These past five Wednesday evenings, my colleague Mark Stenberg and I have been leading a confirmation intensive for our confirmation students. We gather at Mark’s home and we talk about the theology. Really. I say this because my husband doubted me last night when I told him that we had talked about the theology of the cross verses theology of glory. “No, you didn’t,” he responded. “Yeah, we did.”
The thing is that theology of the cross is not a foreign concept in these kid’s lives. They know what it is to feel unpopular or afraid or weak or feeling they will never measure up. More than anything, in some small or large way, they have their heart broken every day.
They were talking about their spring track meets and one young woman said, “I hate those because every time someone asks you your time, then you feel stupid”. Feeling stupid is pretty much what theology of the cross is all about. They know it, they experience it; it’s not an idea for them. They just don’t have a name for it.
As any confirmation teacher knows, it’s hard to stay on track with kids. We wander off into all sorts of side conversations about school and their lives. Even though part of me worries they won’t know all the Bible stories when they grow up, I think these side conversations are ok. As Luther would write, it’s the fellowship of brethren or in this case, the wide, big hearts of junior high and high school girls.
The lovely, young beings who have no idea how deeply they are loved, by us the leaders but more than anything by our God. These kids with broken hearts who know the cross but cannot speak of it yet because their brains are not fully wired. The synapses are as innocent and ready for connection as their bodies are at a school dance. It makes my heart bigger to know them. They have blessed my heart by sharing their own.
There are so many dire predictions for the church, and I’m not one to doubt them. Many of these studies are based on kids exactly the age of my confirmation students. But I’m not one easily frightened either. So much of these predictions are based on fear and our own egos as adults. So many of these predictions are based on young kids who are growing up in a different environment than I did, but they are also merely and wonderfully human.
I doubt that we have evolved so much in thirty years that these girls are a different species than you or me. Still, I have no illusions any longer that these kids will learn the Bible stories fully from church, or their parents, or even from culture. Yet I do hold out hope. Because what we were are given as pastors is people’s hearts. Broken hearts. And that doesn’t change over time.
We are given the chance to enter into their worlds because somehow they freely offer them to us and we tell them there is actually a real, theological name for their broken hearts and it is called theology of the cross. They don’t have to change, they don’t have to be different, they don’t have to live up to some sort of standard, either from someone else or their own inner voices, they don’t have to do anything to be loved and receive all God’s graces. They just need to let God take care of their hearts.
And God, being who God is, will treasure them as God does all weak, wounded and exiled things. God will work in their lives, through the Holy Spirit in time, and carry them. They will strive and encounter heartache and sickness and evil, they will know death, but I pray that they may know in all these things, God, in Christ will never leave them.
I pray they always know their beautiful, broken, lovely, hearts will be embraced by God’s. I pray they may know that God is absolutely heartbreakingly in love with them, and will always be. I pray that they may know that Christ cannot rise without them — that is how important they are. And I pray that they may know, even now, Christ is walking along the edges of their lives, gathering pieces of their hearts — their songs, their whispers, their candles and creeds — to make them whole.
Angela, Signy, Lily: Shalom.