A group of high school juniors and seniors enthusiastically ripped pictures and phrases out of magazines, transforming white sheets of poster paper into vibrant vision boards.
“I can’t find determination or courage in this magazine,” moaned Ramón.
“How about this?” laughed Tony, waving an advertisement of a girl in a pink bikini. “It says ‘Lose 10 pounds in 10 days.’”
“Very funny,” grumbled Ramón.
Tony pushed the magazines aside and drew a license plate in the center of his vision board. He arranged large letters to create a vanity plate moniker: URWhatUThinkUR.
“Who do you think you are?” Diana sarcastically asked.
“I’m a one-of-a-kind,” he laughed. “I’m fantastic! I’m awesome!”
“In your own mind,” chirped Ramón.
The activity was part of a goal-setting workshop I planned at an urban high school. Ramón wanted his vision board to reflect his character: A Man of Determination. A Man of Courage. Words that expressed his values and principles seemed to be missing from the pages of the magazines.
Vision board activities help its creators identify interests, remember talents, and rekindle forgotten dreams. However, almost every page within the magazines demanded they must also have thicker hair, bigger muscles, longer eyelashes, and lose weight to experience success. Young people are encouraged to embrace their unique individuality and, at the same time, they are bombarded with conflicting messages that tell them how they must look, act, and aspire to be. They are, after all, our future.
If our youth are our future, who are they now?
Several years ago, a high school senior named Elaine answered that question for me.
I was a youth minister at a church where the planning counsel invested months into constructing a vision of a new worship center. They arranged a meeting to discuss the building plans with the rest of the faith community. After a grueling series of back-to-back youth retreats, I was too tired to attend the meeting. I went home, tossed suitcases on the floor, and crashed on the couch.
Then, the phone rang.
“Julie, you’ve got to get up here right now,” begged Elaine. She was a member of the high school leadership team and a pre-school teacher. “They’re talking about the new church and they’re taking our classrooms away.”
“Don’t worry,” I calmly explained. “I met with the planning counsel and told the architect what we needed.”
“They don’t think we need classrooms,” she shrieked. “They want to put us all in one big room with no walls. They’re going to vote tonight.”
“It’s going to be fine, Elaine. I’ll talk to you tomorrow after …”
“Julie, you always tell us that we are more than the future of the church,” she insisted. “You say we’re the church now. You say the church needs to hear our voice because what we have to say is important.”
Yes. I said that.
“Who’s missing from the church if you remove the letters in the middle?” she asked.
“UR,” I reluctantly answered.
“Well, are we or aren’t we?” she angrily inquired. “If you believe what you say you believe, you get up here right now.”
It wasn’t a request. It was a demand. And I obeyed.
Messages we communicate to our youth about who they are reflect what we believe we are. “We are shaped by our thoughts,” said Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism. “What we think we become.” Scripture insists we are created in the image and likeness of God. A Divine spark dwells within us. And we are blessed with Divine gifts to be shared with one another. We become church to one another.
To say we believe it is one thing. To live it is another. To embrace it is the ultimate challenge.
Just ask Tony. URWhatUThinkUR.