Saturday, September 17, 2005

It Might Not Be What We Think It Is

Tonight I am in Kansas City, nearly finished with a conference sponsored by the Fund for Theological Education. Our congregation was selected to participate as a congregational partner (amongst 40 or so others from across the country and across denominations) in becoming a catalyst for "cultivating a culture of call." This carefully alliterated phrase needs to be unpacked a bit. The goal is to create opportunities in communities of faith for individuals to discover what God intends for them. We are talking with others about ways to encourage people to hear God's voice and discern direction in life. For most mainline churches this is a colossal challenge. We have become institutionalized and mechanistic in our operations, while we need to move in the direction of organic growth and relational depth. It's the difference between church-by-committee or church as community together.

Anyway, part of the focus of our time together is how to help teenagers and young adults find spiritual direction and wholeness in life. Tonight's speaker, Melissa Wiginton, was especially good. She spoke of the ways our culture has preyed upon children and youth to create consumers. The average teenager will spend more time shopping this week than s/he will reading, talking with parents and family members or in worship. Each year over $300 billion of disposable income is spent by teenagers and young adults. We have been seduced by our culture to believe that consuming will fill an innate need within us.

Wiginton postulates that teenagers and young adults today have been numbed to the realities of the world's real condition (in need), are focused upon the need to achieve, and have very little time for imagination, contemplation or thought. She then goes on to suggest that there are ways to resist this toxic sense of consumerism.

Specifically, she mentions, the need for personal connectivity. Children and youth need adults to initiate opportunities for connection which will extend cross-generationally. She asserts the need for youth to nurture an inner life. Developing a sense of wonder is also a corrective to rampant consumerism. The opportunity to be part of healing a broken world is another. Interestingly, she comments on the value spiritually grounded youth place upon ritual in life. Wiginton is clear in addressing the need: for our culture it is a spiritual crisis.

As I think about these qualities, I am reminded of the primary role parents have in their children's spiritual lives. I often am reluctant to phrase it this way, because many will immediately assume that I am referencing religious life. And, while religious life certainly should be predicated upon spiritual foundations, this is not always the case, as evidenced in the untold numbers of adults who are disenchanted with their religious roots (if they had any at all) or who have maintained a perpetual state of agnosticism in their lives.

The deepest hungers we humans manifest are spiritual at their foundational level. Perhaps that is what I find most perplexing about the adoption journey. So much of adoptive parents' time is spent in the task of healing the past we often find too few hours or energy to be proactive. Pondering ways to enhance our child's spiritual life is a luxury when the immediate concern is supervision to prevent violent or sexual acting out behaviors. Inspiring a sense of wonder in a hurt child, unable to trust at the primal level, is not on most adoptive parents' radar screens. Developing family rituals, or even connecting with the traditional rituals of a religious community, are virtually impossible for the adoptive parent already exhausted from navigating the bureaucratic processes of most social service agencies. Simply put, there is too little time for us to be forward-looking when we have years of neglect to wade through with our children.

I wonder, though, what kind of children we are developing when we exchange the immediate for a preferred future? What will our children decide is important to them when they leave our nests? Will they, like so much of American society, decide that reality and satisfaction come from buying and accumulating?

What would happen in our family systems, adoptive or not, if we invested our energy in nurturing a sense of spiritual selfhood in our children? What if, in addition to addressing the pains of the past, we could find a way to lead our children to a life of spiritual fulfillment? What if, in the final analysis, the very thing we think is a luxury to be sought one day when we have time (namely spiritual nurture) is the very thing that would help to relieve our anxieties of the moment?

What if the adoption journey is really more a spiritual trek than we realize?

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