Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Luke 2:39-52) transports me to my 12th year of life, Nov 73 – Nov 74, smack dab in the middle of what I consider a highwater mark of American culture. It was the year that the radio had us singing Free Bird and Strutter, The Ocean and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Jungle Boogie and Jolene. The big screen brought us The Sting and The Exorcist, Blazing Saddles and The Longest Yard. Growing up as I did in a peaceful and peace-loving family, about the only conflict I can remember from that year were our arguments about whether to tune the tv set to channel 4 or 13 on any given night – Mod Squad or Flip Wilson? Brady Bunch or Sanford and Son? Odd Couple or Six Million Dollar Man? Kung Fu or Ironside? Partridge Family or Emergency? For more intense conflict, we watched the emergence of Nature Boy Ric Flair, who came on the Mid Atlantic Wrestling scene that year to begin his famous feud with Chief Wahoo McDaniel. It was the year Reggie Jackson led the A’s to the World Series title and Larry Csonka led the Dolphins to the Super Bowl title and John Havlicek led the Celtics to the NBA title. It would be many years before I would appreciate that in this same year Annie Dillard wrote Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and Studs Terkel wrote Working. I would also eventually come to appreciate that this was the year Woodward and Bernstein wrote All the President’s Men, although at the time, it only caused consternation for my grandmother and me that the Watergate hearings were preempting General Hospital in the afternoons.
All this is to say that I don’t have much if any recollection of my faith journey during that formative 12th year, the year that is so celebrated as a rite of passage year for many cultures. The 12th year was the time for Squanto and his fellow young Indians to go off into the woods for their vision quest that would usher them into adulthood. Jewish girls have their Bat Mitzhvah at 12, while the boys wait until 13 for the Bar Mitzvah. It is the age of confirmation for many mainline Christian traditions. It occurs to me that the adolescent rite of passage is rooted in cultures of stability, where children are expected to transition into well-defined and accepted roles, like all generations who have passed before. It marks the transition from childhood to adult responsibilities, when sons and daughters are expected to learn the trades of their parents and eventually take over the family business. The sage elders in these stable cultures are respected as the repositories of wisdom to be passed on to the children. However, in cultures experiencing rapid change and upheaval, adolescent rite of passage is muddled. It is not so clear what the children are passing into. The relevance of the elders’ wisdom is questionable. The beginning of adolescence is more the beginning of rebellion and differentiation than it is preparation and vision quest. It is a time to be as weird as you can be.
Which makes Jesus’ experience as a 12 year old traveling to Jerusalem with his parents an interesting case study. On the one hand, from the short-range perspective, this was a time like ours, of rapid transition and cultural upheaval. Jewish discontent and revolt against Roman rule was percolating throughout the land. Many groups were vying to define the core values that would hold the people together. In the midst of this you have Jesus, adolescent rebel, paying no attention to his parents as they started the long journey back home. You have Jesus chafing against the religious leaders, questioning their authority and offering his own wisdom to challenge theirs. But on the other hand, from a longer perspective, the eternal perspective, there is a cosmic stability, a continuity at work that allows Jesus, as God’s son, to take his place in the family business. There you have it, tradition and weirdness, rebellion and rite of passage in one fell swoop. It makes me wonder what kind of music Jesus was singing on his way home.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.