The 2002 Princeton Lectures on
Youth, Church, and Culture

Compass Points: Navigating Vocation


The fundamental question of adolescence—”Who am I?”—is increasingly answered by our society with “You are what you buy.” As youth navigate the choppy waters of identity formation, they long for true meaning and direction but often settle for defining themselves as consumers. The church offers youth a compass for their journey that is pointed by the cross. Christian vocation gives young people validity, purpose, and direction. As youth take up their crosses and follow Christ, they learn to rely on built-­‐in GPS (global positioning system) to set their course. The good news we can share with young people is that God is calling them to a unique identity and task. They need only listen and respond. The 2002 Princeton Lectures on Youth, Church, and Culture explore how the church can help youth discern their life’s calling and their vocation as teenagers.

Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger sees a paradox in Christian vocation. Vocation is an astonishing gift from God and yet also a human task and responsibility. She raises the question of how we in the church can teach youth to trust fully that God will speak to them, and yet also urge them to map out their life plans as best they can. Hunsinger argues that the teaching of the church about the nature of the God who calls them can provide youth with much-­‐needed guidance in the face of dizzying choices. Young people need to know that the God who created them has given particular gifts unique to each creature; the Christ who redeems them saves them from aimlessness and sin; the Holy Spirit who sustains them creates the community where they may be fully seen as who they are and where they can be called forth. The church community also has an obligation, says Hunsinger, to help youth identify and call forth their gifts.

Joyce Ann Mercer urges the church to take seriously the vocation of young people and of the adults who minister with them. After examining Christian theological understandings of vocation throughout history, Mercer links the vocation of youth to identity, community, and solidarity. She also lifts up youth ministry as a legitimate lifelong vocation rather than a steppingstone to “real” ministry. She claims that youth ministers are people who share with all Christians the one call to ministry, that God’s Spirit gives certain gifts to people with a vocation for youth ministry, and that the vocation of youth ministry draws its meaning, character, and work from the one call to ministry and from God’s calling of youth.

Miroslav Volf addresses a crucial question for Christians in today’s world: If memory is part and parcel of the way we relate to one another in situations of conflict, then how does one who loves remember injuries and injustices? Volf discusses the importance of memory with a particular emphasis on the role it plays in the contemporary world. He points out that while memories give us identity and can promote justice, they can also become roots of bitterness and obstacles to reconciliation. Volf goes on to explore what it takes to remember in redeeming rather than in destructive ways. He considers how the proper remembrance of the exodus from Egypt and the resurrection of Jesus Christ inform the task of redemptive remembering.

Michael Warren challenges us to consider what youth ministry in a church of radical discipleship might look like. How, he asks, can the church help youth move from being conspicuous consumers to having a commitment to the poor and to gospel simplicity? Warren contrasts the gestures of consumerism with the gestures of the gospel, and he lifts up examples of ministries that are teaching young people not simply what they ought to believe but what concrete skills are needed for living out the gospel. Warren also discusses the power of social influences on youth and on their ability to be influences in their own right. When the church is a community living out gospel alternatives to consumer culture, he argues, it offers youth a powerful vision of life’s purposes and possibilities.

May these lectures remind you of your own true vocation and equip you to accompany young people as they listen for God’s call.

Faithfully Yours,
Amy Scott Vaughn
Director of Leadership Development
Institute for Youth Ministry

2002 Lectures

Deborah Hunsinger
  • Vocation: An Inexpressible Gift
  • Vocation: A Joyous Task
Joyce Ann Mercer
  • Call Forwarding: Putting Vocation in the Present Tense with Youth
  • Are We Going on a Vocation Now? Ministry with Youth as a Lifelong Vocation
Miroslav Volf
  • Love’s Memory: The Role of Memory in Contempory Culture
  • Love’s Memory: Redemptive Remembering
Michael Warren
  • Youth Ministry in an Inconvenient Church
  • Cultural Resistance in Youth: Problems and Possibilities
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Vocation: A Joyous Task

Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger is associate professor of pastoral theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, she served as a pastoral counselor for fifteen years before she began teaching. She is the author of Theology and Pastoral Counseling: A New Interdisciplinary Approach.

