Thursday, September 20, 2007

Teen Retreat

I've been wanting to write about my experiences of the past weekend but several things-work, time, but especially the desire to accurately represent the retreat without hyperbole have inhibited me.

I am not exaggerating when I say that the SAYF retreat was one of the most moving experiences of my life. I am awed by the respect, love and true acceptance the people at SAYF show for one another. There were around 35 teens and 7 or 8 FAPs (Friendly Adult Presence) including myself and two young adult FAPs-in-training. Several of the teens have been in SAYF for years, many for a year or two and there were a couple of newcomers. Over the course of the weekend I never sensed cliquishness or exclusion of anyone. The teens seemed to go out of their way to create opportunities for everyone to feel welcomed and included.

The teens planned, organized and led all the activities. The one that had the greatest impact on me was one in which the main room was divided into thirds: The middle was "I don't know or I'm not sure", the right side was "No" and the left, "Yes". The leader (a young man named Austin) stood on a chair and asked questions. They began with generic things like, "Have you ever been skiing?" and became more personal as the "game" proceeded. Austin would ask different people if they wanted to share why they feel about the question like they do, or people would hold up their hands to answer. "Is killing someone ever justified"? "Do you believe in God"? "Do you call yourself a Christian"? All were questions asked. What almost amazed me was the honesty, thoughtfulness and lack of judgment in the answers. There were even a couple of people who seemed to disagree about their beliefs but they were very open and respectful of one another.

I guess because all I have to compare this with are the youth group meetings of my own Baptist youth is why I'm so touched by the support and honesty. Self-censoring of honest answers were par for the course for me; we had to keep with the "party line" or we were "sinners". Once, in a discussion about abortion, I made the mistake of saying that if I got pregnant out of "wedlock" I would consider having an abortion. I answered honestly and tried to explain that the reason I felt that way was because of the way girls who got pregnant were judged so harshly and treated badly and I wouldn't want to subject myself to that but my peers and leader didn't want to hear my reasons.

Anyway, the physical affection the kids give to one another is really beautiful. "Puppy piles" of cuddly bodies are everywhere. Boys (almost men) hug boys and girls and gender or sexual orientation seem to be almost irrelevant. There were two couples paired up. One of the couples stayed physically close to one another but respected the boundaries and "rules" of proper conduct. The other couple pushed the boundaries but were gently "nurtured" (the teen version of eldering). It seems that teen sexuality is such a normal and accepted thing that it's completely acknowledged, honored and somewhat harnessed into group compassion. It seemed a very healthy environment, to me.

I kept thinking that it would be wonderful if we adults would be a little less inhibited with one another when we have our meetings. The teens really know how to show love to one another. I think we adults have lost that.

Oh, and the other thing that moved me was the lack of "Posturing". I didn't observe any "alpha male" chest pounding or "catty-girl" manipulations the whole weekend. The guys all supported one another and built each other up. The girls didn't seem competitive with one another. Maybe because of the lack of negative sexual dynamic, the kids all seem to respect one another and themselves.

The theme for the weekend was "Community" and we talked about the best thing about community. Several of the kids said that SAYF is the only time they feel truly accepted and able to be themselves. I'm so glad SAYF is. I feel honored to have been able to be a part of it. I don't know if my son just hated me being there but I'd be really happy to be able to go again. If I can or if I can't, I'm grateful to have had at least one opportunity to spend time in that safe, SAYF environment.

(and now to work. I have 2 interviews scheduled and about 10 phone calls I have to make today...)

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