Take Two #85: No Broken People
By Kyra-lin Hom
Hello again, everyone. I apologize for my absence last week. The cough I had been holding off for several days made a final charge to devastating effect. I was rendered rather witless without warning and was thus unable to complete my column. I am feeling much better this week. Despite my latest laser tattoo removal session frying the skin off my wrist, I'm doing quite solid. I'm able to eat again (and keep it down), the world is golden.
A further bright point is that my boyfriend is finally back in town. He was gone for a week working on a film set and then for another two weeks before that volunteering on a youth mission trip in Idaho. He came back bearing some great stories – both good and bad – and a few souvenirs for me. One of these is the devotional handbook (or 'devo') that was used by the organization overseeing the youth mission trip.
For those who are unfamiliar, youth trips and events are often organized by a third party. There is one central location, a daily schedule and a standardized event curriculum. In this way, several youth groups from across a relatively wide geographic region can gather together with little fuss. The downside is that the individual youth groups (and affiliated churches) do not have input as to what is on those said lesson plans. The results, as in the case of this particular mission trip, can be quite... radical.
Having heard stories about the event and the arguably harmful use of this devo, I did my best to read it myself without bias. I read it without context and tried to imagine I was once again a something-teen struggling with the spiritual turbulence that comes with growing up. Boy do I have firsthand experience with that.
I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this story before. I was in my early to mid-teens when I attended a huge northwest youth event called “Acquire the Fire.” To the best of my memory, it was a two-day stadium event complete with sermons, multi-part plays (yes, some embarrassingly cheesy), testimonies and even Christian pop and rock bands. This was really the event that solidified my faith. I had been struggling hardcore with issues of right and wrong, sin and savior – duh, I was a teenager. Conflict, angst and drama are just a part of the hormone-happy package.
There was one segment in particular, a theatrical group prayer, that struck straight home for me. Blame it on the number of people, the light effects, the sound system, what have you, but that moment really touched me. For some reason, I realized in that moment that I was all right. That God loved me for better or for worse and no one could change that. I was, for that solid moment, a part of something much greater than myself. I was also incredibly lucky to have a capable youth leader who didn't pressure me into believing anything more thorough than that one truth I had found. Regardless of your spiritual and belief status, you can appreciate a mentor giving you the freedom to make up your own mind.
So with my mind cranked back those (yikes!) ten years, I read this hand out. The theme is something most teens can relate to in some way or another, feeling broken. The devo is entirely about feeling battered, lost, unwanted, torn apart, confused – all of those negative emotions that can unrelentingly and sometimes seemingly without motive crash down on a teen's head. Yes, many of the questions were more leading than discussion prompting, but overall I didn't find anything overtly wrong with the devo. I did, however, find one giant hole. From the manual, it can be inferred that this state of feeling broken is equivalent to being broken. It sounds like this is what the youth mission leaders did. I couldn't disagree more.
Everyone at some point or another in their life feels broken. That doesn't mean that they are. My revelation came when I realized just how broken I wasn't. Sure, my life and I have ups and downs but that doesn't change my essential nature. Telling people they are broken and flawed without God is a scare tactic that just plain doesn't make sense. The very phrase “without God” is a logical paradox regardless of what you believe. It annoys the *bleep* out of me that supposed mentors would be telling already confused and emotional teens that their worst fears of worthlessness are true unless they accept Jesus as their savior. According to Christian doctrine, Jesus is their savior whether they want him or not. Deal with it.
Feeling whole and secure is what religion helped me recover, but this is not an experience reserved solely for the religious. Nor should it be. One of my favorite quotes about religion actually comes from Joss Whedon's character Shepherd Book in the movie Serenity: “When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I'm talking about God?”