Two years ago I was a mentor in this program and the entire year I kept seeing the potential for what could be happening in the group and was being missed. Missed partly because the curriculum they were using was pretty bad--uninspiring, not particularly thought provoking or good at starting interesting discussions. Missing also because it didn't have a leader who was completely passionate about it--it was being done by overworked, overextended youth directors--one of whom left to take another job mid-year and was replaced by an interim. Not saying either was at fault--both of them had a lot going on and Affirmation couldn't be top of the list at that time. It was understandable.
But knowing that my oldest daughter, Zoe, was going to be in the program last year, I volunteered to lead. To develop the curriculum and lead the program. I volunteered because I wanted Zoe and the other kids in the group to have an opportunity to really explore their faith, to ask challenging questions, to catch a little sense of what makes this whole Christianity thing so important, and actually life-changing for so many people.
But in reality I did it for me as well. I did it because I am one of those people for whom following the way of Jesus, worshipping, encountering the stories of the Bible, praying and trying to figure out how to have a relationship with God, is important and life-changing and even life-giving. Sometimes it all seems absurd and irrelevant and like why even bother but most of the time, on some deep level, it seems like it is why we're alive on this little blue globe in the middle of the universe in the first place. And it matters deeply. And if we don't bother, we will have totally missed the point.
And I did it because no one really did this for me. Growing up going to a small Southern Baptist Church--and my dad was the pastor, by the way--we had nothing like this program. No kind of confirmation process like the more "liberal" mainline churches had. We were told to accept Christ as our personal savior, get baptized, go to Sunday School and worship services, read the Bible and pray and evangelize, but we weren't taught to think about faith. Truth be told, we were discouraged from thinking about it too much. Who knows where that might lead, you know?
We did have the Girl's Auxillary. Or GAs for short. A program in which girls at about junior high/early high school age would spend several months memorizing scriptures and learning about Southern Baptist missionaries and about how to be a good Christian girl and how to become a good Christian woman and at the conclusion of the program, would have a special ceremony in which they recited some Important Bible Verses while wearing a white gown, and at the end of it all, would get crowned Queen, for their troubles. Mostly what I remember of that experience is that I did fine at the memorizing and that I thought the whole thing was ridiculous. The burgeoning feminist in me was totally appalled by the whole "wearing a wedding dress and getting crowned Queen" ceremony. And another part of me was desperately unhappy because I looked so fat and ugly and stupid in the dress and everyone else looked so much prettier.
No one offered me an alternative. A time and space to consider what a life of faith might look like. To ask questions. To express doubts. To even be amazed by it all--by, what Bruce Cockburn has called the "rumors of glory."
So that's why I decided to lead Affirmation I think. For that 14 year old me that needed it and didn't get it. For my daughter Zoe last year and my daughter Hannah this year, and for my other children, those other kids at LaSalle, all of whom I find so full of life, and energy and great questions, and beautiful and deep insights. I do it because we are all on this path, this spiritual journey, and it's better when we don't feel like we have to go it alone. Or have to go it in an butt-ugly white dress.