The rainbow parachute stretches perfectly round on the floor tiles of a multipurpose room in an Iowa church in February.
It’s chilly and dark outside, just look out the windows that line the room. It’s warm and joyful inside, just look at the middle school kids sitting around the parachute, criss-cross applesauce, as if they are the world, collectively fluttering the parachute up and down, giggling.
One child, “the shark,” is actually under the parachute as it flutters. The shark moves down under stealthily and grabs the feet of one of the children to pull them beneath the colorful sail.
Another child, dubbed “the lifeguard,” runs to save the captured one with a human tug-of-war, hand pulled one way, leg pulled another way. If a shoulder isn’t displaced (what a watching mother worries about), the captured one either joins the shark or stays with the ones fluttering the tent, depending on the outcome of the human tug-of-war.
Got it? It doesn’t matter if you don’t. And the game itself doesn’t matter.
It’s just a game. What does matter is the kids are safe. They are touching each other in a way that is safe. The kids who don’t want to play don’t have to. Indeed, there is a girl quietly sitting on the side. No problem.
Our youth director is savvy enough to know that with teens, who are drenched in the most vulnerable time of their lives, physical safety goes right along with spiritual safety.
Our youth director and her team build the confirmation hour with mentoring, crafts and large-motor activity. Something for everyone. God’s love for all.
Next door, an older group of young people study the Apostles’ Creed, learning that God created the heavens and the earth, learning that “God protects me against all danger, shields and defends me from all evil,” as explained by denominational patron sinner and saint, Martin Luther.
They read the results of a study on sexual harassment among teenagers as presented by the American Association of University Women. The report says that about half of all teenagers are sexually harassed by their peers at school on a daily basis. Physically groped. Called names. Texted humiliating humor.
In this little confirmation class, 100 percent of the students say they experience what the report says. It’s enough to make you stop cold. It’s enough to make you want to open the windows and shout into the dark: You are created in the image of God! All of you! ALL!
But shouting into the dark is pretty futile. Shouting in a packed Superdome in Louisiana is much more satisfying.
The ELCA Youth Gathering is this summer. For five days in July, the youth in my congregation will join about 33,000 other young people and their adult leaders in New Orleans to, in effect, shout out loud that Jesus loves everyone. Period.
Jesus loves the screaming teens inside the Superdome of music and speakers and pageantry and magic.
Jesus loves the city’s citizens outside of the Superdome, still, even now, recovering from the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. Jesus loves those who stay home, those who identify left, right, black, white, gray, gay, straight, late, believer or non. Jesus loves us all, whoever we are, whatever others call us, however we name ourselves.
We humbly teach our kids to do the same.
The rainbow parachute is folded and stuffed into its pouch. Red, yellow, blue and green coexisting in small quarters. Sweaty boys and smiley girls stack chairs and gather up backpacks. Youth director gathers her materials. Mentors high-five the kids and bid farewell.
Another session of confirmation is over. The children are so incredibly beautiful, a watching mother thinks to herself. Every one of them. The ones in this room and the ones outside.
You want to open up those windows and shout it out: Don’t let anyone tell you Jesus doesn’t love you just the way you are.