There's a lot of hubbub in the Anglican-Episcopalian blogosphere these days. Those in the know always read Kendall Harmon's Titusonenine and dear Susan Russell's Inch at a Time for the latest on the ongoing conflict in the Anglican Communion over sexuality, Scripture, ecclesiology and how it is that those of us who disagree on these and other matters can stay in the same church. Or not.
I spent a lot of my college years reading and studying theology. In grad school, I did a "minor field" in medieval scholasticism with Marilyn Adams, and as an undergrad at Cal, went through a brief but intense period where I was convinced that God was calling me to be a Dominican. (The story of the time I thought I had a vocation -- when I was 19 and 20 -- ought to be a post as well one of these days). But for all of those experiences, I find I'm really not as attentive as I ought to be to the current battles being waged in the Episcopal Church over issues of sexuality and faith. It's not that I don't care -- I do. It's that as with so many other issues, I find that my sympathies lie on both sides of the fence. I miss being younger, when I was so filled with certainties! Wasn't it Francis Bacon who said, "If a man begins with certainties, he will end in doubts"? That seems to be my fate these days.
But I'm not in doubt about everything. One of the reasons I went into youth ministry was because I knew that I was passionate about teenagers. These last several years working as a volunteer with the high school group at All Saints Pasadena have been joyous. Last night, we held our farewell banquet for our graduating seniors -- the seventh such banquet I've been part of since coming to All Saints.
Our seniors are heading off to various universities -- USC, Michigan, Drexel, Fresno State. They are all clearly eager for the next phase of their lives, though some are also a bit wistful about leaving behind everything they've ever known. And last night, as we hugged them goodbye and wished them well, I wondered to myself what tools we at All Saints had given them to face the broader world.
Our kids are leaving a very progressive church. If they spent all of their high school years at All Saints, they went through our "sex ed" curriculum four times, but never once got an abstinence lecture. They never signed purity pledges or were told by anyone that "true love waits." Many of them, on the other hand, did march in the West Hollywood Gay Pride parade last year, or the year before, or the year before. As far as I know, all of our graduating seniors are straight, though some may yet discover new and surprising things about their sexual identity in the years to come.
Our kids never "nailed their sins to the cross", as kids in countless more conservative youth groups do. Our kids never participated in an "altar call", and were never asked to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Most of our seniors have never heard of Switchfoot, or Third Day, or Jars of Clay, or any other Christian band -- though I did play some Jennifer Knapp for them on a car ride once or twice.
On the other hand, our kids can -- mostly -- distinguish a thurifer from a crucifer. They know what a paten is, and that in our church, a piscina is not the Spanish word for swimming pool. They also know what it's like to spend a lot of time serving the homeless, both in downtown Los Angeles and in Pasadena. They've been on countless service projects. Most have marched in at least one anti-war demonstration. Unless I'm very mistaken, all of them (now old enough to vote) are well to the left of the political center, just like most of their parents and pastors. They've learned that living as a Christian is less about either an intellectual assent to theological propositions or an intense emotional response to Jesus, and more about living out lives of justice and sharing. Watching the kids who were graduating last night, and remembering what they were like as squirrely eighth-graders, I teared up in pride; they have all become such fundamentally good and loving people!
The evangelical small voice inside of me says "But Hugo, shouldn't you have pushed them harder? Shouldn't you have witnessed a bit more about Jesus? Instead of giving eloquent but waffling defenses of individual sexual choices, shouldn't you have risked more and articulated something more biblical?" I don't know. I know I did a lot of affirming, and I (with my fellow youth leaders) talked a lot about living lives of love. Last night, I found myself hoping and praying it was enough. I wrote in February about these same kids:
And in my heart, I believe that by trying my best to love everyone of these kids as much as I can, as intensely as I can, with as much openness and freedom from conditions as I can, I am feeding them just as Jesus wants me to.
I still believe that.
I'm praying this morning for Aidan and Elaine, Corin and Megan, Ronnie and Zak, Billy and Juan, Tom and Katherine and Joe and all the other seniors who are leaving what I hope was a safe nest for them. My conservative friends might say that it was "too safe". But looking at these gorgeous, creative, talented, tremendously kind young people, I am convinced that we in the progressive church also have the capacity to raise up good and decent human beings who are committed, in their own way, to living for Christ. There's more to being a Christian teen than a purity pledge and a silver cross around the neck. Maybe our kids didn't get as much talk about redemption as they should have -- but we sure as heck gave them a commitment to justice, gentleness, and radical compassion.
On some final day when I have to answer for my small part in raising up these lambs of His, I hope and pray I will be able to tell my Savior that I fed them as He asked me too. Looking at "my kids" last night, I felt more confident than ever that that is what I, and the rest of the folks at All Saints Pasadena, have been doing.