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Thursday Pulpit: Go ahead, ask a teen for their opinion and then listen

Thursday Pulpit: Go ahead, ask a teen for their opinion and then listen

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The Rev. Anne Clarke

The Rev. Anne Clarke

This past Sunday, many Christians read the story of Jesus inviting Peter to walk on water (Matthew 14:22-33). I was particularly struck, in reading the story this week, by my compassion for Peter: the poor guy signed up to follow Jesus on land, and he’d done so faithfully, but now he was being asked to step out of the boat to follow Jesus on the water!

Our lives are a bit like that right now, aren’t they? The ground beneath us isn’t just shaky these days; sometimes it doesn’t even feel like land! No wonder Peter felt like he was going under, no wonder he called out for help from Jesus. No wonder when we do the same, when we try to take another step out into a world of uncertainty.

At Grace this week, our youth group reflected on their week of a “mission in place” experience they’d had earlier this summer. Instead of the carefully planned trip to learn about immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, we had to create something together from scratch that we could do at home. The group elected to learn more about racism and how to work against it, and so that’s what we spent the week doing, largely from our living rooms.

One of the participants remarked, in her words to the congregation, that doing this kind of learning from our living rooms is a lot harder than it is when we go somewhere else. Countering racism, particularly when we find it in ourselves and in our immediate community, is hard work; it’s difficult to face when it’s in our own living room, as opposed to in a faraway place.

But these teenagers jumped into the work wholeheartedly, and we had a profound and engaging (and even fun) week together. It was one of the highlights of my summer, to listen to and learn from their perspectives and to talk as truthfully as we could together about difficult things.

Every generation and every age has different gifts to share with the community; in my experience, teenagers are often very good at speaking the truth clearly, and pointing out places where the community’s ideals don’t match their actions. Perhaps this gift is especially important to all of us at this moment of such great uncertainty. Young people are experiencing the pandemic in a pretty unique way: Learning is disrupted and yet happening in creative and new ways that we all need to learn from. They are experiencing this moment of social change in unique ways too: Discussions of the big questions about the systemic racism and justice, which are opening up in new ways to many more people right now, require truth-telling and authenticity that the current generation of young people have already begun stepping up to provide.

This unique wisdom is available to us in older generations, if we’re willing to ask the younger people in our lives about their experiences and perspectives and stop talking long enough to listen to them, with genuine curiosity and openness. That opportunity to ask and listen has been life-giving to me this summer, and it has made me smarter and wiser and more truthful. I invite you into that same opportunity. Reach out to one of the wise and learning young people in your life — a niece or a grandson or a family friend — and ask them what they think about these uncertain times that we’re in, and where they are finding discouragement and hope. And then listen to what they have to say. Perhaps you’ll find a new perspective or a companion to go with you when you feel like you’re making another step into the unknown.

The Rev. Anne Clarke is assistant rector at Grace Episcopal Church, 1314 Spring St. in St. Helena. Join us for Sunday worship online at 9 a.m., or sign up to see other spiritual programs at Grace, by visiting our website, grace-episcopal.org. Guided meditations, forums such as “It’s Okay To Not Be Okay,” weekly offerings for children and teenagers, and written reflections are available to all.

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