Monday, October 18, 2010

Young Lifers

It is funny the things we remember sometimes. My local newspaper's religion section carried a puff piece on the new Young Life director here. I haven't thought of this organization in years. In fact, I was amazed that they were still around. Reading through the article made me revisit, if ever so briefly, what is generally the black hole in my memory--the horror of my high school years. One of the great consolations of real life is that it generally turns out to be nothing at all like high school.

I was a textbook-case misfit in high school. My family lived out in the country, by choice. But I went to school in town, and unfortunately, I lived in the snotty high school district. I had no chance of fitting in with the cool kids--we were not members at Willowbrook Country Club, nor the Petroleum Club, nor the Marina, not even the Tennis and Swim Club. We obviously did not live in the right neighborhoods. And my family did not attend the big social Methodist Church downtown. I did not play sports, so I could not hang out with the jocks. I was too timid and self-conscious to join the smokers at breaks out under the trees. Nor did I have the consolation of being a brain. Other than English and History, my grades were decidedly average. Needless to say, I had trouble finding my niche. But I did have several friends, and I especially remember the kindness shown me by those who did not have to do so. I hope I was not so busy feeling sorry for myself that I failed to show kindness as well.

Young Life was big, really big, at my school. Several acquaintances urged me to come along to one of their meetings. Religiously, I was something of a blank slate. My much older sister and her husband were Southern Baptists. I was sent along with them sometimes, but managed to escape when I was 14. So, I approached Young Life reluctantly, for I was not the least bit interested in Christian pep rallies. My bigger concern was trying to figure out a way to be cool. I don't remember much about the meetings other than there was a lot of rah-rah, some sing-songing, some skits, and then we all sat Indian-style and listened to the Young Cool Dude director share with us. I attended another, smaller venue in the home of one of our town's society leaders. To me, it just seemed like something South Tyler Methodists did. And at all these functions, I simply remember thinking--I do not want to be here. My distaste was not rooted in the content, but in the company. For I knew that all these kids acting all Christian-y at Young Life would be the same ones who wouldn't give me the time of day the next day at school.

The picture below of local Young Lifers accompanied the arti
cle in question. Even after all these years, the names may have changed, but the faces are exactly the same.


Ranger said...

I would have to agree, I had similar experiences w Young Life, and yet Young Life is more than just club night. Some of the bible studies were helpful. When I was in college I went hiking with some at risk kids, this was also sponsored by Young Life. I know that those five days made a big difference in these kids lives.
Like many para-church organizations a lot depends on the local leaders, and also the students involved.

John said...

Yeah, the Young Life article obviously triggered a bit of long-suppressed bitterness at my high school experience. Like I say, my complaint was more against the attendees, rather than the organization itself. No doubt they have done good, but this seems more like a case of "Tyler in, Tyler out," or at least so from my admittedly slanted view.

Becky said...

The last sentence of your first paragraph is so very quotable, and I'm stealing it (with credit, of course). : ) My high school experience was pretty bad also - didn't want to be there, would rather have stayed home and read (if I'd known at the time homeschooling was legal, my parents would have been in big trouble, because I would have insisted). My only friends were fellow orchestra/choir members (thank God for music programs). I tried to be invisible the rest of the time.

Anonymous said...

I consider this a worthy variation on the theme "it's not just gay teens who need to know 'It Gets Better.'"

James the Thickheaded said...

Okay. Maybe I'm a late bloomer? What I remember of YL was from a chapter at our college. I went for the free Sunday night soup - exactly once... and the possibility of some cute girls. Great motivations, huh? Yep.

Back in the day, as a firmly committed Anglican head case with all the attendant foibles and problems that implies, the whole made me very uncomfortable. Kept looking for "Peggy" and the rest of the God Squad. I'd say I rather quickly became a more typical college backslider after the experience. "If this is the God Squad... then maybe I need to do a lot more sinnin' first..." Needless to say, that night the soup was bad and it was all guys. No bait; no switch.

