So – this is weird – “uncle marko” doesn’t write very often. Fair enough.
I’m sitting on a plane somewhere between Atlanta and Denver. And I’ve been reading a really heavy book about youth ministry (called “Practicing Passion”). It’s kind of academic; no, it IS academic. There are lots of pages where I have to decide to keep reading. But there are also many pages where I’m struck speechless (not that I’d have anyone to make a speech to here at 38,000 feet!) by the simplest and most profound thoughts.
And – here’s the really weird part – I keep thinking about you: Zachary Lincoln Dunlap; my first nephew that I see once or, maybe, twice a year, and have pretty much no contact with between those visits. I’m not really offering an apology, and I’m certainly not asking for one from you! Our lives are what they are, and they’re both very full. And this may very well be the only letter you’ll ever get from me like this!
So, here’s why I’m thinking about you…
Let me type in a few quotes and thoughts from the book first (bear with me):
“Passion is loving something enough to suffer for it” – Jurgen Moltmann
“The Christ-event transforms adolescents into people who actually do ‘have it together’ as they repent and identify with Jesus Christ instead of with the piecemeal fragments of consumer culture. Passion transcends lesser commitments of the self, and binds them to a common higher order allegiance.” – Kenda Dean, the author of the book
“There are only four questions of value in life: what is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for? What is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same: Only love.” – from the movie Don Juan de Marco
Teenagers, while lacking in some areas of maturity (psychological, emotional, social) have at their fingertips something that most adults find terribly difficult to reach: passion. Teenagers, in this sense, are closer to the heart of God, and can experience the Passion of Christ in ways that clarify their otherwise fractured identities and give direction to their lives. Adults need teenagers to show them the path to passion. – my thoughts from the book
Ok. So. Back to Zack.
You, my nephew, are remarkable. The lives of teenagers today are more fractured than ever – even more than when I was one, even more than 10 years ago. Most teenagers (really, almost all) live a collection of lives through a collection of “selves.” There’s gym-class-self and chemistry-self and Friday-night-party-self and after-school-job-self and family-self and even church-self. This is a given in today’s youth culture. It’s really the art of self-protection and survival – I don’t “blame” kids for it; it’s the only way they know how to walk down the path of trying to find out who they are in a safe way (because EVERY part of the world is so completely unsafe for all teenagers).
But once in a while, a teenager is somehow able to rise above this. Ooh, wait, “rise above” probably isn’t the best wording. Once in a while, a teenager – because of a deep soul-level connection with the Passion of Christ (remember: loving enough to suffer) – is able to find a story, an identity, that allows them to “piece together” all those fractured atomic identities into one: child of God, beloved of Jesus.
I know this is true for you. You are one of the few. You ooze this. It leaks out of every interaction you have, Zack, every decision you make, every stand you take. OK, I’m probably exaggerating a tiny bit – maybe not EVERY one of those; but you do leak and ooze!
I’m so proud of you, Zack. I’m so glad to know you (which sounds silly, since I didn’t really have a choice!).
I just know it; I know you are going to have an impact on the kingdom of God. I know God is going to use your combination of gifts (arts, business sense, entrepreneurial spirit, outspoken nature…) and your wonderful brashness, combined with what I think I see as a gentle spirit – all of that, God is amped to use for his glory; I know it in my bones.
Let me put it another way. Max and you are two very different people, no doubt. So I don’t expect him to be you. But I would be absolutely thrilled beyond words to have Max “turn out like you.”
Well, that’s my 38,000 foot thought for you, ZLD. In a sense, my current literal elevation is a decent metaphor for what I’m writing to you: this letter is about what I see in you from a distance, a generalization about you and your life and the norm of teenager-land from a satellite viewpoint.
Stay the course, nephew – blood-kin of mine. Hold on to that passion of yours, and that Passion of His. Continue to order your life and direction and identity and future and choices and priorities around the only thing worth living for, and the only thing worth dying for: love.