Wonderfully Made and Difficult Conversations
By Heather Lear
My 10-year-old son recently completed a five-week course at our church on sexuality and puberty that is grounded in scripture and faith practices. The Wonderfully Made curriculum covers anatomy, puberty, reproduction, sexual health, relationships and boundaries. Full disclosure…I had some reservations and anxiety about my recently turned 10-year-old learning about such “grown-up” topics and having part of his innocence taken away. Our church offers the course every other year to the 5thand 6thgraders, and I couldn’t help but wish that it would have fallen next year, after he was done with elementary school.
Despite my trepidation, we signed him up anyway. It turned out to be an amazingly worthwhile, positive, and yes, somewhat uncomfortable experience for everyone involved. I’m grateful for the medical doctors in our congregation who gave five weeks to make sure the kids received accurate biological and physiological information, and to the adult mentors who journeyed with them, creating an open, safe environment where they were willing to address any and all questions. I’m also grateful to the staff of our church for making this topic a priority, and opening the uncomfortable lines of communication about our bodies and sexuality that many parents and congregations avoid. It's important for churches to foster an environment where people of all ages can wrestle and deal with the things they face in their everyday lives. If we fail to create these spaces in the church, our people are left searching for answers and are often left with only the toxic echo chambers that pervade our airspace, social media feeds, and culture wars.
If we fail to create these spaces in the church, our people are left searching for answers and are often left with only the toxic echo chambers that pervade our airspace, social media feeds, and culture wars.
A major portion of my work revolves around helping congregations to create practices that embody the Good News of the Kingdom of God. In evaluating any ministry or program of the church, I think the underlying question needs to be: “What sort of transformation are we expecting or looking for in this event?” And on the flip side, “If we are not expecting any sort of transformation, why are we doing it?” These prove to be challenging questions for many congregations whose calendars are full of good things. But often, these good things don’t ultimately point back to the goodness of God and how values of the Kingdom of God are different than the ways of the world.
In watching the events of the last couple of weeks unfold, my husband and I have done a lot of reflecting, as I’m sure many of you have as well. He is a military veteran, was in law enforcement for 13 years, and was a college athlete in New England. In looking back at the various events and the culture of which he was part in his formative young adult years, he’s convinced that these events and revelations are so heated because they are hitting a nerve and are forcing people to reflect on their own behavior and experiences. And he will be the first to tell you that working hard and playing hard in high school and college are not mutually exclusive. Media and movies from the 70’s and 80’s taught teenagers what it meant and took to be cool and tough. These unfortunate messages were deeply engrained in our ways of thinking from an early age. (I knew all the lyrics from the Grease soundtrack by the age of 7, and had no idea what I was actually singing.)
There is no aspect of our life that our faith discipleship should not inform.
I grew up in the church, but was never given the opportunity to engage in discussions that even remotely resembled what my son just had as a fifth grader. Like many of my friends, these conversations didn’t happen at home either. There was a compartmentalization between being a good, nice Christian and the natural development of our bodies and what was happening in our relationships. I’m not sure why or when this separation occurred, because it’s not biblical. There is no aspect of our life that our faith discipleship should not inform. Through this course, my son was reminded that everyone is wonderfully made in the image of God and was taught that sexuality is part of God’s plan and one of God’s gifts to us. Because it is a gift, we are also to be stewards of this gift and always need to remember that we are to see the image of God in others. When this happens, we can no longer objectify or view another human being as less than wonderfully made or as something to be conquered.
Friends, we claim to be a covenant people, and I’m afraid we’re not holding up our end of the deal when it comes to the promises we made in baptism. Our kids are looking to us to help them resist the powers of evil in the world and to remind them that their worth can never be found in activities that diminish God’s reflection in them or in others. Our congregations should be places where we can bring our scars, our shame and our questions, and definitely be places where we learn that it’s not ok to mock and ridicule someone in pain. Our congregations should be places where we teach our adults and kids to think theologically and wrestle with difficult topics. You are a fearfully and wonderfully made child of God, but so is every other person.