The choices before young people today are staggering in their complexity, yet what are the criteria that can help them actually make the right choices? Where is their plumb line? How do they find an orienting center to their lives? What or who calls to them? What actually has the power to call them forth to become the persons they were created to be? To be without the gospel and its orienting center in Jesus Christ is a bit like being a ship on a vast sea with neither compass nor rudder.

Our culture seems to say that their choices are limitless; that anything is possible. If you have brains and a computer, the sky is the limit. The Internet, after all, offers more information than any of us could pack into our brains in a lifetime. And yet there is no sorting principle. And there is seldom anyone standing by offering guidance, making considered judgments about the relative worth of one Web site over another. So young people in our culture have access to all this information, yet it gives no life and imparts no purpose. Without a purpose, without an organizing center to their lives, information is just so much meaningless stuff. It is a bit like learning those "dead facts" you had to memorize in the fifth grade: China's major rivers are the Yangtze and the Hwang Ho, and their major natural resources are . . . and the list to be memorized goes all the way from aluminum to zinc. Why are fifth graders taught these facts? To what end? What does it matter? (Of course, if you have been to China and have understood the crucial role of these rivers and natural resources to the livelihood of the people, then such knowledge comes alive with significance. It matters a great deal, but they don't tell you that in the fifth grade. They just make you memorize these facts and claim that you are getting an education).

Mere information will never sustain a hungry soul. Words that are life giving have to reach across from one person whose heart is connected to another person, whose heart is openly seeking to know the other. Karl Barth, in his completely inimitable way, has helped me to understand something of the nature of knowledge that is really alive. He writes:

In the language of the Bible knowledge does not mean the acquisition of neutral information, which can be expressed in page 16 statements, principles, and systems. . . . It is the process or history in which human beings . . . certainly observing and thinking, using their senses, intelligence and imagination, but also their will, action and "heart," and therefore as whole persons, become aware of another history . . . in such a compelling way that they cannot be neutral. . . but find themselves summoned to disclose and give themselves . . . in return. 1

True knowledge is not just the dissemination of ideas nor the gathering of facts, but is the encounter with another; and here, of course, Barth is speaking of the encounter of human beings with the mystery of God. When we seek knowledge, and particularly when what we seek is a living knowledge of God's will for our lives, we open ourselves to a relationship that will change us. For spiritual communion is always at the heart of this kind of knowing. Someone once said that "All the food of this world is divine love made edible." 2 The same could be said of knowledge; real knowledge—of God, of the wonder of the world in which we live, and of our true calling— is a soul food feast.

Think about it. When a relationship with God is at the center of your identity, you can begin to make sense of yourself and the world in which you live. You can know many disparate things, but unless there is a center point, a point of reference that transcends all this knowing, in the end you will know only disconnected and meaningless facts, a matter of mere information rather than life-giving knowledge. Listen to this contemporary parable about knowledge and knowing.

A scholar consulted a sage as to how separate parts create a whole and what differentiates knowledge of the many from knowledge of the whole.
The sage answered: What is widely dispersed becomes an entity only when it finds its center. For what is myriad achieves substance and significance only at the center, and then its abundance looks like simplicity—almost like nothing; a fruitful void, calm force gravitating towards that which gives it meaning.
To experience the whole or share in it, we do not need to know every detail; neither do we need to speak of everything nor have or do all.
To enter into the heart of the city, we only have to walk through one gate. Many tones reverberate in the striking of a single bell.
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And when we pick a ripe apple, we need not know how it came to be as it is. We take it in our hands and eat it.
The scholar, however, argued with the sage: to grasp the truth, one must first know all the facts.
But the sage contradicted him: only when the truth is grown old do we know all the facts. Truth which makes us move on is risky and untried.
This truth conceals its promise as the seed conceals the tree within. Therefore, if we hesitate to act because we want to know more than we need for our next step, we miss the chance to grow. We accept small change in place of riches and out of living trees make firewood.
The scholar immediately remarked that this was surely only part of the answer, and begged the wise man for some more. The wise man waved aside this question, knowing that fullness resembles a barrel of fresh cider—sweet and cloudy. It needs fermentation and sufficient time until it clears. If instead of savoring it, we try to gulp it down, we become befuddled and unsteady. 3

"What is widely dispersed becomes an entity only when it finds a center." When our fundamental identity is grounded in the knowledge of ourselves as children of God, we are enabled to move forward out of that center. But the truth that makes us move forward in our life is always risky and untried. This is true no matter what age we are, for discerning our vocation entails an ongoing listening and living response throughout our lives. It is not as if we get a blueprint at the age of twenty-two and then follow it for the next fifty years. There is tremendous risk every day in living: the risk that we will miss an opportunity because we were preoccupied with something of lesser importance; the risk that we will attempt too much and disperse our energies fruitlessly, or that we will attempt too little because we were caught in a tangled web of fear. Discerning just where to put our efforts and energies requires a daily attunement to where God is calling us. It is a process in which we repeatedly engage, day after day, as we seek to hear God's call each new day.

