Naïvety…and potential

by Robin Barden August 22, 2014 A

Last week my 12 year old niece cried in the main event at soul survivor.

I can’t take any credit for her being there, beyond being one of many involved in her youth workers training.  The fact we were both at soul survivor, at the same time, and at that main event, was just a coincidence.  But it did mean that I was faced with a young person emoting at Soul Survivor, towards whom, I felt, very, very protective.  Admittedly, I felt some misplaced pride that my niece was crying when the majority were laughing, but my primary response was a feeling of concern.

Was she ok?  Why was she hurting?  Was she being manipulated?  What was going on?

Being at Soul Survivor, at that time, in that tent, my niece was not emoting in a vacum.   Sermons had been humorously delivered, and, together with prayers and alter calls, had provided a certain direction to the events.  Music supported this, as well as providing a sense of intensity and continuation of the moment.   Perhaps most importantly however, my niece was not alone in her emoting, and this, along with a crescendo of clapping and verbal affirmation from most of the thousands present every time the emoting became even slightly manifest, undoubtably provided a potent motivation to join in.

Yet where else is there the opportunity to emote?  Let alone have the experience validated by a substantial group of others?  In a society dominated by a rationalistic, causal and highly cognitive world view, where are the opportunities to live as more than a brain in a vat?  The truth is, I was also emoting in that tent.  Although, for me, it was in the singing of hymns, whose phrasing, tonal dexterity and pleasant melody matched the later peace I felt concerning all that was occurring.  My niece’s emotions were raw, and, I found out later, heavily inter-connected with one particular situation in her life.  But she is 12.  My emotions were more sophisticated.  Fed and nurtured through many situations (both good and bad), relationships and friendships.  But I am 42.

For my niece, the questions that arose centred on what was happening.  In particular, she quizzed her youth worker to find out,

how does Mike Pilavachi know these things about people?

I’m sure the questions that arose for my 14 year old nephew, who was also present, were more connected with the central message of Mike’s talk.  It was, after all, a classic that incorporated issues pertinent to, although not exclusively focused upon, teenage boys.  For me, the immediate question was the direct and unequivocal nature of the talk.  Where was the sophistication, the nuances that I knew to be true?  But I am 42.  It’s not that my niece and nephew can’t understand these nuances, nor is it that they shouldn’t have them explained to them.  But they cant, and they shouldn’t.

At 12 and 14 respectively, they are coming up against the world for the first time (broadly speaking), and their understanding is what Paul Riceour would call a first naïvety.  It’s clumsy to older eyes, raw and… naive.  But its not wrong.  It’s a necessary starting point.  In fact, more than this, it is an important and very right understanding of things.  Indeed the young people respond in such numbers because they instinctively respond to the experience as a need being met.  And well met.  The journey of Christian, indeed any, discipleship, must start here.  It’s a godly imperative.  The bigger responsibility is with the youth worker who holds the tears, and to whom the questions are addressed, to have the theological and practice wisdom to play their part in the young person reaching a second naivety.  And a third.  And a fourth.  And so-on.  After all, this is, I suspect, our reality.  We use the same words and see the truth in the message of our own and the young people’s first naivety, but we now mean more.  We draw on more, and we draw more in.  Our first, second and third naiveties have gone through a critical fire.  They are no less naive, but they are more profound.

There is a Godly time span and rhythm here that we must keep to.

Our task, even while we play up what connects us to young people and keep silent about what distances us, is to believe in the Holy Spirit's work of discipling all of us into a more profound naivety of the Mystery that we worship.

It is not to destroy that Mystery by insisting 12 year olds become 42 year olds before their time.  Or even that 42 year olds become 72 year olds.

Soul Survivor has something for everyone, but it is no accident that it is a youth event.  The challenge is not theirs but ours.  As family members, church leaders, and, especially as youth workers, are we working to gain the theological, spiritual and practice wisdom necessary, to continue the work God has started over many Soul Survivors?  Do we have the grace to allow young people to meet with, and grow in the knowledge of, our Lord Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to the Glory of God The Father?  Can we perceive the beauty that is in the raw simplistic emotion, that arises when young people encounter situations, where there is articulated, direct and unequivocal truths?

A good piece on Riceour and second naïveté