Recognizing the Voice

Week of May 7, 2017

There are many voices vying for our attention, yet only One can move mountains. Listen to that One.  There are many voices vying for our attention, yet only One calmed the storms.  Follow that One.  There are many voices vying for our attention, yet only One forgives sins.  Hear that One. We have listened to the polarization of news based on bias.  We have heard political parties who only listen to their own agendas and attack the other.  We are surrounded by the sounds of voices of hatred and violence, voices of protest and retaliation.  With all of this chatter, how can we recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd?  Seminary formation expects the seminarians to make a Holy Hour every day. I think they might be on to something.  Being off the grid for an hour each day, silent in the presence of the Lord allows one to reconnect with voice recognition of the Shepherd.

Our teens are confused in this rapidly evolving tech world.  When something goes viral, many seem to think this makes it true.  Popular might be the new true, but it isn’t.  As adults we come to know this, but the intensity and pressure of instant messaging fills the time of teens.  As technology invents more ways to send messages that cannot be traced and young people have multiple accounts, the ones their parents know about and the others that they don’t, the need to cover up and not be traced should raise a sense of alarm in all of us.  This is real and it is a crisis.  Pain is being inflicted and many times it goes viral.  That voice becomes so loud that the inviting, soft tone of the One who bent down and began to write in the sand, while one by one the elders of the Jews who condemned a woman of adultery fled the scene, can become drowned out.  We have to reclaim the volume control.  We have to make the decision to reset the power control of what is being listened to.  This is not easy and it takes hard and vigilant work.  Far beyond the challenges of the normal workplace is the parenting place. This is exhausting at best and rewarding days can seem far apart.  But what is at stake is the connection of the young to hear the voice of the Shepherd, the ability to hear what is eternal.

My attention was recently drawn to a Netflix series called “13 Reasons Why”.  It is based on a book by the same name.  It is about a teen committing suicide and leaving tapes behind to explain why she took her life.  Recently, the Chicago Tribune had a  Perspective about it and it is described as one of the most popular series on Netflix.  While it is rated for a mature audience, which it should be, many teens have seen it; others know of it and have talked about it.  The power of teen friendship and teen anxiety, teen awkwardness and teen popularity are subjects in the series. It portrays how extreme and complex a teen’s life is from their perspective. I do not recommend this series for our youth.  Parents watching have to be ready for mature story lines, crude language, graphic exposure and some disgusting brutality.  It touches on subjects no one wants to talk about and it brings them out in ways we do not want to see.

The answer of suicide and the sense that justice can come when this self-inflicted wound of suicide gets everyone’s attention, is misleading and sends an inaccurate message to our youth.  Suicide is not a glorified, viable way out. Nor is it a way to get back at others who have hurt you.  There are voices missing in this series; the voice of God is missing and our voice is missing.  The voice that needs to be heard is one of unconditional love and it need to be spoken clearly and loudly.  Skills to cope and to survive through tragedy, bullying, hatred and exploitation needs to be taught to our young people.  The situations of our youth are real. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among American teens between the ages of 15-19.  The importance of following the positive and uplifting voice of our Creator and the choice to give His voice the most power must become our outcry. God’s voice must be heard.  He did not create us as good only to have us end our own life in despair or as a way out. Young people must be encouraged to learn how to cope through the difficulties they face and taught how to listen to the voice of the Shepherd.  We must model for them a sense of resilience that we have developed because of the perspective by which we look at things—through the eyes of faith and with a view towards eternity.  Eternity can’t just be spoken of at church, at funerals or in hospitals when someone is close to dying.  We have to talk about eternity regularly to give even our everyday lives perspective.

The voice of Jesus is stronger than any other because His is eternal.  We have to find ways to connect that sense to our children.  The words of peers are just of this world.  His words are eternal.  When we teach our youth voice recognition of the Shepherd, they will know He will protect them and they will be strengthened in their ability to become resilient through the challenges they face. When I was young, I was not popular and I was awkward.  When others were mocking me I did realize it for what it was.  However, I had a defense mechanism I used to cope. I knew my parents had survived the world and the challenges it presented to them, yet they still believed in God.  Because of their example, I knew I could survive and believe.

Our children need our help. While I am not recommending the series, parents should be aware of it and if they choose to allow their children to watch it, they should do so first. Dialogue with your children about what healthy, good friendships and trust look like is necessary. Yet even beyond this is the importance of dialogue about the voice of the Shepherd and what it sounds like.  We must teach our young people that His voice and His voice alone calls us to things eternal.  This has to be seen as more important than the other voices that clutter our homes and lives.  If they see it in us, they will find it for themselves.  While a program can tell of 13 reasons why, our God tells us of one that is greater than them all.  God so loved the world that He sent his only Son to die for us.  The Son of God died for us.  That is the reason we live.

Reverend John J. Ouper