But the one thing I think you learn from so much "bible study" is that sometimes folks have a very strong take on things, and they're "right" and you're "wrong". And so you decide that maybe you don't know all the details of what you're talking about, but neither do the folks who think they do. The difference so often lay less in the matter of scripture than in the force with which it was argued. Didn't find much different as an adult Anglican in our Bible study either for that matter. Only in Orthodoxy did I find a respect for scripture and what the Fathers taught... that neutralized some of the polemics... making ALL of us change. And it was this that appealed: no one gets "their" way with the Word.

Ranger said...

"Only in Orthodoxy did I find a respect for scripture and what the Fathers taught... that neutralized some of the polemics... making ALL of us change. And it was this that appealed: no one gets "their" way with the Word."

this is my experience as well, though some bible studies were profitable ( inductive bible study is very helpful and the opposite of systematic), many fell into doctrinal disputes. This is the first time in my life I can "rest" in the scriptural understanding of the Orthodox Church.

s-p said...

My "Young Life" experience wasn't with Young Life, it was with Jesus Movement hippies, a subculture that I fit in better with in 1969. The dynamics were the same, just the uniforms were different.

Ranger said...

I'm guessing the girls might not have worn certain undergarments and seldom put anything sharp to their legs.

Brigid said...

Not to burst anyone's bubble but the Orthodox equivalent of Young Life is not all roses. There might not be the sappy songs but I found the people to be much the same. The OCF (Orthodox Christian Fellowship) in Austin for the college students was not that different from the Episcopal group I had been a part of before. The girls still found a reason not to like me. It was no longer because I wasn't in a sorority but now because I wasn't Greek, Russian, Romanian, or some other eastern ethnicity. The first question I got asked was if I was Greek (which I thought was an odd question since I have red hair) but after telling them that I was some mix of Irish, German, English, and Cherokee they all moved away as if I didn't say the secret password. When I said that I had been going to an OCA mission I got told, "Well that's not really orthodox now is it." I was trying to figure out a lot about orthodoxy at the time and several of the members of the OCF told me that they just lie in confession. I walked away thinking that at least the Episcopalians were exactly what you would expect them to be.

John said...

Your experience sounds perfectly dreadful! Frankly, I have mixed feelings about OCF, even though, technically I am the "faculty advisor" for the local chapter. Our group is so small--and all converts--that the dynamics you describe have not come to the fore. As you discovered, arrogance and ignorance is usually a toxic combination. Generally speaking, I'm not sure how similar OCF is to Young Life--though in circumstances you describe, it seems the motivation was the same, in that they were there just for the social. Hope you are having a good semester.

Ingemar said...

I'm glad to say that my experience is so far never as bad as it is said on the Internet.

I was involved in OCF for a while (three whole years after I graduated college). "Was," because the group was fairly small and meetings were quite infrequent. I wasn't chastised for being the wrong ethnicity, partly because another member was the same ethnicity as me (and with a severe disability, to boot). I must admit that I had bad motives for joining, but quickly dropped those because of a policy of mine ("Don't date grad students, or girls who want to be grad students.")

I got a Romanian friend out of the deal.

I've also experienced none of the racism I've heard so much about from GOA. When I was Chrismated on Sunday, no fewer than a dozen complete strangers congratulated me and engaged in conversation.

Kristin said...

I've never had any personal experience with Young Life but I have two friends who are leaders in it and don't know too much about it. I was actually more intrigued by the comments about OCF.
Brigid, I'm really sorry that your experience was like that and I can definitely sympathize because I am not any of the major ethnicities that one usually expects to be Orthodox. I stick out like a sore thumb at pretty much every parish.
I consider myself blessed to be at a large, diverse public university where the active members of OCF are very diverse, come from all different parishes and backgrounds etc. Not saying that it's all roses because there are definitely a lot of misconceptions about peoples' dioceses...and when you throw Oriental Orthodoxy into the mix...yeah.
Another nice thing is that there are separate clubs for ethnicities (not to pick on the Greeks, but the Greeks have a Greek fraternity) so people who are just looking for a social experience go there and people who are looking for that and something more come to OCF. I think that strategy would work pretty much anywhere if there are enough people of a certain ethnicity.