After she got home from the church youth retreat, she told me how much she appreciates her friends, how she seems to be past the stage when they seemed shallow and insincere. Yes, they have their flaws, but she accepts them as they are, and realizes that who they are is really amazing people. She’s very thankful to have friends like that. Four in particular who are genuinely and intentionally kind all the time, fun, able to be goofy and serious, who look out for her, stay connected, and like to do similar things for enjoyment and growth. Good values, good influences, and accepting of herself as maybe more of a skeptic than they. One to whom her heart also goes out due to a rough family situation—who is now living with the family of the other friend. That family always having extended hospitality to anyone who needed it, on top of raising and home schooling their own seven children.
Contrasting these four friends with the youth leader by whom she was accosted at the retreat. Who asked her, “Can I talk with you for a bit?” Then proceeded to ask her pointed, personal questions about her beliefs, one after the other. When the she answered honestly, the leader told her “No! That’s wrong, because the Bible says…” She was stunned at being so treated, and retreated into a standard, toneless response of “I don’t know,” and a masked expression. Hoping the leader would get the message, that she wasn’t going to repent and weep and ask to pray the salvation mantra, repeated line by line. But the inquisition continued, so she simply said, “I’m going to the bathroom,” and left. Stayed in there for a half hour so the leader would be well away. Almost ruined her time there, she said. It took her two hours to feel normal again. Thank God for women’s bathrooms.
It’s a testament to her resilience and good sense that she shook it off and went and enjoyed the rest of the retreat with her friends, and wasn’t completely turned off from associating with that particular church group, or wary of Christians in general. She heard that this leader was also viewed as a problem by others. I wondered whether I should go in and talk to the head youth pastor, just to add another report to the no doubt growing file. Picturing this woman actually spoiling for a fight, some kind of confrontation, so she can consider herself persecuted, suffering for Christ, find some texts to prove it, and move on with righteous indignation. We figured she might have a personality disorder.
The main youth leader seemed safe and harmless by comparison. Though, she said, he had a habit, during prayer when all heads were expected to be bowed and all young souls opening up to the Spirit against a background of soft worship music in the dimly lit room, of asking, if you feel…(as if you are in this or that place in life)…then raise your hand.” Which, though probably meant as a way for people to request prayer, seemed like an invasion of privacy, since she wasn’t really personally connected with said leader. And she found herself resistant to yielding to the soft strains and the warm safety that the staff were trying to create. Just sat there head bowed and feeling ambivalent.
Most of the time she pretends to be uninterested in spiritual or philosophical things, to make sure I don’t bring it up, I suppose. But she has such insight, such intuitive understanding, that I know her journey will leave her onward and upward. Safely navigating the shallows of Christian pop culture and the simplistic interpretation of the Christian life favored by those focused merely on winning souls (and reporting the score). I like her clear sightedness, her questioning, her discernment of motives in others, combined with patience for people and the ability to roll with the punches. I hope we haven’t overdone the training in critical thinking, such that, when her divine encounter comes, she will still doubt and not be able to yield.