Monday, August 15, 2005

The 'young Friend' Identity [perhaps]

"As a young Friend.." I began to write. I stopped right there. What do I mean by that opening phrase? It seems as if I'm about to speak from the perspective of a young Friend, but just what is a "young Friend"? In many contexts among Friends, young Friends are usually the teenagers. What about children? They're young, and they're Friends, too, are they not? I sense that the term 'young Friend' may have a little more to it than just young-ness. When I speak "as a young Friend", I am claiming 'young Friend' as my identity within the Religious Society of Friends. But what identifies me as a young Friend other than just my age? Is it my spiritual yearning and seeking? My amount of experience with or level of understanding of Quaker Faith and Practice? Is it really just my age?

Age is, indeed, the most defining feature of young Friends. In my experience, it is very important to connect with one's peers on a deeper level, so it naturally makes sense that strong communities of young Friends form, seperate from intergenerational ones. Age can be a vital part of one's own identification, and can be important to a young Friend's spiritual journey. A great many young Friends are in the process (or about to be in the process) of a great transition - from high school to the beyond, from First Day School to the full meeting for worship, and also the transition away from familiar high school gatherings or programs. This is a very important and distinctive time of life, and not a very easy one. While young Friends may need extra support and some gentle eldering, it's not to say that young Friends are not also capable and ready to listen inwardly and follow leadings; young Friends, too, can have great ministry to give.

As a young Friend myself, I seek connections not only with my peers, but also with older Friends. I want to engage in meaningful relationships with those who have more experience than I; I want to share my own experiences so far; I want to have experiences together with Friends of a variety of ages. Each and every Friend, young and old, has something amazing to offer (whether they're aware of it or not), and I want to share in that as much as possible. I speak also of the great transitions young Friends are making each year and the support needed; I speak of this as I am right in the middle of preparing to transition to college and to a new monthly meeting - the relationships I do have with adult Friends are very important to me. In such a particular time of transition, young Friends are in a very different place in their lives than adult Friends. However, I sense that there are many more similarities between young Friends and older Friends than most Friends consciously realize.

Perhaps young Friends have less experience than many adult Friends, but this is also the case with newer Friends; some young Friends even have more experience than some newer Friends. Many young Friends have experience on committees and meetings for worship with attention to business, as well as clerking these and other bodies. Like adult Friends, young Friends are spiritual seekers. My own spiritual seeking has involved reading many books, as well as conversations with other Friends - young as well as old - and is based on my own experience of the Spirit and the Light. I know I am not the only young Friend who has sought in any manner, whether using books or not (check out Whispers of Faith for some personal experiences of young Friends), and I am most certainly not the only Friend (young or old) who seeks! Also, as young Friends need support and guidance in their time of great transition, so do many adult Friends in times of transition, such as getting a new job, moving, having a child, marriage, divorce, and so on. To any older Friends who are at all skeptical of the level of experience and spiritual seeking young Friends are capable of having (and indeed are having!) or who have not realized the depth of young Friends' experiences, I highly suggest exploring this topic further by getting to know some young Friends yourselves!

While I cannot fully define what the young Friend identity is here and now once and for all, I have done my best to speak to it, and hope this opens the topic for further reflection and comment.. A young Friend is just as much of a Friend as older Friends, and thus just as much a part of Friendly communities. If you have not already, go on, introduce yourself to one and get to know them. There is growing to do for everyone.

Love and Light,

[Note: This particular post may undergo great editing in the future and may perhaps be shared in other places. Any editorial comments are welcome - it's very rough, and certainly not my best writing (it perhaps could be organized a little better and could use more here, less there, etc.), though I'm passionate about the subject.]


Blogger Liz Opp said...

Cool post; love the topic! smile

You write: To any older Friends who are at all skeptical of the level of experience and spiritual seeking young Friends are capable of having (and indeed are having!) or who have not realized the depth of young Friends' experiences, I highly suggest exploring this topic further by getting to know some young Friends yourselves!