"If we hesitate to act because we want to know more than we need for our next step, we miss the chance to grow." Sometimes all that we are shown page 18 is a single step forward. Enough light is shed to see whether the path veers to the right or the left, whether it is level or drops precipitously into a chasm below. We can never, especially not in today's world, know all the facts. So we have to have a different way of orienting ourselves. How does a young person discern whether or not to marry a particular person? Whether or not to enter a particular field of study? Whether to pursue certain interests at the expense of others? What is the next step at any point in life and how are we equipped to help young people discern it in faith? None of these questions can be answered by the individual alone, nor are they meant to be. The gift of the community that we are given through the work of the Holy Spirit is the concrete context in which such discernment needs to take place.

The vocation of the community

Young people who have been shaped by the gospel already have an orientation in a certain direction. Certain choices as to where to invest themselves will rise to the surface more easily than others. Churches that live out a commitment to world mission, or to feeding and clothing the poor, or to providing decent housing to members in the community, or to grappling with the devastating impact of capitalism and its so-called "free trade" on the poor of the world, or to all of these—churches, in other words, that are living out their collective vocation as disciples of Jesus Christ—will be shaping youth for years before the question ever occurs to them about where they are called to invest themselves in the world. The assumptive world that they take entirely for granted will be a world in which the hungry are fed, the homeless are given a home, and the yoke of oppression is challenged. This is no small matter, as will come home to you if you have ever had a beloved family member who has grown up without the church, without its soul-shaping gospel, without its uplifting hymns and life-giving liturgy, without its mission in the world.

When my husband and I lived in Bangor, Maine, we were involved in an organization called PICA (Peace in Central America). It was founded in 1984 during the time of the terrible civil wars in the region. In March 1985, I remember struggling to push our daughter Rachel's stroller through the snow in the march against our government's unconscionable support of the murderous contra regime in Nicaragua. It was somewhat whimsically called the Contra Contra March March, an event that preceded the Contra Contra Contradance. 4 So it came as no surprise when at the age of seven, upon hearing President George Bush claim that God was on our side in the Gulf War, an incensed Rachel wrote a letter to the President of the United States. She wrote:

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Dear President Bush,
I am a seven-year-old girl. Saddam Hussein thinks that God is on his side. You think that God is on our side. I think that God is against war. Love, Rachel 5

I told her later that I would save it in a file folder for her in case our country ever tries to draft women. It would be good corroborating evidence that she had been a pacifist all her life.

So young people are profoundly shaped by their community in ways that we cannot anticipate. Even as her parents, we were surprised by the depth of passion with which she held her conviction. But it undoubtedly required a whole community to shape Rachel in these ways. It was surely the combination of what she had heard at home, what she had learned at church, and what she had learned at PICA, that shaped her heart, already in pretty decisive ways by the time she was seven. When the children in our schools in Bangor had swapped drawings with the children in Carasque, El Salvador, Rachel drew a colorful bluebird bringing a big fat worm to her baby birdies in the nest. The children in Carasque drew pictures of airplanes dropping bombs and fire burning their homes. We must never consider the question of a young person's vocation in a way that is separated from the vocation of the whole church. If the church is truthfully seeking to live out its mission, young people will be affected by it in ways that cannot be predicted.

Discernment: a community calling

If churches have mission statements, are the youth of the church meaningfully related to them? Are they instructed and encouraged to seek the mission of their own life in the context of the church's vocation? For it is not simply a matter of discovering what you are good at and love to do, it is also a matter of deciding where you will invest those energies. If you are gifted in working with numbers, you can become an accountant for a company that sets up sweatshops around the world in order to maximize a profit for the wealthy at the expense of the workers, or you can become an accountant in an organization that reflects your most basic values and convictions. Helping young people discern their natural gifts is no small matter, but our responsibility as the body of Christ does not end there. We also need to help them discern just where they will invest their precious life energies.

