12.13.2011

closeted

There are days when I crawl into a dark closet, close the door, and doubt the realities of my experience.

When I am there I ask myself if this recently-endowed nickname, Funlaina, is an ironic jab at my pain-in-the-assness. I don't find myself to be a very fun person very often. I am mostly mourning and lamenting underneath my pink fleshy walls, I think that surely everyone can see that.

When I am in that dark place, I wonder if everyone sees me as jerk: willing to confront every issue, arrogant in my abilities to do something about it, and fully incapable of actually seeing the real people who live in this thing I've made an issue. Or I wonder if everyone has found me out: that I am a immature, goofy youth minister posing as a serious graduate student, that I will laugh at fart jokes and I will pretend to know something about Karl Barth if you ask me.

I wonder if my activist-friends have figured out that the only thing I know how to do is print nametags and order food and that I don't know anything about community organizing except that I read a biography about Ella Baker and think she was amazing. I wonder if my roommates will know how deeply insecure I am that I have imposed my student-hood on them, eating the food they make for dinner without cleaning up and asking for rides to school on a weekly basis. I wonder if my friends in other places are sick of never hearing from me and have decided that I don't love them anymore. I wonder if my friends in town feel like I've abandoned them when they need me for an inconsequential paper. I wonder if my family thinks that I am the black sheep that has wandered away from them in pursuit of a ridiculous dream.

I don't go to this place often. It isn't pleasant, but it exists. I can't assume that it is the sort of place that exists underneath everyone's fleshy walls, but I have a sense that it is within some of us. We don't talk about it because it makes us seem weak and fragile and exposes us to the wolves. Nevertheless, when I go there, I have to talk myself out of it: slowly, gingerly, carefully, with tea, long runs, repetitive readings of Psalm 147, and tears. There are always tears.

When I talk to my friends and my colleagues and my family about this place, the initial reaction is something like, "Hush now, little baby, don't say a word." Then on occasion, there is admission of mutuality, that this place is a shared space, a community center where everyone is hoveled into tiny closests, hiding behind the old smelly and abandoned coats.

When someone tells me that they've been there, that they know exactly the smell and the coats and the thoughts that I am talking about, when they nod and breathe deeply and give me a hug, the door of the closet cracks open. Ever so slightly.

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This post was crafted alongside my synchroblogging friends on the topic of "Community." Their words pushed me to share my own. May they do likewise for you.

12.02.2011

more than our brains

In a flurry of last minute Greek Exam studying procrastination, my eyes landed on this little post on the Fuller Youth Institute Blog. I want to give Kara Powell, the executive director of FYI, the full benefit of the doubt, but I'm still struck that this article reduces teenagers to their IQ scores and parenting is reducted to the task of raising scores. She says,
As a parent and youth leader, I’m so encouraged by what this study suggests.  Previous brain research has made it seem that most all of brain development ends at about age 6.   If you weren’t reading and/or stretching your kids’ thinking between birth and Kindergarten, it was too late.
If there was a club for “Parents Who Read As Much As They Could Do Their Young Kids But Wish They Could Have Done More,” my husband and I would easily become members.  So this theme in recent neurological research means we all still have time.
Time. While this study doesn’t cite the causes of IQ development, I’m guessing that children and teenagers often become more critical thinkers when adults take the time to talk with them, listen to them, ask them questions.  And then repeat the cycle:  talk with them, listen to them, ask them questions.
What can you do in the next few days to try to go deeper in conversation with a child or teenager?
I cannot believe that she would agree with the implication that we engage young people in conversation with the sole purpose of raising IQ scores, yet the implication is there. Unhindered and seemingly unseen. We put so much pressure on children to perform and on parents to raise performing children, true selves are lost underneath all of the assessments, scores, and participation ribbons.

Even while the church is attentive to research and to educational theory and to sociological trends, we must never lose sight of the deepest truth that defines our ministry to all people, young and old. This truth is that we have each been created in the image of God and however we may have mucked that image up, it is restored through the person of Christ. This communal identity shapes, forms, and informs all that we do. Scores, assessments, and studies have little bearing on us because in Christ we are made complete. Garnering a higher IQ score won't make a teenager a better student, a better human, or a better image bearer.

Brains and bodies matter because they bear God's image and form Christ's body, but the minute we begin to prioritize brains over bodies or bodies over brains, we lose sight of the fullness of our humanity. In ministry to young people, we must resist the temptation to reduce them to their accomplishments, their promise, their future vocation, their athletic prowess, or their failures. Each person in our churches, in our families, in our classrooms is an image-bearer worthy of our time, patience, consideration, and love. Regardless of whether or not our efforts will produce measurable fruit.

As I return to my last minute exam cram session, I go freely knowing that the few points I might earn from these moments of review will not define my person in God's eyes, in my church's eyes, in my family's eyes, or in my friends' eyes. I will do my best to the glory of God and will set aside my ambition and anxieties to be the best. For those ambitions and anxieties dishonor the image of God created and restored in me. May we all continue struggling towards this freedom.