It's not that I was skeptical of what young Friends were capable of. It's simply that I was unsure of how to interact with young Friends--teens and pre-teens.

As a teenager myself, I had no clue how to interact with my peers, let alone with adults, so of course I carried that cluelessness into my 40s...

...which gets really old when I see and hear great things going on among young Friends!

After an experience at this year's Gathering, though, I realized that what I need, personally, is a structured event in order to have a conversation about something that is meaningful to both the young Friend(s) and to me.

(But what I need and what young Friends need to build that bridge might be two completely different things.)

As an adult Friend (meaning, I am older than a college graduate), I have often thought my life would have been better if I had had the opportunity to go to a Quaker school instead of public school. I needed adults (teachers and neighbors) to affirm my goodness, since my classmates and my parents could not. I dunno, maybe Quaker kids wouldn't be much different...

High school was hell for me--the teasing, the friendlessness, the long walks home. Alone.

I didn't like other teenagers because I didn't like myself; and maybe vice versa. My identity was crushed by the weight of not wanting to be where I was, and I am coming to believe that a healthy identity is in part shaped by being around others with that same healthy identity.

Want Quakers with healthy Quaker identities? Put 'em with other Quakers who already have a strong identity as Quakers, no matter what the age!

New connections with young Friends like you, Claire, are helping me heal my wounded, lonely teenage self. You are also teaching me about the movement of the Loving Presence through the bodies, hearts, and spirits of young Friends. Tenderness, play, connection, and openness were written all over the group of you any time I was in your presence at Gathering.

And to think: if I didn't have tendonitis in my ankle, I wouldn't have attended half the events I did for the High School program and Young Friends.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

16/8/05 11:25 PM  
Blogger Claire said...

You write, It's not that I was skeptical of what young Friends were capable of. It's simply that I was unsure of how to interact with young Friends--teens and pre-teens.

Right, right! I remember hearing/seeing this being said, and it is quite a key point - one that mysteriously slipped my mind when I was writing this post. I think what I was focused on a little too much was the idea that some adult Friends don't even have young Friends on their radar screens - just as some young Friends don't have adults on their radar screens.

I do think something intentional (or many intentional somethings) needs to happen to pry open both younger and older Friends to the opportunity of meeting one another. Once Friends of all ages are open and begin to connect, the possibilities begin to become endless (x [as x->infinity] = infinity - oh dear, why did calculus pop in my brain?!).

Thanks so much for reminding me. This is exactly the reason I posted what I had - to let it marinate for a bit and learn more about what other Friends were thinking/feeling/experiencing surrounding this, whether I'd heard it and temporarily forgotten, or knew nothing about.

(I also was not trying to accuse all Friends who are or were not already familiar with young Friends of being skeptical - I was a little concerned about that phrasing in the first place!)

Love and Light,

16/8/05 11:57 PM  
Blogger Contemplative Scholar said...

Thank you for this posting, Claire, and for your reply, Liz. I was struck with what Liz said about how relationships with young Friends are helping her to heal her teenage self. I can relate to that!

Getting older is a layering phenomenon. We don't leave former ages behind -- we just pile new ones on top of the previous ones. To be (say) age 40 is to be 40 AND 39 AND 38 AND 37...AND 18...etc.

Part of what I like about teaching at a college is being in touch with young people who are at a very exciting age. I find my relationships with young Friends especially important to me. Most of the people I know of college age are not Friends, and I chose being at a non-Quaker college deliberately (wanting to reach beyond my own comfort zone!) -- but there are times when I do get tired of how hard it is to live in a culture that doesn't feel fully like "home," and so coming back "home" to Quaker Meeting, and talking with young Friends who do understand and cheer me on in all that I am trying to do in my teaching is very valuable to me.

Claire -- you are heading off to college soon! How exciting! I wish you well!

19/8/05 8:04 AM  

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