COMMENTARY: These Young Adults Don’t Need a Spiritual Director

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c. 2005 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) As I joined my 24-year-old son at Vocare, I had six wishes for the young adults (ages 19-29) attending this spiritual retreat offered by Episcopal dioceses to help in the transition to adulthood.

I felt these wishes deeply because I am the father of two young adults, but also because I think they apply to all of us.

Wish 1: Go Deep. Go deeper than the world wants you to go. We seem to be victims of an epidemic of shallowness: shallow entertainment, shallow news reporting, shallow politics and shallow religion.

Shallow builds profits and allows a few to gain power; deep builds character and preserves freedom. Rather than recite formulas, learn to think creatively. Rather than simply protect what you have, imagine new things into being.

Wish 2: Allow Awe. I don’t mean the terror that some religious leaders want to promote as a steppingstone to rage and bigotry. I mean the awe that comes from living in open and loving community _ like the community Jesus formed with the young adults who were his first apostles. I mean breaking the chains of wealth and privilege and discovering the transforming gifts of grace and mercy. I mean courageously proclaiming hope in a world where the darkness profits handsomely by producing despair.

Wish 3: Be Together. The isolation and anonymity of modern times are anomalies, not God’s way. We must abandon illusions like self-sufficiency and self-serving, and understand that God made us to need each other. Jesus formed circles of friendship, not hierarchies of power. To live healthy and productive lives, we must accept the hard work of togetherness: seeing all as loved and worthy, not just the few who pass political or religious muster; wanting to share, not to hoard; wanting to embrace, not to reject; wanting to give, not to take.

Wish 4: Make Choices. Recognize our consumer culture’s monumental effort to remove choices by turning wants into needs and options into givens. Avoid the traps being set: easy credit, unexamined expectations, impossible standards for “normal.” Approach all spending decisions as optional, not inevitable. Give heed to what Jesus said when he devoted two-thirds of his teaching to wealth and power. Moralizing about sexuality is just a way to avoid the morality that Jesus did teach.

Wish 5: Be Generous. In a world that seems determined to segregate and to punish, be extravagant in mercy. In a world that values owning above sharing, be extravagant in giving. In a world grounded in self-serving, be generous with what God gives: love, kindness, joy, food, help, fellowship.

Wish 6: Grow Boldly. Ignore those religious warriors who encourage a hard and elitist fervor. Ground your ideals in servanthood, not get-mine. Plan to make a difference, not to make a wad. Grow in faith, not in ability to win religious arguments. Grow in self-sacrifice, not in lust for power.

Once the Vocare weekend began, I soon realized that these youth already get it. In short order, strangers became friends, hands touched in healing, arms joined in prayer and dancing, and voices merged in song. It felt like the early chapters in Acts, before institution-building replaced joy.

Faith is shaping their lives well beyond the hothouse of a weekend retreat. One 24-year-old leaves soon for a second one-year tour in Iraq and trusts God and this community to watch over his wife as she gives birth to their first child. At the age of 22, two have made the risky decision to teach in the rough schools of East St. Louis and the South Bronx. One wants to return to Africa to help combat AIDS. One wants a ministry of writing. One teaches the deaf. Several want to help a fearful church embrace its young adults.

I don’t think the so-called “ownership society” will own them.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, consultant and leader of workshops. His forthcoming book, “Just Wondering, Jesus: 100 Questions People Want to Ask,” will be published by Morehouse Publishing. An Episcopal priest, he lives in Durham, N.C. His Web site is


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