As young people seek to discern what their gifts are, they are greatly blessed when they have a community around them to identify and call forth those gifts. I will never forget taking the Strong Vocational Interest Blank as a freshman in college. It was part of a regular program of vocational assessment page 20 given to all freshmen at the university where I studied and was designed to give us important clues about what kind of career path we should follow. The results that came back were disheartening, to say the least. Ranking far above any other career path were these three: artist, musician, and writer. "Great!" I thought. "I can't draw; I can't play a musical instrument, and I have no talent for writing." I was perfectly equipped for absolutely no career at all.

What a contrast that experience was to the regular communal practices of our church's high school youth group, where the young people regularly mirror back the gifts they see in each other. Near the end of countless mission trips they exchange notes, in which they state what they have noticed and appreciated about each other's gifts. Over the years, I have watched these young people go from strength to strength as they go out into the world. It was such a joy one Sunday to hear about Molly Christiansen's project to equip the village of Santa Maria Veleto in Oaxaca, Mexico, with eco-toilets. She had gone to this village as a health worker and seen how illness was spreading among the children because they had no proper sanitation. Trusting that her church back home would care about the plight of these people she had come to know and love, she came back to us and presented a powerful "Minute for Mission." I think she must have equipped the whole village in about a month. The exciting work of the Search Institute in Minneapolis can go a long way, I think, in helping churches to build on the strengths of our culture rather than always looking at its weaknesses. The forty developmental assets that enable young people to acquire sturdy identities should really be the birthright of every child, and churches can do a lot consciously to build communities that will nurture their young. I was thrilled to learn of the good work of this institute and consider some of the far-reaching implications of it for building healthy communities and a new generation that is equal to the challenges of our times. 6

It matters a great deal, therefore, to be part of a church that is a reliable community where young people know they can call upon their elders and their elders will come through for them. In his volume on theological anthropology, Karl Barth identifies what he calls the basic form of humanity. Human beings made in the image of God are created to be in relationship with God and one another. The wonderful German word, mitmenschlichkeit, translated into English as "co-humanity," seeks to convey the kind of active and heartfelt mutual engagement that God intends for his creatures. Only God can be for us; that is, only God can give us life, save us, forgive us, and create us anew. But we can be with one another in mutual openness and page 21 self-giving. Barth identifies four criteria or marks of true humanity.

The first mark of true humanity is the act of seeing and being seen. Only Barth is even more concrete. He says, "it is a being in which one [person] looks the other in the eye." 7 The eye as the window to the soul lets the other in . . . or else doesn't. To see the other entails allowing the other to see oneself at the same time. It is only when the seeing and the allowing oneself to be seen is mutual and reciprocal that we have a fully human relationship. Thus, isolation or hiding is a form of sin, a form of relationship not intended by God. "All seeing is inhuman in which the one who sees hides himself, refusing to be seen by the fellow human being whom he sees." 8

The second mark of true humanity consists in mutual speaking and hearing. If we do not actively reveal ourselves to others, how can they know us as we truly are? If we are only seen, we are subject to being misperceived; we need to interpret who we are to those who want to know us by openly sharing ourselves. Just as God makes himself known to us in his self-revelation in Jesus Christ, so we also are to make ourselves known to one another. "The human significance of speech . . . depends absolutely upon the fact that a [human being] and his fellow speak to one another and listen to one another; that the expression and address between I and thou are reciprocal. As we can look past people, we can also hear past them. . . . Most of our words, spoken or heard, are an inhuman and barbaric affair because we will not speak or listen to one another." 9

The third mark of true humanity is offering one another mutual assistance. At the core of our humanity is the fundamental fact of our mutual need for one another. "My humanity depends on the fact that I am always aware, and my action is determined by my awareness, that I need the assistance of others as a fish needs water." 10 We can neither be left alone, nor can we leave our fellow human being without our active help and support, as each of us needs the other in order to be fully human.

Finally, true human beings engage in these three mutual and reciprocal activities—seeing and being seen, speaking and hearing, and offering mutual assistance—with gladness. The giving and the receiving that are at the core of our humanity are our common joy and therefore constitute the freedom of the encounter we have with one another. This is the secret of the whole, that "each can affirm the other as the being with which he wants to be and cannot be without. But this leads to mutual joy, each in the existence of the other and both in the fact that they can exist together. . . . Human nature" says Barth, "is man himself. But man is what he is freely and from the heart." 11 We are fully human only in this free gladness to be with one another.

