You know who you are. Other people might not yet. You might still be working it out. But you know you’re uncomfortable with what your parents have just been asked to sign to keep you at your school. You have a hard time navigating this school environment anyway — always on guard, working hard not to slip up in ways that might blow back on you, always doubting if those things your teachers say about God’s love are true about you, or perhaps wondering if God could possibly be good if his people treat you the way they do. You probably have a hard time separating all sorts of ideas about yourself and the world too — internalising all sorts of voices and trying to figure out which voice is God’s, which is yours, and which is the voice of those forces who want to pull you away from trusting in Jesus. The sort of voice that says “did God really say”… there’s so much pressure being put on you to figure this all out. And you’re a teenager, and you’re just trying to figure out algebra, or calculus, or different forms of narrative, and the changes to your body, and your friendships, and your career. That’s a lot.
You’re no doubt getting online and hearing stacks of other voices out there all peddling their views of what it means to be human, what the good life is, and where to find your identity. You’re reading people who seem to hate you, and people who tell you that to truly be you you have to embrace your inner voice and pursue your authentic individual self, and people with one hundred different interpretations of words from a text that is thousands of years old — and you don’t know who to turn to. Your parents? Your church? The church equivalent of Dr Google? The voices who tell you what you want to hear, or the voices that tell you what you don’t.
And now there’s this voice — this piece — a random thing written on the internet adding more noise to a growing cacophony of thought pieces and culture war hot takes that have turned your existence into a political football. A piece claiming to have more to say that’s worth hearing — and something worth hearing for you. A piece from a pastor – a churchy type – the sort of voice that always has an agenda, and right now, here in Australia, is attached to an institution that keeps getting in the news for all the wrong reasons.
I’m praying that you might — with all these voices out there — listen to Jesus.
I want you to know that I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you’ve had to grow up hiding the questions that you have about yourself. I’m sorry that you’ve had to navigate a Christian world – at school, at home, or at church — where you don’t feel safe, and that suddenly this feels like you were right to keep those walls up. I’m sorry that your school – in trying to be righteous and clear – became self-justifying and harmful. I’m sorry that rather than thinking pastorally about how they could care for you, listen to you, and nurture you they resorted to legalese. I’m sorry that the way these issues around your personhood play out in the culture war means that churches and schools feel like they have to respond to just you with position papers and policies — imagine a private Christian school with high fees writing a contract asking parents to align with Jesus’ teaching on greed? I’m sorry that rather than helping you explore what a flourishing life following Jesus and trusting him might look like — and how that might form your sense of self and self-worth – your school decided to say what a problem you might be for the community you belong to, rather than seeing you as a person to be loved. I’m sorry that Christian schools – and churches — are increasingly getting a well-earned reputation for what we’re against, rather than who we’re for – Jesus — or for expressing what Jesus might mean for you.
Your school’s name evokes this idea that the church – the people of Jesus – are to be a “city on a hill” and a “light to all people” that Jesus might use to draw all people to himself. I’m sorry that this week it has failed to do that, that it has repelled, rather than attracted so many people – including you. I’m praying that you might — with all these voices out there — listen to Jesus.
It is true that the Bible presents a vision for human relationships – love – that is different to the vision of relationships presented by a culture that tells us that all of our desires are good, and true humanity is discovered in exploring and pursuing those desires. It is true that the Bible has passages that articulate a vision for marriage and sex that is different to the prevailing view in our culture, and that its explanation for why we humans choose other patterns of relationship is “worshipping,” or loving, things other than God and finding our sense of self in those loves. It’s true that the Bible calls this both “idolatry” and “sin” — and we all have to work out what it might look like to love God above all, and worship him — but we’re meant to do that knowing that God is good and that he loves you. He made you. He desires to have a relationship with you that is for your good, where you will be more truly you than the you you find in any pursuit of self-discovery without him.
There are lots of voices out there saying things about God, about Christianity, and about Christians — you might feel like adding your voice to the chorus based on your experiences at school, or with other people. And if you do, there are some of us out here who are keen to listen. To learn. To love you. But if I, a pastor in your city, could invite you to do anything – could I invite you to shut out as many of these voices as you can – even the ones raging within you – just for a moment – and to work hard at listening to Jesus. Because in him, you’ll hear the voice of God. Put aside the contracts, and the legalese, and the news stories and the social media outrage, and pick up a Bible. I know the Bible has been used as a weapon against you – but pick it up without someone else swinging it at you. Turn to John’s Gospel, and sit with it for a day or two. Hear the words of Jesus — and his invitation to truly find yourself as a “child of God” – beloved – as he invites you to come and follow him. As he invites you to experience love, and to receive “life to the full” – it’ll be a real shame if a school’s mistake prevents you from meeting Jesus and finding light and life in him.