Revised Common Lectionary Readings (Episcopalian variation for Epiphany 2B) can be found here
Enough in Each Other
What happens when a child is taught that they are the one who must somehow save the world?
What happens when the survival of the earth is placed upon adolescent shoulders?
What happens when we look at our young people and tell them that somehow, it is their responsibility to save us from ourselves?
What happens when grown up concerns are internalized by children who have only recently begun to see themselves as being independent of their caregivers?
What happens when a child hears on the news, or reads in the paper, or sees on the screen—destruction and despair, without any context for creation and hope?
What has happened?
I spent time with a clergy colleague, who serves as a college chaplain, this week and she shared with me the reality of her context—a context in which young adults have been given adult responsibilities without a means of understanding adulthood as anything but isolation.
Alone, burdened, afraid, and ashamed that, somehow, they have already failed to fix the world. And, their light dims…
Too many of our young people are plagued by anxiety and diminished by despair…
And, in my wondering about this, I find myself wondering if we have equipped our young people with tools to deconstruct the institution, the stories, the traditions, and authority—without giving them any scaffolding out of which to participate in the rebuilding.
Our culture, and I include the church in this, has emphasized critical thinking, celebrated individualism, encouraged exploration of self, and praised cleverness. But, for all the good that has been wrought, our culture has also neglected the value of community and encouraged independence at the expense of others.
When I was in college, I learned the art of deconstruction in my literature classes. As I explored texts, I was encouraged to take apart the assumptions, the traditions, and the generally accepted modes of thought—and, in doing so, it was assumed that the effort of deconstruction would lead to some inarguable truth at the core of the work.
What that truth might be was highly individualized, and it was up to me to prove my truth by defending my premise in writing.
Apologetics in defense of myself.
As I look at some of that old writing, I understand that I wasn’t so much writing about the books, as I was writing about myself.
And, the inarguable truth that I ascribed to was that I was not alone. Not in the sense of having classmates or professors and living in the dorm. But, in the sense of being interconnected with a power beyond myself.
I knew, knew with great certainty, that this life is not all that is and that I was part of God and God part of me.
I understood God, in Christ, as empathetic to human suffering—as understanding of my grief and anger, of my joy and laughter.
I was not alone.
I did not learn this from literary analysis. I did not learn this from current events. I did not learn this from my personal wondering.
I learned this from people, devout in the Christian faith, who showed me that I was not alone. Who invited me in, saying “come and see”. Who stood shoulder to shoulder with me in prayer. People who listened, who questioned, who comforted, and who held hope for me in the moments that felt hopeless. From these people, and our tradition, I learned that I did not have to shoulder the burden of the world in its entirety because I was part of a body that was more than me. It wasn’t my body’s responsibility to carry it all—it was the responsibility of the Body in its entirety. The body of Christ--enough when I could never be enough.
I am enough because we are enough. And, because of this, deconstruction did not lead to nihilism…but rather to an unshakeable certainty that, even at my loneliest, I am not alone.
And, I want this. I want this for our young people.
I want to equip them with the same faith that has sustained me. Sustained me with the assurance, a blessed assurance, of God’s permanence and presence in our midst and in my very being.
I want our young people to turn to psalm 139, as I do, and hear within it God’s love for each of us. I want our young people to hear the call of Samuel and consider where God might be calling them, just as I did when I discerned a call to the priesthood. I want our young people to be able to listen to the news and respond to it out of our shared baptismal calling to honor the dignity of every human being. I want our young people to know of the Christian faith that sustained Martin Luther King Jr. The Christian faith that inspired J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, and Tolkien. The Christian faith that motivates so many of us to action on behalf of others. The Christian faith that teaches us that we are not our own, but rather we are God’s beloved and inter-related with are therefore accountable not just to ourselves, but to God, and to all the beloved children of God who share this Body we call the Body of Christ.
And, with this, I am going to take a moment to remind us that when I say young people, I mean us. Because, our young are part of our body—they are not apart from it. So, we, we are the ones who need to know. We are the ones who need to be assured. We are the ones…
We are the ones tasked with the “yes”. The yes to God, the yes to our community, the yes to our faith. Because, when Nathanael wonders if anything good has come out of Nazareth, I want all of us to be able to respond with a resounding “yes”. Yes, something good has come out of Nazareth!
I want us all to be able to confront bad news with the good news of the Gospel. I want all of us to be able to name and claim our Christian faith when others would take it from us.
But, in order to do this, we need to know scripture. In order to do this, we need to live into the baptismal vows that we make in which we commit ourselves to continue in the apostles’ teaching and the breaking of the bread and the prayers. In order to do this, we need to teach wonder, but also offer assurance. Assurance found, not in the form of platitudes, but in the form of the interdependent, inter-related, body of Christ.