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To do justice to Barth's rich and nuanced discussion would require an entire lecture—what I have tried to summarize in two pages takes Barth twenty-five to develop—but I wanted to set forth these marks of humanity, because it is my conviction that it is only when young people are seen as they really are that their gifts can show forth and flourish. So much of contemporary life among the youth (and not only among the youth) seems to consist in covering up and hiding their true selves and letting others see only an idealized version of who they really are—avoiding being geeky at all costs. Therefore, creating an ethos where no one will be ridiculed for his or her insecurities or idiosyncrasies, where each may openly share who he or she really is, where trust and safety are sacrosanct, this may be the most important gift any youth minister can offer.

In such an atmosphere, young people can let themselves be seen. When they are seen for who they are and welcomed with gladness, it is easy to see their gifts and help them to see these gifts as well. All you have to do is ask them, "What could you talk about all night long?" Or so says a dear friend of mine who is twenty-something years younger than I am. (I knew what he meant, of course, but there is no longer anything that I could talk about all night long). Finding what you are passionate about, what makes you glad to be alive, what makes you want to sing for joy or jump out of your skin with excitement—this is undoubtedly where your vocation lies. I remember reading about the great nineteenth-century actress of the stage, Sarah Bernhardt, a few years ago. She said that she needed a life task, "big enough and toilsome enough to absorb all [her] energy." (It is interesting to note that Sarah's original ambition was to become a nun, but she was dissuaded by her family's strenuous intervention.) 12

But some young people come to this stage of life so wounded that healing needs to take place before they dare to let anyone see them as they really are. As a church, and certainly as leaders among youth, we are also called to become communities of forgiveness and healing. A seminary student once told me that the musicians in his field education church were instructed never to play anything in a minor key, because it was thought to be too negative. Sometimes I worry that as the church becomes more and more adapted to the culture, we are less able to speak frankly with young people about the reality of the world we live in. It may be easier to pitch our programs as "fun" activities, to offer lock-ins and cook-outs and zany games, and to avoid the life-and-death seriousness of our world situation. But the world in which today's youth are growing up is a frightening one; and if we avoid the minor key, we avoid too much of reality to enable anyone to trust us with their story.

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You know the stories I mean, those who have grown up in homes whose parents speak and act violently toward each other and toward their children. Statistics here—about the twenty-five percent of American children between the ages of ten and sixteen who report being assaulted or abused within the previous year—are no mere information, no "dead facts," but rather the lived stories of young people who you have come to know and love. All of the risk factors that have been studied over the years—and also presented here at the Princeton Forum on Youth Ministry—are known to those of you who work in the front lines: youth who are depressed, who attempt suicide, who engage in high-risk sexual activity, who binge and purge, who drink alcohol frequently and to excess. 13

Young people need adults who will dare to reach down to a level of conviction about what they believe about God and the world we live in, what they believe about the burden of human sin, and how it is possible to keep hope alive in such a world as ours. I think often of Archbishop Anthony Bloom, whose searing words challenge me to dig deeper toward my real convictions. Bloom, a Russian émigré and priest in the Orthodox Church, who lived through the horror of two world wars, wrote:

Whenever I speak I speak with all the conviction and belief which is in me. I stake my life on what I am saying. It's not the words themselves that are important but reaching down to the level of people's convictions. This is the basis of communication; this is where we really meet one another. If people want to ridicule me, that's fine; but if it produces a spark in them and we can talk, then it means we are really talking about something which concerns us deeply. 14

How can young people entrust their hopes and fears to us if we skim along the surface of life, never letting them see how desperately we, and they, and indeed all persons need the gospel to live at all?

