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Safely Home?

We like to think it's a given that those two words fit together in perfect harmony. Safe. Home. Of course, they mean different things in different contexts. For the parent of a teenager out on a first date, there is relief when the door opens, and the light is turned off. In baseball, there is cause for celebration as a runner reaches home plate before the ball hurled from the outfield does. As we witness the steady decline in health and vitality of people we love, we often speak of their desire to be transported into the life beyond this one, thought of as an "eternal home," peacefully. Yet we who populate the planet are reminded again and again that we are always at risk of danger and harm. The world is not a safe place.

The title of a page in a recently published magazine* caught my attention. It reads - in bold type - Our teens are not OK. Growing up has never been easy. Hitting adolescence has always been unsettling. But the realities of our world are amplifying the natural challenges. The CDC's website is chocked full of statistics about the health and wellbeing - or the lack thereof - of our youth. It reports that "one in six children aged 2-8 years has a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder." Move on to high school students and the findings show that nearly 37% of teens report feeling sad or hopeless, up almost 10% since 1999. Now, these statistics are from 2019... pre-COVID. And if anything in recent years has proven that the world is not a safe place it is that virulent virus.

So, where in this violence-riddled, volatile world can we humans who populate it feel safely home? Schools are no longer insulated incubators of healthy citizens-in-the-making who are shaped not only by classroom education but also by playground and lunchroom socialization. The dwellings of adults and children are a far cry from the happiness portrayed in unlocked doors and blessed dinner tables featured in television programs of decades past. And churches, experiencing their own anxiety over diminishment and decline as well as frighteningly rampant leadership scandals, are no longer viewed as havens of safety and trust. Yet, the author of the article asserts that "research suggests that the teen years are marked by an increased capacity and desire for connection with others and with God. The development of healthy adolescent spirituality makes kids happier and can contribute to their lifelong mental health."

For all who are connected to a religious body, this is an urgent summons to action. We often speak of congregations as "church families" yet that connotation may not be pleasant to young victims of domestic violence. The editors of the magazine conclude, "The CDC says teens need a safe, trusted community that cares about them and their well-being - but the church can also be a place that cares about what they care about. Churches can be places where they learn how to come together to work for justice, rather than scrolling through it alone." In the world in which we live, is it possible - no matter what our age - to be safely home?

*Christian Century May 2023

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