A large box arrived a few days before my birthday. Taking the box back to my dorm room it seemed to swamp the space before I even opened it. Inside were an assortment of birthday things; however most of the box contained an Eeyore pillow pal. If you don't recall these things they were bed pillow sized renditions of various creatures in polar fleece.
This grey and pink darling donkey, I could not #abide it's place in my tiny dorm room. Yet being a donkey, he would have a place at my church office. I thought he would be hauled out from time to time when a donkey was appropriate. I thought the little children would like him. Yet within days this Eeyore pillow pal was being hauled around the church by the teenagers. They carried him around until even they couldn't abide his adolescent odor.
I was completely surprised and completely surprised that I was surprised. There is a piece of adolescence that is trying to hold on to childhood, and another piece that is attached to the joy of the ridiculous. A pillow pal mascot was a gift that could help them surrender to these forces and let it still be an act of love, #hope and comfort. Still, there was something counter-intuitive about the gift of that donkey.
A few weeks ago a friend and elder parishioner asked if my ministry would like his karaoke machine. Truth be told I have never been an enthusiast and I couldn't imagine our teenagers would be very interested. If they want to do such things there are Wii disks or the multitude of offerings on youtube (death metal karoke with the sing along bouncing ball!) However, I thought I might find a use for it and accepted the gift. It sat in my crowded office for a few weeks. We giggled at the song compilations on the disks: who puts Madonna and Mr. Rogers on the same collection! Yet there it sat, a bit in the way and gathering dust.
Eventually, one evening when the original plan fell through, I decided to invite some of my more technically inclined teens to figure the contraption out. Generous and cooperative they went to work, and it took longer than I expected. I also expected that they would get it working and walk away to the youth room video games or a group game of Zombies. However, that didn't happen at all. Much to my surprise I had to chase the darlings off of the machine long after 'youth group' had ended.
If we can offer space for authenticity even the strangest and random notions can open doorways for young people to find themselves. The #grace of pillow-pals and karaoke machines are not in any youth ministry bag of tricks. What made them a gift to the community was the community that was already there, ready and waiting to be more in union with one another in Christ. All of this is a mystery and I can never be sure ahead of time what will rise and what will fall flat. More than gimmicks however is the commitment to food, fellowship and welcome for all teens.
What we are all searching for is Someone to surrender to, something we can prefer to life itself. Well here is the wonderful surprise: God is the only one we can surrender to without losing ourselves. The irony is that we find ourselves, and now in a whole new field of meaning. This happens on a lesser level in every great love in our lifetime, but it is always a leap of faith ahead of time. We are never sure it will be true beforehand. It is surely counter-intuitive, but it is the promise that came into the world on this Christmas Day, “full of grace and of truth.” Jesus is the gift totally given, free for the taking, once and for all, to everybody and all of creation.
Richard Rohr: Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent