Dr. Rick MacArthur
Dr. Rick MacArthur
Ez. 3:12-15; Mark 10:13-16
Rev. Ginger Taylor
At the Gunnison Library on a July evening a young author, Shannon Gibney, came to read from and prompt a discussion of her book: See No Color. Somewhat biographic, the novel explores the wakening of Alex, a bi-racial adopted girl in a white family. She has identity reconfigurations with which to struggle like any early adolescent – that is a main developmental task, if we dare to remember. While this story is truly universal, particularities of racial identity, family identity pertain.
Shannon the author, surprised me when she noted (and I do believe her) that a novel is categorized as “young adult” whenever the protagonist is a youth. I was horrified and I have struggled all month to come to terms with this literary segregation – maybe even literary exile- of young adult protagonists. Just one problem is that adults would miss out on some fabulous literature, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Huckleberry Finn. And adults segregated from adolescents already, will forget to appreciate the vibrancy and the poignancy, and the sheer hilarity that often characterizes youth. Even more problematic , we adults may get stuck in our own age bracket and forget how much there is to learn from and to be inspired by adolescents in that unique stage of human transformation.
I don’t want to over sentimentalize what may be experienced as a painful period for kids and parents both. As my husband used to say when he was a headmaster on opening day addresses to middle school parents: “Raise your hand if you’d like to be a 7th grader again!”
On the other hand the stage of life where one’s main task is dis-identifying with past unexamined assumptions (like parental dictums) has a wildness and excitement that provide experimentation, edginess, and creativity along with some feelings of dispossession and alienation. All of my adult life, until my husband retired from school work, I was privileged to live among teenagers. I confess I thrived on it. I leaned so very much; gained so much joy and wonderment.
And now I learn that in fiction categories young adult literature is supposed to be a no-go zone for, ahem, those of a certain age? I protest!
When Jesus is remembered for his comments on children, he brings a prophetic (unsentimental) voice and reminds the gathered, admonishes the disciples, that we adults must take upon us the attitudes, the orientations of children in order to receive the blessings of a good life. (Jesus was not talking about anything faraway, but rather about a bountiful here-and-now.)
I concur with that prophetic statement; and others that support it – i.e. when the prophet scolds his contemporaries for failing to join in with dances and music, that they are called to reveries of life. Or in a parabolic story of Jesus’ 13-year old self, he abandons the family caravan to (astonishingly! assertively! even arrogantly!) teach the teachers in the temple Torah interpretations. Then there is the unique story of the adolescent serving the bread and fish to the hungry crowds, implicitly acting as priest who handles the sacred objects and serves all these needy adults the holy meal. Radical, huh?
We adults worry about teenagers, try to control their excesses (scary, huh?) etc. etc. What happened to learning from them how to access the deeper experiences of living out loud?
An article by Frank Bruni in the Sunday Times (Aug 14, 2016) entitled To Get to Harvard, Go to Haiti presented some thoughts about the experiences of Dylan Hernandez, 17, who attends a Catholic high school in Flint, Michigan. Dylan notices, I quote: “an awfully huge percentage of my friends, percentage of skewing towards the affluent, are taking mission trips to Central America or Africa; it rubs me the wrong way.” Though he thinks his friends are well intentioned, they seem not to notice poverty (or reflect on it) unless it comes with an exotic trip. Dylan has volunteered extensively at the Flint YMCA where he tutors. He says that these Flint kids would love it if these same peers came around and merely talked to them.
Some of the more cynical college admissions people regard these excursions as a “bloated genre” in admissions essays, and believe that these essays are written by affluent kids of ambitious parents to pad resumes… “My concern” says one “is that students feel compelled to do these things – forced – rather than feeling that they are answering a call.”
I was elated to think that Frank Bruni was reporting on the lives of real teenagers and their situations in an article addressed to adults – hooray for him! Hooray that editors did not segregate them into a teen magazine. The article also acknowledged that some of these affluent teens sent off on a mission trip by arguably selfish motivations really were transformed in heart and mind.
