Saturday, October 17, 2009

Theology of a 12 Year Old

On my way home from work on Friday I caught a bit of Fresh Air's interview with actor Jason Segel. The interview was somewhat humorous and interesting as he revealed unknowns about his past acting experiences. But what really caught me off guard was a small piece about his childhood experience with Christianity and Judaism. Though this portion of the interview aroused quite a bit of laughter amongst those in the studio, I found myself listening with deep emotion and interest. Though this is just one man's honest account of his experience, I wonder if his story is the same as many others?

Here is an excerpt from the transcript of the interview:

SEGEL: ...yeah, but I was raised Jewish. So, I'm at the school. And they don't really like me very much there and then after Christian school I would walk in the afternoons to Hebrew school. And then at Hebrew school…

SEGEL: …they would tell me that I wasn't really Jewish because my mother is Christian.

SEGEL: So, all of the sudden I'm like this young kid who - I would've been happy to believe whoever would have been nice to me, you know. But it was this feeling of like, not really belonging or not really fitting in and…

GROSS: The world's mainstream religions don't want you.

SEGEL: Yeah and, you know what occurred to me - it's funny you say that - but what occurred to me is, this certainly isn't God. God doesn't want an 11 or 12-year-old kid to feel this way, you know. My belief in God is that God wants you, you know, God wants you to believe in him or it, whatever you would call it. And so, it actually helped me forge this feeling of - all right, you know what kid, it's you, it's you and God, and it's you and the world. It's - it gave me a bit of a feeling of solitude that I think came in handy during, like, my out of work periods, where when I decided the only way I was going to make it was if I started writing. It was actually, I'm very grateful that I got that feeling at such a young age because I felt like, you know what, it's - you better do it, it's going to be you.

How does a young boy know that any religion representing "God" and encouraging exclusivity is actually NOT God? How does a 12 year old know deep down that God doesn't reject people, God loves? There is something innate in every human being that understands that God wants you.

I think that we can learn so much from the inferences of a 12 year old Jason Segel. This boy, though rejected by those claiming to be followers of Jesus and those claiming to be God's light to the nations, still somehow knew deep down in his bones that the true God doesn't behave that way.

Isn't this why children and teenagers scare so many adults? They don't know the same way as adults. Children and teens enjoy a completely different epistemology than most adults (one that, I believe, makes much more room for God to move and be present). They haven't been stripped of imagination and gut-feelings. They haven't been taught the ways of the Enlightenment: that whatever can't be proven isn't true.

So when a 12 year old boy knows that God is loving and inclusive, it simply is. Is this why Jesus encouraged his followers to become like children?

And what breaks my heart the most about this little case study is that it is a clear indication that the Church often misses the boat completely. Segel admits that he would have been happy to believe whoever would have been nice to him. I think this is a cogent reminder that the Church evangelizes best when it loves.

1 John 4:19-21 We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.