March 2012: Featured Post
On a monthly basis, lifeseek.org will be featuring a thought-provoking essay that is designed to stimulate healthy dialogue and a collective resolve to seek the face of God for answers of some of the most pressing issues of our age. Your participation and feedback is very important to us and we encourage you to leave your comments, facebook or tweet this post after reading.
In 1964 Lorraine Hansberry, the award winning playwright of “Raisin in the Sun” addressed an audience of young African American writers at a United Negro College Fund banquet. She spoke of the responsibility of being young gifted and black, “surrounded by the whirling elements of this world….neither on the fringe or utterly involved: the prime observer waiting poised for inclusion”.1 She encourages these young writers to pen the wisdom excavated from the despair, life, and love they have experienced living in a nation that has despised their color and was afraid to acknowledge their humanity. To write about the world as it is and out how they dream it should be.
Although I was not in that crowd of young African American writers that day, and wasn’t even thought of for that matter, Lorraine’s words to be young gifted and black…and to dream about how the world should be… still ring in my ears 50 years later, but in a slightly different way. The challenge and gift I face is not only being
young gifted and black, but being young gifted and called. At the age of 20, I received what people in religious circles refer to as “the call”. I was several months away from graduating from college with my Bachelors of Social Work, and was making plans to continue my education (Master’s of Social Work) at the University of Maryland, when “it” came. The “it” was a feeling that the plans I had so meticulously intended for myself were now being interrupted by a Force greater than me, a Force that I could run from…but not for too long. Although my plans to obtain a Master’s were “good” and the most logical next step in my educational journey, I was feeling compelled to do something that seemed bigger than my most wildest dreams and aspirations for myself. This “thing” seemed to be linked to a grander picture, than me and “MySpace” and required me to trust the Voice of the one who knew my very being before I was born and created me with a purpose in mind.
Up until this point, I knew I wanted to help people. As a little girl I wanted to be a pediatrician because I liked babies, and wanted to make a lot of money. Then as a teenager, I thought I would become an interior decorator because I loved art and fashion. By the time I got to college, I turned my attention back to the helping profession and decided to declare social work as my major. It seemed like a good fit; my friends were always coming to me for someone to listen to them, I found gratification in helping people, and I enjoyed being around people. I initially enjoyed my social work classes and by my junior year I had decided to pursue the Master’s of Social work degree, and possibly a JD. But it wasn’t until I started my internships that I began to see a disconnect in the social service world. Having grown up in a Christian home, I started to wonder why the social service world seemed to completely focus on the material needs of clients, not even assessing their spiritual needs. We were told we could not talk about religion or spirituality unless the client initiated it. It almost felt like a taboo subject. So here I was three years into my program, wondering how the gap between the “spiritual” and the “secular” would be bridged or if it could be bridged, asking God where God was in the midst of my clients’ crisis and in their dire need of basic life necessities.
You may be wondering what does all this have to do with what it means to be young, gifted, and called. As my dad says, “I’m glad you asked”! I believe my story as a young 20 year old trying to figure out my career path and finding myself asking questions that I cannot solve by myself, points to what Sharon Parks describes as the central work of young adults, to ask big questions and discover worthy dreams. It was in the midst of asking these questions when I heard a “call” to embark on a journey and a way of being in the world that looked beyond myself and recognized that there were questions to be asked, and answers sought that would impact families, communities, and institutions. At first I thought this call would confine me to the church, and if this was so, I felt too young to be so serious about God and the church. I also felt ill-equipped. What possibly could I share with people older than I or younger that they would want to hear? I was “neither on the fringe or utterly involved” in adulthood or childhood.
As these anxieties sought to filter in I was reminded of Paul’s admonition to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone despise your youth”. To be young is to have an energy and strength that one doesn’t have to work at obtaining. When one is a child you have the energy but not necessarily the strength. On the other hand when one is an adult or older adult you may have strength but not the vigor and energy you once had as a young adult. There is something about this in-between or liminal space between childhood and adulthood that I believe God wants us to hone into. I want to begin this conversation about what it means to be young gifted and called by first addressing what it means to be young.
Previously, I described young adulthood as a liminal moment in one’s life cycle, not a child nor an adult. This concept of liminality was developed by Arnold van Gennep to describe the structure of rites of passage rituals in different cultures. The structure involved preliminal rites (rites of separation), liminal rites (rites of transitions), and post-liminal rites (rites of incorporation). It was in the “liminal rites” phase where the initiand becomes a blank slate “through the removal of previously taken-for-granted forms and limits” and the intiand experiences “considerable changes” to his or her identity, and passes “through the threshold that marks the boundary between” the separation rite and the incorporation rite.2 Like the structure of rites of passages, it is in the liminal space of young adulthood, which can span from 20-40 years of age, where considerable changes to one’s identity, belief systems, and support networks begins to take place. Parks states that is it in the beginning of young adulthood where, “the experience of the birth of critical awareness and the dissolution and recomposition of the meaning of self, other, world, and “God” takes place.3
In some ways there are removals of what Gennep described as “previously taken for granted forms and limits”. In young adulthood we are re-evaluating the values that were once taught us, we are questioning those in authority and striving to make the answers our own (not because grandma told me so). We are coming into our own, and getting comfortable in our own skin. Furthermore, we are experiencing some of the greatest transitions we will experience in our life time (leaving college, starting careers, establishing homes, getting married, having children etc.). It is precisely in these critical moments when our dreams of what the world ought-to-be like begin to form, and we have the energy and strength to make it so. I believe it is in this critical moment of young adulthood when we begin to hear and even search for that call, which will give our life greater meaning and purpose.
To be continued…..
What does it mean to be gifted and called?