Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Cotton buds

I was woken up this morning by my 3 year old daughter sitting on my neck and whispering "Daddy" in my ear. I was then gently showered with cotton buds from my bedside drawer. And another whisper, louder now, "Daddy". More cotton buds. Another night of sweet slumber comes to an end.

But it was OK, because my daughter was being adorable and 3. But imagine if she was 15 - worrying behaviour, wouldn't you say? A little eccentric? Childish certainly. I guess what you can get away with at 3 and it be delightful, doesn't really work when you're older.

There is a reason for my strange trajectory (in case you were getting worried about my eccentricity).

Recently, I've been engaging in a bit of debate with some of the teenagers ('Faith' in particular) around White Stone about how much you can get away with childish behaviour when you're a teenager. At one point I publically made a deliberately provocative statement that "we don't believe in teenagers".

This provoked a bit of a flutter, mainly in 'Faith's' blog and I posted a comment there to explain myself. For anyone who doesn't visit 'Faith's' blog, I thought I'd reproduce my comments here. (Apologies to those who have read the comment on 'Faith's' blog - you can stop reading here!)

OK, I'd better explain this whole teenagers thing. Here goes...

Sometimes I've heard people say things (I've even said them myself) like "Well, what can you expect from teenagers, they're bound to be selfish" and things like that. Excusing various things (selfishness, insensitivity, laziness etc.) on the grounds of teenagerness.

Now, on the one hand, this can be valid - adolescence can be a tough time which can lead to a certain amount of social awkwardness. BUT - and this is where my (now famous) comment comes in - being a "teenager" is actually rather a recent concept. The phrase was coined in the 1950s in America. "Teenagers" became a phenomenon at the same sort of time as the post-war rationing ceased and people were becoming more prosperous. Rather than having to grow up and become an adult, people at the age of 15, 16 were able to languish in a kind of in-between phase. So they listened to Elvis: youth culture was born. Teenagers (perhaps better called betweenagers) had arrived.

In the 60s and 70s the whole concept became so inbedded, that nowadays it's just taken for granted that there are teenagers and that you've got to expect them to be a bit childish and selfish at times (see Kevin the Teenager, the horrific creation of Harry Enfield...)

But for the vast vast vast majority of human history (and still in most places on earth today) you are a child and then you become an adult. There simply wasn't/isn't a long, drawn out "teenage" phase. (In some cultures there is a "rite of passage" which may last six or seven weeks - hardly 7 years of selfishness!)

In most cultures the age of becoming adult was/is about 13. At this age, you took on adult responsibility.

Mary was probably about 13 or 14 when she gave birth to Jesus.

Now obviously, in our culture today we don't expect 13 year olds to become fully adult (I agree with the age of consent/marriage being 16 and so on) - BUT the downside of "protecting" young adults of 13-19 is that they can become some kind of childish adult: they want the respect that comes with responsibility - but they're not prepared to be responsible!

Please don't misunderstand: I really like people who are between the ages of 13 and 19. I was a secondary teacher for 7 years and one of the best aspects of my job was working with so many excellent young people.

But because I respect them, I don't want to let them lower themselves to childishness. A child can be childish - we can't expect anything else. In a child, childishness can even be endearing. In a "teenager" it's irritating - why? Because, they're actually young adults.

Now for the spiritual angle: Jesus' call to become a disciple (the theme of our household week) was addressed to adults. Sure, he said we were to become "like children" to enter the Kingdom, but note the word "like"! (And he was referring to innocence and powerlessness not childishness). He said "If any man (i.e. adult) would be my disciple...

This isn't surprising because in Jesus' day people were children until they became adults at 13 (bar/batmitzfah). So Jesus' call to everyone over the age of 13 is "deny yourself and be an (adult) disciple". He never indicated that 15 or 16 or 17 year olds didn't have to deny themselves "because they are teenagers afterall".

So - I issued the statement at our household week that "we don't believe in teenagers". Not that we don't believe that people between the age of 13 and 19 exist (no, we're thoroughly convinced of that at White Stone), not that we don't support or champion those in that age range, but that we question the whole concept of an in-between stage where you can't expect the call of Jesus to discipleship to apply.

So, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 year olds - deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus: no excuses!


HRHI said...

sorry, I just had to laugh at the bit about Charis! aww sounds cute, tho I can understand that it probably wasnt funny at the time! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

normal said...

Who are you hrhi?

Ur Man CD said...

Hey Normal

Thanks for checking my blog out and leaving a comment. That's really cool of you, and in return I'm making my way through your entries.

This one is brilliant - it started a conversation in the office that I work in about when someone is to be considered an adult and then principles and values that are important. So thanks for that. I'll probably make some more comments as I make my way through this voyage of yours.