Tangerines and Transformations
Volunteering to teach confirmation classes at my mid-town Los Angeles parish is challenging work. Let’s face it, most teens sign up for the two year, twice-a-month program, because it’s SUPER important to their parents, while hardly registering as something to care about for themselves.
First ingredient: Vitamin J
So my pastor and I started out with a disadvantage only good teen snacks could remedy-Tostitos, Fritos, Cheetos, cookies, hot chocolate, Snapple, sodas, tangerines (requested), spring water (also requested). These are the paths to a young person’s soul.
Okay, maybe more than snacks are involved. It helps that teens are intensely social and eventually figure out who likes video games, skateboarding, Britney Spears, gory movies, and who is still looking for a prom date.
When I’m very lucky, confirmation class begins to develop into a little community. And youth experience what it’s like to be a part of a community in which attempts are made to keep respect, concern, and a positive outlook at the center of that community.
Most of the 24 students were okay with coming to class. Maybe it was not their first choice activity but a decent second or third. But then there were those teens who resented having to be there at all, and they let us know by staring at the floor, never participating in any discussion, coming late and leaving early, or not showing up at all.
Yo, God loves you
Yet we persisted with a simple message weaved frequently into our talks and activities: You’re good, created in God’s image, and loved by God. That’s it. God loves you when you are trying pot and going too far on a date. God loves you when you screw up a test and get left out by a friend. God loves you when you do something nice for your sister and when you are mean to your Dad. God is indiscriminately kind that way.
With God, you always get another chance to try again to be the best person you can be. A year in a half into putting out this message, I started to notice subtle changes in my nay-sayer teens. Not all of them. But four of them.
Carlos (as I’ll call him) started out showing up late or not at all, and when he did, he turned his back to us, and made little attempt to participate. He was quiet and tough looking. Inexplicably, one day he turned his chair around and started listening. He started reading the stuff we handed out. He participated in a meditation exercise and in a group brainstorming session.
Two weeks before we finished Carlos asked me what work he could do to make up for his early absences. Surprised I gave him some things to do and he did it with intention.
An Always Religion
Confirmation day, Carlos arrived in a white suit. His parents and extended family beamed. He was beaming too. As far as I could tell he wanted to be part of a religion that believed he was good, made in God’s image and loved by God. Always.