For even the most carefree young person, even one who has enjoyed every privilege of a comfortable home, happily married parents, acceptance among peers, economic security, a thriving church youth group, meaningful mission trips, and community service, even this young person with few emotional scars still lives in a post-September 11 world. None of us can be really alive and open to the world we live in and make it into adulthood unscathed. Wendell Berry, contemporary poet, essayist, and novelist, wrote a poem titled "Now You Know the Worst," which he dedicated "to [his] granddaughters who visited the Holocaust Museum on the day of the burial page 23 of Yitzhak Rabin." 15 This poem was given to me last fall, about six weeks after the unbearable events of September 11. As I read the opening lines, I remembered the anguish I felt when I first had to tell our daughter, Rachel, what happened to her beloved Jesus. "Now you know the worst we humans have to know about ourselves and I am sorry." 16 She was not quite four. Christmas had come and gone, along with the many impromptu plays where Daddy was instructed to play the part of "Jophus" (sic), I was to be Mary, and she was to be the baby Jesus. Now with Holy Week approaching, I found myself stricken dumb: How could I tell her that Jesus, her precious Jesus whom she already loved with such a pure heart, was betrayed by one of his closest friends, deserted by the rest, handed over to the authorities, and killed, by hammering nails into his hands and feet and left to die on a cross? I couldn't bear to see the hurt in her eyes, or hear her uncomprehending, "Why?" Now she would know the worst we humans have to know about ourselves, and I was sorry. I wanted to protect her from this story of brutality and inhumanity. But there it was, right in the middle of the story of our faith, the cross of Jesus Christ, not to be evaded.

I remember in the early days after September 11, as I walked in a daze through the rooms of my house, I was unable to concentrate on any task whatsoever. Images of fire and collapsing towers, of human beings diving headlong to the earth to escape a living inferno of hell kept going incessantly through my mind. Fear gripped my heart at night whenever I heard planes going overhead. Over and over and over again, I would imagine myself being on one of those airplanes that had crashed into the towers. The scene seemed to be etched permanently in my mind's eye, not unlike that other scene on November 22, 1963. Unspeakable horror. We live in a world of unspeakable horror that goes on day after day. This is the world that needs us to come alive; this is the hurting world that needs our gifts. Yet we are hurting too.

I have a number of colleagues who have been trained in Critical Incident Stress Debriefing, a method of working with communities that have undergone major trauma. In listening to their stories after the events of September 11, a certain note was sounded again and again. Never had they felt so challenged to the core. Never before in going into such communities—perhaps where there had been a devastating fire, murder, or suicide that had affected the whole community—had they themselves been so directly impacted. Always before they had been able to be a kind of stable center, around whom the community could give voice to their grief and anger, the anguish and sorrow of the trauma they had undergone. Yet now they, themselves, were reeling with grief. How were they to provide a stable anchor for the page 25 community when they, themselves, were so stricken?

This is where our knowledge of God as people of faith comes alive. What actually spoke to you, fed your soul, and gave you hope, in those days and weeks after September 11? It may sound strange, but what gave me strength in those early weeks were four words from the Apostles' Creed. Neither sermon, nor anthem, nor the great hymns of the church could reach the numbness of my heart. But then we rose to affirm our faith in words that we could all recite by rote, even in our sleep. I said the words along with the rest until I got to those four words: "He descended into hell." After that I could no longer speak because of the huge lump in my throat that could dissolve only if I consented to let the tears flow. God spoke to me through the words of the ancient creed that Sunday in September. Jesus Christ has descended into hell; he descended all the way to the bottom of that pit of godforsakenness. Jesus Christ was with those terrified passengers on the hijacked planes on September 11; Jesus Christ worked alongside those rescue workers in the midst of smoke and the smell of burning flesh; Jesus Christ loved each human being who met their end that day in such terror and despair. The unfathomable compassion of our God to be with us in suffering and death knows no limit. For he himself descended into hell.

We by ourselves cannot bring redemption to this hurting world. We, ourselves, are only weak, mortal beings, shattered by the events of our time. But the gospel, which is our lifeline, proclaims that Jesus Christ lives at the right hand of God the Father. The gospel tells us that Jesus died for us and was raised for us, that he reigns in power for us and prays for us. If this One, this One sent by God, emerged victorious over all that threatens us, not only death itself but also our own sinful hearts—our propensities toward hatred and resentment, our indifference to the suffering of those who are unlike us, our completely self-centered, rather than God-centered lives—if this One is both for us and with us, then we can emerge on the other side of such a trauma with hope.

