No Seat At The Table

Standing awkwardly at the back of the room, I listened to the words coming from the four tables in the middle of the space. It was a drab, faded white hall with dull, grey carpet that smelled musty, felt greasy and looked depressed. I was 17, wearing my most optimistic white sweatshirt and clean jeans, and trying my hardest to stay attentive to what was being said.

“Why would any kid want to come to our meetings?” said Paul, a gruff World War II vet who clearly didn’t support the idea.

“I don’t think there’s a place for him here, or any other teen. This is the work of people with experience and knowledge, and when you’re in 12th grade you have none of those,” said Betty, who was one of the grandmas in the room that I liked.

That night, the church council decided there was no role for youth in their work. I’d lobbied the church and minister to allow me onboard for several months before that vote. Hearing their decision, I was crushed.

 

Adam at Pearl Church
This is me sitting courtside at the basketball court in the basement of the church.

 

For three years, I’d been actively involved throughout the life of the church. Joining the choir, coming to classes, continuing my membership in scouts, and helping whenever the minister asked led me to join the church council. My mentors in the church made so many spaces for my voice and involvement that I wanted to take it to the next level. I had helped plan classes, build events and relations between the church and community, and preached at Sunday services at the invite of the minister.

I wasn’t ever given firm reasons for why I wasn’t allowed to join the church council. Instead, I was given platitudes and misdirections like, “You’re too young to understand,” “This is adult work,” and “We don’t have space for kids in our work.”

When I wasn’t allowed to join the church council, I internalized a lot of the messages given to me, whether they were inadvertent or intentional. Those messages included:

  • Youth voice matters in certain situations, but not all the time
  • Youth voice is useful when it fits adult expectations, but not when it goes out of the boundaries
  • Adults don’t want to listen to all youth voice, just the ones they want to hear from.

Rather than try to engage me in any sense, the church council simply denied me altogether. It would be too simple to say that was disheartening to me; instead, it’s more apt to say it was crushing. I didn’t realize it then, but I stacked that experience onto many others that felt disempowering, disconnecting and unaccepting.

Within the next year, I slowly moved away from the home I’d felt at the church. My longtime skepticism about religion took hold of my imagination, granting me some critical thinking but mostly lavishing cynicism in my heart. I no longer saw the people in that place as family, but instead as overseers. Sure, I still had mentors there cared for me, and I was always respectful and cared about them. But never again did I feel the same.

A few years later I left that denomination entirely and never returned. In the 25 years since, that congregation folded and the church changed hands. I moved on too, only occasionally visiting the place that raised me. My work allows me to keep it in mind though, especially as I work with organizations to consider never allowing adult discrimination against youth to happen again.

 

You Might Like…

From My Point of View…

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein

 

Lately, I find myself thinking more about what actually changes in our lives, and why that change happens. At the beginning of my fourth decade, I’ve seen minor and major changes so far throughout my lifetime.

There have been many major life changes, including finishing college; owning a home and selling it; having and raising a child; and walking with family and friends as their lives have changed, too. There have been countless minor changes in my life. Thinking about this world we all share, there’ve been a lot of big changes since 1975, including the toppling of political regimes and the beginnings of new ones; the deaths of world leaders and the emergence of others; new technologies and the evolutions or end of olds ones; and endless small changes.

As I reflect on these, I see others’ stories interwoven with my own. The mentors who guided me as a young man; the women I’ve loved and relationships I’ve grown through; so many times shared with friends, and the growth of my born and adopted family; as well as the people who I’ve barely known or never knew who have touched my life in ways seen and unseen.

Today, I understand that with strengthening and weakening through experience, its been my heart that’s changed the most. I was born and raised as a good kid, albeit one who made mistakes and was far from perfect, but with an open heart, strong imagination and good humor. As an adult, all of that has been messed with, poked and prodded and challenged and hated; however, I am who I am, still.

I understand know that life is oftentimes an appearance. Because appearances depend on my viewpoint, my experience, my lenses and my interpretation, appearances are always subjective. That means all of these things I thought I experienced are simply a matter of appearance: Seeing the horror of a friend dying from disease can be the honor of walking a friend towards their next journey; or the joy of a family member winning the lottery may be the challenge of watching shallowness replace depth of journeying; or the suffering when a love left me is the welcoming of solitude and sanctity; or the sadness of a pet passing away from old age can become the cherishing of time shared and love gained.

 

How to See Your Viewpoint

Here are five simple steps to seeing your own perspective more clearly:

  1. Say “I see things according to my own viewpoint, biases, attitudes, knowledge and experience.
  2. Write down your perspectives on a specific situation. For instance, how do you feel about your house? What do you think about dogs? Who are your favorite friends?
  3. Once you’ve written those perspectives, ask yourself why you think those things. Are you justifying your thoughts? Criticizing your thinking? Do you feel righteous? Ignorant?
  4. Identify whether you are willing to rethink your own attitudes and behaviors. If so, you’ve identified your viewpoint about something. If not, you have also identified your viewpoint about something.
  5. Consider whether you think some people cannot understand your viewpoint? Do you think you should change others’ minds to understand your viewpoint?

Today, I understand that my point of view is always skewed by my perceptions; I am always subjective. Whenever I pass judgment, I’m weighing evidence against my perspective. That doesn’t mean that nothing has value and nobody is ever right; its totally the opposite. Everything has value and there is right and wrong in the world. However, it does mean that appealing to the hearts and minds of people is as important as changing the society, structures, policies and processes that things happen through.

I’m going to keep Einstein’s quote in mind for myself: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

What do YOU think about that?

 

Related Articles

 

External Links

 

You Are Capable of Anything

Today, I heard an awesome new pop song from Ben Folds. He’s easily the modern Brian Wilson. Anyway, his song is called “Capable of Anything” and is performed with a chamber orchestra called yMusic.

Instead of going on about it, I want to just share the music with you. If you want a little inspiration, a little nudge or a littler reminder of just how great you are and all the spectacular things you can do, listen to this. I love this song.