brought us to this point, and the challenges to forming a coherent life.
It then proposes the three things necessary for a coherent life: a deep worldview, a mentor who embodies that worldview, and a community that encourages each other in that worldview. A chapter is devoted to delving deeper into each of the three, and the book then closes with the story of the White Rose organization, “students whose vision and virtue enabled them to see into their moment in history and act with unusual courage in the face of one of the greatest horrors of the twentieth century.” (p.34)
I didn’t intend to pick up this book when I did. I was in the midst of working at a Christian camp called Summit Ministries, elbow deep in counseling and cooking and the chaos of life. But in the midst of all my work I found a great passion for those students who are questioning, and a longing for them to stay with the faith. When someone on leadership mentioned The Fabric of Faithfulness, I thought it worth looking into.
As you may have guessed from the quotes above, it wasn’t a simple read, or at least not for a busy staffer living on five hours of sleep. Garber is a professor, and it shows. More than several times I had to stop to research a word, and he jumps right in with terms such as teleos and praxis without defining them. But the wisdom he shares is worth the work.
No, The Fabric of Faithfulness isn’t a practical book in the sense that it gives step-by-step guides on how to ensure students stay with the faith, or to fix our culture. But it is a practical book in the sense that it gives us an idea of what that life can look like. We live in a culture of meaninglessness, yet we ask students to follow their purpose.
We live in world that mocks virtue, yet we ask young people to do right. “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst,” Lewis says, feeling this dissonance even in his day. Garber calls us to live a life that shows others that life does have meaning, that right does exist.
This book hit me very personally. Technically, I’m in the demographic Garder is writing about, not to. Yet I too have felt firsthand the burden for the hurt and wandering young people he does. I’ve helped lead youth ministry for over a quarter of my life. I’ve spent the last two years mentoring and counseling teens.
And over those years, as short as they may be, I’ve seen many, many who start out so strong, just to shrug off the responsibility and calling of their faith as they walk into the cares and chaos of adult life. Perhaps they may cling to a few shreds of facts and belief, but the power and calling of their lives have disappeared. Belief and behavior are miles apart. It breaks my heart.
So The Fabric of Faithfulness was both an encouragement and an equipping. An encouragement that yes, people do make it through “the valley of diapers.” An encouragement that true faithfulness is possible. And an equipping of how to better love and serve and equip the young people about me. I’ve known for a long time that a deep worldview that can handle the hurts and questions of this life is integral to faithfulness. The other two aspects, mentorship and community, seemed like nice, useful things, but ones you could do without.
But life is whole. It’s not just mental, it’s not just personal, and it’s not just communal. It’s all of them at once. And we need to strengthen all aspects of that if we wish our students to live a whole life of faithfulness.
I think it’s fitting that Garder closes with the story of the White Rose, an organization founded by Hans and Sophie Scholl that protested the Nazi regime in universities around Germany. These students embodied the concept of those who saw their moment in history and connected belief with behavior. They saw their responsibility and calling, and ran after it–even though it cost them their lives. “For the sake of love–imitation of Christ–they could suffer, even as they acted responsibly in and for history, hoping for the way the world ought to be.” (p.17)
The Fabric of Faithfulness is a call to follow in their footsteps. So let’s live like them. Let’s encourage young people to live like them. While everyone else runs, while everyone else fades, let’s be the young people who stay.