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Monday, February 16, 2009

Scenes from HAPPENING

I think I can finally feel my body again.

The best way to describe it is that I am in a state of euphoric exhaustion.

That's Michael, the Vicar and Grace, the Rector of "Happening 23" the diocesan retreat for kids, by kids, which just took place at St. Paul's this past weekend.

It's amazing what can happen when adults get out of the way and let kids find their own center and source of spirituality and then lead other kids to do the same.

There were 19 "Happeners" this weekend, representing 13 churches in the diocese and three kids who have no church or religious affiliation.

How's that for evangelism?

There's Grace on the left, a member of St. Paul's who I baptized six years ago when she was 12, a high school senior headed off to college in the Fall. She's with Tim, the Missioner for Youth and Young Families at St. Pauls and "Dad" of Happening, along with Caitlin, another member of St. Paul's and a high school senior, bound for college in the Fall.

I'm so proud of them, I could just burst.

The Vicar (Michael, this year) led all the prayers for Morning, Noon and Compline.

There are eleven "Talks" to Happening. The Rector (Grace, this year), gives one at the beginning and one at the end. The Spiritual Directors (this year, there were three of us who 'tag teamed' around our schedule) give one talk on Reconciliation and one on The Sacraments. We also participated in the Way of the Cross and the Foot Washing, and led the Healing Service on Saturday night.

We also had the enormous privilege of presiding and preaching the closing Eucharist yesterday. Other than that, we hung out with the kids, talking with them about everything from "apps" for their iPhones, to problems with absent fathers, to what to do about a serious allegation that was told in confidence in the context of small group conversation.

The other seven "Talks" are given by kids, mostly high school seniors, who have already "happened". They were, in a word, remarkable. Okay, they were also amazing. There are many other words to describe them, but if I start I'll just get all girly-burbly again.

It's the music I want to talk about.

Yup, that's a bunch of Young Episcopalians, singing praise music in St. Paul's Parish Hall, without prayer books or hymnals, reading the lyrics from a projector.

One of the Spiritual Directors described the music this way - it's like: "God is a GREAT God / God is a Very Big Man with Very Big Muscles who is strong enough to lift me and rescue me from anything / God is in complete control / God makes everything GLORIOUS / Did I mention that He has Very Big Muscles?"

Right. The songs are also sung while dancing and twirling and come with a whole set of hand motions to illustrate the words and lyrics.

It's all great, high-energy, frenetic fun. You know, the way adolescence is supposed to be when it's not all-drama-all-the-time.

Our "Music Man" was John, a very talented musician and devout Christian who came to NJ by way of Ft. Worth, TX. It would be something of an understatement to say that his music is very different from what we have been singing.

For as long as I've been connected with Happening and Diocesan Camp and Youth Events, we have used what we call "The Fishy Book." I don't know that I've ever known the real name of it. It's a sort of aqua color and has a Christian "Fish" symbol in white on the front.

It's pretty much a compilation of secular songs which have a religious theme - like, "Lean on Me" or that one (Umm . . . "The Legend of Billy Jack"???) with the refrain: Go ahead and hate your neighbor / Go ahead and cheat a friend / Do it in the name of Heaven / You can justify it in the end. / There won't be any trumpets blowing / Come the judgment day, / On the bloody morning after.... / (stomp, stomp, stomp - and you haven't really sung the song unless you've stomped your foot three times at this point) / One tin soldier rides away."

There's also Camp Songs like the "Pharaoh / Pharaoh" song ("Let my people go {now thrust your pelvis and sing} HUH! Ya, Ya, Ya, Ya"), and "It only takes a spark (to get a fire going)", "The Lord of the Dance."

Like that.

Here's the thing about John: He believes what he sings. You can hear the truth of that from the bottom of his heart. So it totally works.

He and I had a conversation about his music and the words and images of some of the prayers in our Happening Prayer Book for Morning, Noon and Compline.

He admitted that he's not very good with the feminine images of God. Which is good because many of us in the Diocese of Newark are not very good with the predominance of the male images of God in our liturgy.

We agreed that it's important for kids to get exposed to both. Heck, it's important that we ALL get reminded that God is, in fact, so glorious as to be beyond our wildest imaginings. No one has been able to get God to stay in our safe little box of who we think God is and what we think God is capable of doing in our lives.

I described it this way: When I'm worshiping in a place or country that is 'foreign' to me, I may not understand every word, and I may not agree with the words I do understand, but I do understand that the reality and integrity of the cultural context I'm in is different from mine. I try to be a gracious guest.

Adolescence is its own little world, a world where there are few shades of gray and where the hormones racing through their changing bodies leads them to feel insecure and sometimes even scared. In the midst of a rapidly changing world, they are consumed with working on their own identity and developing their own systems of belief and understanding and faith.

In that context, it's comforting and important to them to have one thing they can understand, one thing that is unchangeable and reliable. "Happening" helps them find that place, that compass.

I always tell my kids that this is where they are now. They won't always be in that place. Something, or some things, will happen in their lives that will shake those beliefs and those images of God to their very foundation. Some will find it helpful to return to that foundational place and stay there for the rest of their lives.

Some will feel betrayed and need to walk away from it all - some permanently, others for a sojourn into the wilderness. Some will modify their images and understandings of God - some permanently and others will stay open to even more changes.

Still others will find the face of God revealed to them in startling different and disturbing ways. Some will walk away and others will embrace this image of God, integrating it into the truth they come to believe about God's interaction with the world and God's people.

And, I tell them, it's all good. God is beyond our human understanding and we do not serve God well when we force God into a small box. In any event, what they will discover is that God will refuse to stay contained in a human understanding - much in the same way that they are now refusing to stay contained in an identity and image their parents or teachers or family members or peers have of them.

That seems to make sense to them. I love it when the young adults I helped prepare for Confirmation come home from college and we revisit that conversation.

It's all about giving them roots so they can grow wings.

God is their roots, I tell them. Jesus is their wings.

I suppose that's why my body is so tired this morning. That tends to happen when you do the back breaking work of planting divine seeds and trying to teach kids how to fly so that, one day, they can soar with Jesus.


Anonymous said...

Would have loved to have been a "fly on the wall" for this. Sounds like a great as well as exhausting experience!

FranIAm said...

Oh my - I have read this three times now and am so moved. This sounds amazing - it gives me great hope and much to consider and to pray about for these and all young Christian adults.

DaYouthGuy said...

Glad you had such a great Happening weekend. Our next one is a month and a half away.

We have the same song books and we call them "The Fish Books". They are an interesting and rather bizarre collection of tunes.

Knowing how I feel after a Happening weekend you should probably go lie down now.

Anonymous said...

I am so jealous...yes, that's the only word to use...about your wonderful weekend. I miss doing Happenings. But Confirmation Class is starting.
thanks for the wonderful descriptions that made me relive many, many wonderful times.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

What fun! I did have to laugh at the music collection, though...and I did like the explanation of the praise music and the "big muscles"...LOL....

Anonymous said...

Well put, Elizabeth. It was, as it always is, a sheer delight to serve with you this weekend! I told Suzy that I'm quite grateful for the grace flowing between any difference in our worldviews (a luxury I'm rarely afforded by New England clergy). There's awesome Spirit-power in your work that shines through the youth in your sphere. Great job!


P.S. Perhaps we can co-write a new song titled "Our God's Muscles are Huge (And She'll Lift Us Up)"

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, John. Great to have you visit. I stopped by your blog and was delighted to find that I could hear some of my favorites. Like, "I Like Bananas. (Papayas!)".

Check it out y'all:

I think our new song will be a huge hit - especially in New England.