In order to kick off the conversation yesterday morning, I told the story of David and Goliath from 1 Samuel 17. As you might have predicted, there was already a sense in the room of the story. "Does it have to do with the importance of wearing a helmet?" one youth asked.
"The question of a helmet is an important part!" I replied.
"Isn't it about a giant, and a small boy who defeats him, even though others had tried and failed?"
"Yes, that's getting there. But let's go back. There were these people, the Israelites, and they were scared that these other people were going to take their land. The Phillistines. And this threat was right in their faces, because one of their warriors, Goliath, had come into their land and was challenging them to defeat him. But Goliath wasn't a giant - he was just a big guy, and tough, and seemed like a giant because no one had yet been able to make him leave. Haven't you ever heard someone described as 'like 9 feet tall?' That's how everyone was describing Goliath. He felt huge. And, everyone said he wore the most amazing armor - he was basically invincible. Or at least, that's what everyone was saying.
"The situation was looking pretty grim when a young shepherd, David, said he wants to give it a go. He's not exactly small, but he is young, probably a teenager. Everyone is very skeptical, and worried for him. Why in the world would he think he could defeat Goliath when 'real' warriors hadn't been able to? The King decides that at the very least, he better get suited up. He brings him his own armor. Puts the helmet on (there's the helmet), and the chest plate and all of it. And David stands up and tries to walk and stumbles and struggles and says - No way. This is not going to work. I can't wear these, I'm not used to them and they're too big for me. What he needs instead, he decides, is a slingshot, and 5 smooth stones. He goes and collects his stones, puts them in his little case on his hip, and then goes out to face Goliath.
"Goliath sees him and basically laughs in his face. Do you think I'm a dog that you can shoot me down with a slingshot, he says? David is unfazed. You may have a lot of fancy armor, and you may have experience and size and all that, but I have justice on my side. I have right. And I have faith that you will be defeated.
"And then David took one of those stones, and shot Goliath on the forehead. He fell over, and then David killed him with his own sword. The Philistines saw all this, and headed out, and were no longer a threat to the Israelites."
There were a few things from the story I wanted to highlight for our group.
First, Goliath. Goliath was a threat to their safety, to their good life. What are the things that feel like a threat to your good life? What are those things that feel so scary that no one will be able to take them down? And where do you see this threat represented in popular culture - in film, music, television, or other media?
And then, that helmet- and all that armor. How often we are given someone else's armor, someone else's tools - only to realize we need our own.
And finally, the stones. David goes and collects the stones that give him the confidence that he will succeed. But he barely even needs to use them. It's more that he has them, and that he acts out of faith rather than fear that assures his success. What are those stones for you? What gives you the confidence that you can defeat any threat that may come your way? And what is a piece of music, or film, or television show that represents this value or tool or message for you?
After laying this out, they spent some time journaling about their answers, and then broke out into small groups. The conversations in these groups were intense. I had wondered what would be easier to name - the Goliaths or the stones. The Goliaths, it quickly became clear, were very available. Some of these were particular to their age and stage in life - others were incredibly universal....
Arrogance, people who are negative and who you can't get away from, superficiality, social norms and expectations, the unpredictability of life (plot twists!), school and the expectations of school, all the negativity in news reports, change, and the looming fear of being thrust into independence - "thrown out of the nest," and not being ready.
The most tangible media product to represent all these Goliaths? Jersey Shore.
Isn't that awesome? Again, I have to say that although there were some things that were particular to where they are in life, when they said Jersey Shore, I went -YES! That IS a representation of a Goliath today!!
As to those stones, this became harder. They had a sense of turning to music, and television and movies, as well as to physical exercise - but were less clear about what the core values or messages of those tools offered them. (Interestingly they also didn't name particular pieces of music or movies - the possibilities were too large! "I turn to whatever I'm in the mood for," many said.)
After some conversation, we deduced that these things offered them a sense of imagination, and the realization that there was more than just their current reality ("Truth continues to be revealed"!).
They also underscored the importance of joy and laughter as a tool, and how important it is to enjoy yourself. (I wondered where this is articulated in our 5 jagged rocks - not explicitly, is it?)
We also talked about the power of physical exercise that allows you to feel your power and potential ("All are worthy of love and belonging").
And most of all, they described just how important community is to them, as embodied by their YRUU community ("We are made whole through relationships of trust and accountability" It's not just any community that becomes a tool - it's one that knows you, that you can trust, that holds you accountable). Suddenly I got this image of the YRUU community taking down the Jersey Shore group. (This isn't a very peaceful image, is it? That's the trouble with starting with a war-based story, I suppose....)
We ended finally by talking about Jagged Rocks - why are they jagged? Why not just stick with the original smooth stones? Well, because we acknowledge now that this is not always going to be a faith that is smooth sailing. Sometimes it's going to be tough, and dangerous, and hard to hold on to. It may disappoint you. And it asks you to risk a lot. And they are jagged in honor of the Rocky Mountains, acknowledging that all these tools must be particular, contextual. Stones of faith are not universal, they must be discovered and re-discovered, claimed and re-claimed - even while they are rooted in our tradition. "We inherit covenant before we create covenant." They must feel like they can sit in our pocket, and give us real assurance that we can defeat the very particular Goliaths of our time. It will be a great adventure to discover in these next few months just what that will mean for this Beloved Community.