That’s a category of adolescence being open to transformation, which we adults may lose sight of at great peril to our souls! Poets and prophets and novelists remind us! If only we don’t put their words on separate shelves not intended for adults. Dang it all!
The teenage soul exercises the capacity to (as Mary Oliver says) “vanish at least a dozen times into something better.” That is genius offered to adults by youth if only we take notice.
If only we would “check out” of our regular, seemingly preordained duties and commitments, into the lap of imagination, we would offer ourselves to “call,” to transformation. Of course some of are resistant to this because as adults we often prefer “the bird in the hand to the bird in the bush” – a little wisdom proverb that is awfully true, if not very inspiring.
So here are some things to do to shift consciousness, seek transformation, open yourself to call: Listen to children, to adolescents. See if you can be bold enough to experiment with your persona even re-consider your core identity – try on a child’s perspective. Read Room in the voice of a 5 year old (don’t see the movie, it comes much more from the adult perspective.) Read Salvage the Bones set in Mississippi just before Katrina. You like movies? See Beasts of the Southern Wild, where the protagonist is 6 or so. See some Johnny Depp movies like Gilbert Grape or Edward Scissorhands, whose mother gets a new haircut every time Edward gets anxious.
I have a friend who took on the attitude of adolescence (Dianne had a head start since she taught high school and got to be up-close and incredibly impacted) She opened herself to transformation as she faced retirement. All those years she had done as expected, almost always a “good Lutheran girl” (though there were a few acting-out incidents but I am sworn to privacy.) Dianne , married with 3 kids, she and her husband had been civic-minded, church going, high school teachers for decades. True, Dianne had departed the strict teachings of Missouri Synod Lutheranism for a Congregational Church. Dianne was highly successful, had a good pension, and a community and family more than ready to see her slip into a retirement of Sunday school administration and family ministrations.
Something happened otherwise. She had an unexpected encounter with a transforming voice; she says it was a “god-thing.” Dianne checked out of the pre-ordained retirement expected of a truly nice, but maybe way too imaginative, rural town woman. She checked into her own soul. She checked in with her childhood aspirations. She checked out of parental expectations and she checked into the poetry and music of the spheres. She checked out of social expectations and she checked into her deepest, dearest beloved self. She dared to share her shy sense of call to a world not prepared to affirm. She said it over and over. She said it loud and proud. She was not much encouraged.
What she wanted was not practical. It would cost time and money. Distance herself from aging parents and husband. She was too old. A new career would take her out of a good settled life. She would be disturbing the natural order. Yep! It’s all true and she did it! And disruptive she has been, as disruptive as an adolescent on some sort of inspired quest.
Someday soon Dianne will be ordained as a UCC minister. She already pastors 2 small churches and has instituted a terrific alternative religious education program for adults that includes several seminary professors. I guess you could say she’s doings things backwards- She is acting as a minister first, getting ordained later. I guess you could say she took on the mind of youth and entered the holy space of transformation.
Mostly I am talking about the individual journey here- but truly I hope we explore these from a perspective of a collective journey, as well. Mainstream churches could use a big jolt of the juice of adolescence – experimentation, bold explorations, checking-out of tired concepts and forms. Checking-in to soulful excursions that appear risky and may well be regarded as off the map… As Koinonia re-shapes, revitalizes, reconfigures, expect surges of vitality along with any insecurities. All of it is part of checking-out and checking-in. Trust this time of transformation. I trust you will vanish at least a dozen times into something better. Better for what’s needed in this community of Grand Junction and beyond; better for the collectives of spiritual centers which are the fruits of Koinonia, better for the individuals who have not yet found Koinonia, better for those who are here now and long for soulful vitality.
This interim time, a time of disorientation, leads to a blessed re-orientation, fruitful and joyful.Leave your thoughts