When Nicholas Wolterstorff lost his beloved twenty-five-year-old son, Eric, in a mountaineering accident, he was plunged into a long night of grief. Questions about the goodness of God, the mystery of evil, the incomprehensibility of suffering burned within him, and he poured his anguished questions into his journal. Like his forebear in faith, Jacob, son of Isaac, Israel, father of the nations, Wolterstorff wrestled with God. When the new day finally dawned for him, he was led to see that "to believe in Christ's rising from the grave is to accept it as a sign of our own rising from our graves." 17 In his book, Lament for a Son, he writes:

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Slowly I begin to see that there is something more as well. To believe in Christ's rising and death's dying is also to live with the power and the challenge to rise up now from all our dark graves of suffering love. If sympathy for the world's wounds is not enlarged by our anguish, if love for those around us is not expanded, if gratitude for what is good does not flame up, if insight is not deepened, if commitment to what is important is not strengthened, if aching for a new day is not intensified, if hope is weakened and faith diminished, if from the experience of death comes nothing good, then death has won. Then death, be proud.
So I shall struggle to live the reality of Christ's rising and death's dying. 18

As we dare to love this world with an open heart, we will, like the saints who have gone before us, suffer for its sake. "For to love our suffering, sinful world is to suffer." 19 But our suffering is transformed by Christ's love as we share it in the community that he has called to himself. It is finally this suffering love that is at the heart of our vocation to ministry. "For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too" (2 Corinthians 1:5). For the mystery at the very heart of our vocation is this mystery of participation. The New Testament calls it koinonia. By God's grace, we are permitted to share in Christ's own suffering and compassion for the world. As we take upon ourselves the courage to love this broken world, we are given a strange kind of comfort; not at all like the comfort that the world gives. It is not a comfort that magically makes it all better by ignoring the pain of the world around us or by trivializing the reality of evil. Rather, the comfort that comes in the form of a renewed passion for peace, in the form of solidarity with the meek of the earth, in the form of a "controlled fury of desire" 20 for God to fulfill his promise of redemption. It is the strange comfort that the Holy Spirit gives, groaning within us every time we cry out to God to deliver us from evil.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, you have been called to an awesome vocation. May God grant you the abundant joy of the saints of God as you live it out among the youth of today.

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1. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/3, first half (Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 1961), pp. 183-184.
2. An unnamed orthodox theologian quoted in Anthony Bloom, School for Prayer (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1970), p. 41, quoted by C. Clifton Black in his inaugural lecture at Princeton Theological Seminary, March 27, 2002. Professor Black also makes the connection between food for the body and knowledge that is food for mind and soul.
3. Bert Hellinger, Insights (Heidelberg: Carl-Auer-Systeme Verlag, 2002), pp. 61-63.
4. PICA has kept its acronym but has since renamed itself, "Peace through Interamerican Community Action." It involves young people in its many vital programs: the sister city project with Carasque, El Salvador; Youth Adelantando; the Clean Clothes Project. Through PICA's efforts, Bangor, Maine, is "the first U.S. community-based campaign against sweatshops in the global clothing industry. It is part of a global campaign to ensure that clothing on local shelves is made according to international standards of ethical production. Bangor is the first U.S. community to go on record in support of a simple principle: All clothes available on local store shelves should be made according to established international standards of ethical production." See their Web site:
5. Published in the Letters to the Editor, Bangor Daily News (Jan. 21, 1991).
6. "The Asset Approach: 40 Elements of Healthy Development," Copyright 2002 by Search Institute. See their Web site at or call the development office at 612-692-5545.
7. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, III/2 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1960), p. 250.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid., pp. 259-260.
10. Ibid., p. 263.
11. Ibid., p. 272, 274.
12. Actors on Acting, ed. Toby Cole, Helen Krich Chinoy, and Patrick Sheehan (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1970), p. 240.
13. Sharon L. Roan, Our Daughter's Health (New York: Hyperion Press, 2001), p. 4.
14. Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray (London: Darton, Longmann & Todd, 1970), p. 14.
15. Wendell Berry, "Now you know the worst," A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997 (Washington D. C.: Counterpoint, 1998), p. 192.
16. Ibid.
17. Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), p. 92.
18. Ibid., pp. 92-93.
19. Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son, p. 90.
20. Katherine Paterson, quoting Frances Clarke Sayers, who uses this phrase to describe art. "Art is a controlled fury of desire to share one's private revelation of life." Quoted in Katherine Paterson, A Sense of Wonder: On Reading and Writing Books for Children (New York: Penguin, 1995), p. 134. No citation given.