Coming of Age

This artwork was created by my nephew, Russell. He’s in the ninth grade.

Russ uses spray paint and various homemade templates, along with newspaper for blotting.

He and his mom belong to a Unitarian Universalist church. Russ recently participated in the church’s Coming of Age program. The UU coming of age programs differ from church to church. I don’t know all the details of the program Russ went through, but I am told that he had been attending classes since October and was paired with an adult mentor.

UU describes the Coming of Age program as “an opportunity for youth to learn who they are and where they are on their spiritual journey, bond with other teens, celebrate their gifts, and become more confident in how to make decisions.”

At the completion of his journey, Russ prepared a “belief statement.”  There are few guidelines, so each person is free to construct his or her statement in their own way. It’s an opportunity for the participants to let people know who they are and what they think. In his statement, Russ said:

“I believe in creation, and individuality. I create art, music, and eventually I plan to create part of a new generation by having kids.

With art, it’s one way for me to express myself. I love to work with my hands and use my imagination to make new things. One of the many different forms of art I enjoy the most is pottery. I really like to use the clay to make different things. I like the fact that it’s 3-D and you have to make every part of it. When you make pots you not only get to create the shape of the pot, but also the design that goes onto the pot. The possibilities are unlimited because you can make almost anything you want however you want, and that’s usually how I like to do things.”

Unitarian Universalism has had a long history in the United States. They have no one single belief and they draw on a wide variety of spiritual sources. Their emphasis is on spiritual growth, which is where the emphasis should be.

Russ also says:

“When it comes to God, I don’t believe in him. I always ask, if he’s so powerful and he can create our world in six days, why is there so much violence and poverty in the world. If he loves us so much why doesn’t he do something to stop our suffering? I think if God existed he would do something about poor people, and all the hate in the world. I also believe in community. Without creation we couldn’t have it. I think if our community was better and we helped others more, poverty, violence, and hate would be reduced.”

I suspect that by creation, he means creativity. But I wouldn’t want to put words in his mouth. That’s why I feel his statement about God should be respected.  I believe that he came to this conclusion on his own. He’s been exposed to the teachings of different religions and has been taught that all contain some truth. His mom and his adult  mentors have encouraged him to think for himself and I have a feeling he would anyway.

If we expect others to respect our opinions, we must in turn respect theirs.  Tolerance is not weakness, it’s strength.

If there is a God, I’m not sure that he or she can be held accountable for violence and poverty. Human beings are the cause for the suffering in the world. From a Buddhist point of view, suffering is just a fact of life. Because everything is interdependent, both suffering and happiness exist. I’m not sure that the existence of suffering is proof there is no God.

Because suffering exists, it is everyone’s responsibility whether it is the suffering of one person or many. We are the only ones who can stop suffering. We can begin that process, as Russ suggests, by helping one another and improving our communities.

It is also through suffering that we can experience spiritual growth. Shantideva once said, “If I have no pain, I’ll never long for freedom.”

This piece was painted in an old drum head:

In his statement, Russ explains that he loves to drum. It’s one way to express himself and helps him to deal with anger.  I also value creativity. It can be more than merely a means of expression, although that is highly important. Creativity can be a healing tool, a way to resolve emotional conflicts. Creativity offers us an opportunity to explore our feelings, our fears, our potential.

Russ is looking forward to the time when he can have children and raise a family. I have the impression that he’s thought a lot about this.

In conclusion, I believe in creation, and individuality.  Creating art, music, life, and not only being yourself and expressing who you are, but being part of a community is an amazing thing because without it, no one would be nearly as happy. I love to make art and music and I plan to have a child when I’m older. I don’t like it when people destroy my creations and try to make them something else. I hope this has taught you a little bit about me, how I think.  Thank you.

Young people are our greatest treasure. They will inherit this world and have to deal with the problems we, the older generation, leave behind and hopefully they will be able to find solutions that eluded us.

Many years ago, I resolved that I would never forget what it is like to be young and that I would never lose touch with young people. I don’t have as many tomorrows as I once did, but when I stand with young people, I feel as though I am standing in an infinity of tomorrows.

Generations should build bridges to each other.

Here’s the last piece of Russell’s artwork I have to share:

I hear music, do you? It’s got a good beat  . .  . listen . . . there’s someone singing . . . “One love . . . one heart . . . let’s get together and feel all right . . .

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2 thoughts on “Coming of Age

  1. Oh man, a ninth grader who sounds so awesome. I have to give respect where respect is due: your nephew sounds like he’s going to grow up and be a very good man.

    I love his views on religion, though, like you said, don’t agree with all of them. What I particularly love is his broader perspective, especially for someone of his age. I remember 9th grade myself, and in the school I went to, non-Christians were ostracized.

    I can’t say I’ve never seen the world from his perspective, either. I have definitely been in the spot where I decided suffering and pain were proof on the non-existence of God, ipso facto. It wasn’t until five or six years later — after having discovered meditation and a few more Buddhist-leaning books and scriptures that I began to see things as a great, interwoven tapestry of sorts.

    Maybe he’s even right on, to a certain degree. My understanding of suffering is different now than it used to be: I view it as the effects of attachment and desire, rather than some external force. As we let go of our attachments, suffering decreases and we get more in touch with “God,” or what-have-you.

    Not that suffering proves God impossible; it’s that the absence of suffering proves something greater.

    1. Whether he intended to or not, he does point to something that had always troubled me, in that I am constantly hearing people credit God with the good stuff, such as “God saved me from death”, “God answered my prayer,” “God had made me a success” – and you wonder if God does everything, then what is their purpose in this life? – but when it comes to suffering, why doesn’t God do something about suffering, the explanations are curiously lacking. I think it points to a serious flaw, not so much with the concept of God, but in the way he, she or it, is viewed, or perhaps it would be better to say that it points to how the concept of God is abused.

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