The Faith and Friendships of Teenage Boys

This post is reblogged from Allan Hugh Cole, Jr., author.  As I contemplate initiating the next Essays on Childhood series, I am grateful for Allan’s mentoring role in my life and for his considerable talent in revealing the mysteries of the human heart and mind.

My next book, The Faith and Friendships of Teenage Boys (Westminster John Knox Press), coauthored with Robert Dykstra and Donald Capps, will be published next summer. It follows-up on our previous book, Losers, Loners, and Rebels: The Spiritual Struggles of Boys (Westminster John Knox Press, 2007).

This new book focuses on the intimate and faithful friendships that teenage boys form with other boys, especially with a “best friend.” Recognizing that boys at this age experience a deeply felt need for a personal faith to guide and sustain them as they look to the future, we show how a close friendship assists them in their search for such a faith.

Drawing on contemporary boys’ reflections on their intimate friendships, we explore how faithful friendships foster a deeper faith and trust in God, help a boy maintain his psychological and spiritual well-being in a time of uncertainty and self-doubt, and support his efforts to discover his true identity.

We also show how “best friendships” help boys navigate and subvert certain stifling masculine norms of church and culture, especially those that undermine their desire for physical as well as emotional intimacy, a desire that underwrites the profound truth of incarnational theologies.

Finally, we consider the boy’s need for a close friendship in helping him cope with disruptions that may be occurring in his life due to family relocations and separations, and with the clashes of personal values he experiences in encounters with other teenage boys.

This book is particularly aimed at pastors, teachers, vocational counselors, parents of teenage boys, and men who seek to reconnect with the teenage boy they left behind as they entered adulthood.

Essays on Childhood: In a Man’s Voice

There are moments in life when someone casually helps you make a connection, and the effect is anything but small.  Such was the case when I grumbled to my friend Allan that I didn’t understand why it was so difficult to get a commitment from men to write for the Essays on Childhood project.

Allan said simply that it did not surprise him at all.  “Elizabeth, a lot of men find it very hard to write about their childhood.”  Something about the way he phrased that made me rethink the dynamic.  I realized I processed the hesitance to follow through as a lack of interest.  Allan helped me see it’s not that at all.  It’s a level of difficulty and often of pain that may be more pervasive in male childhood experience than female — not at all to say women have easy childhoods, but there is something here connected to the male psyche and experience in the early years that may be keeping a lid on what is actually a very keen interest in writing.

William Stafford

Allan is a writer, editor, teacher, and author published many times over.  His second book on the spiritual struggles of boys is due to roll off-press soon.  Obviously he was himself a boy once, but beyond that he has jumped into the deep end, both personally and professionally, of analyzing the male childhood experience.

Allan’s first book on the issues opens with this chilling poem by William Stafford:

Sure You Do

Remember the person you thought you were?  That summer

sleepwalking into your teens?  And your body ambushing

the self that skipped from school?  And you wandered into

this carnival where all the animals in the ark began

to pace and howl?   The swing they strapped you in?

The descent through air that came alive, till

the pause at the top?  The door on the way down

that opened on joy?  And then, and then, it was

a trap.  You would get used to it:  like the others

you could shoulder your way through the years, take on

what came and stare without flinching, but you knew at the time

it was goodby to everything else in your life.

The great door that opened on terror swung open.

The first time I read this poem I was unable to speak, literally, for a full 30 minutes.  I put it in front of a few men I know, and with limited commentary said, “I’d like to know what you think of this.”  The effect of the poem on my friends was similar to the effect on me, but with a key difference:  While my silence came from the shock of surprise, theirs was from the instant recognition of what was presumed to be a secret.

In 2012, Essays on Childhood will engage this challenge of creating a space and a process for men to write about their childhood experience.  One observation is that men tend to write with more personal distance from their subjects than do women, and when the subject is one’s own childhood that is not exactly an option.  I am fortunate to know a lot of very cool men — smart, funny, serious, engaged people who possess unique viewpoints and an interest in connecting with other people.  They may not know I identify them this way, but part of the next wave will be telling them and asking them to lead this grand experiment…………

Esse Diem readers, your suggestions for this outreach are more than welcome!

(Much gratitude goes out to John Warren, who was the first man to write for Essays on Childhood, to Michael Powelson who shared an essay from his own blog for EOC, and to Julian Martin, who will be representing the male voice in the essays shared before the end of the year.)

Image credit:  Poets.org

Where Is God in Chronic Illness? – Flunking Sainthood

I always liked St. Francis the best.

Readers of Esse Diem may be interested in this excerpt of my essay for A Spiritual Life:  Perspectives from Poets, Prophets, and Preachers featured today on Jana Riess’s fabulous blog, Flunking Sainthood.  (I could swear she named that for me, but she says no.)

Jana writes:

As we continue with our Thursday Spirituality series for May, we draw from what I thought was one of the most powerful essays in Allan Cole’s anthology A Spiritual Life. I had not heard of Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher before, but her compelling account of being diagnosed with MS at the tender age of 30 had me spellbound.

Where is God when you’re sitting across from the doctor and he tells you that your health and life will get progressively worse with little hope of a cure? How does that knowledge then change the way you live the time you have left?

Click here to read a portion of the essay: Where Is God in Chronic Illness? – Flunking Sainthood

Image credit:  The Legend of St. Francis and the Wolf

Rebranding a Life: Spirituality and Chronic Illness

I contributed an essay to the collection, A Spiritual Life, and the advance reviews confirm that the entire book delivers on its promise of engaging a range of meaningful and personal perspectives on spirituality.  What does it mean to individuals to live “a spiritual life”? 

Writing my essay was a very personal process of articulating the experiences I had after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis twelve years ago.  I spent a long time in a state of “unreadiness” to disclose my condition, much of that stemming from fear of the unknown.  My spiritual journey propelled me into a braver, stronger, richer place as a child of God.  Perhaps one or more of these essays will do the same for you!

I hope you will read the reviewers’ comments below and consider pre-ordering the book for yourself or someone you love.  Publication will be in late April 2011.

A Spiritual Life: Perspectives from Poets, Prophets, and Preachers (Westminster John Knox Press), will be published in early 2011.

“Don’t look for a traditional approach to faith or a unified voice in this diverse collection. You can, however, count on graceful prose and an honest, reflective search–and that, I found, was enough to make my own pilgrimage seem more authentic and less lonely.”
Philip Yancey, author of What Good Is God? and Prayer: Does It Make a Difference?

“In A Spiritual Life, Allan Hugh Cole, Jr. has assembled an impressive group of twenty-four “poets, prophets, and preachers” to write about that elusive thing called their spiritual life. What emerges is not a tight and tidy definition of the spiritual life but a glorious topographic collage of the ways in which people infuse their lives with God. These two dozen compelling writers expand not only our notion of the depth and breadth of the spiritual life, but maybe even our understanding of God.”
Sybil MacBeth, author of Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God

“Too often Americans think of “spirituality” and “the spiritual life” in ways disconnected from the quotidian challenges of our daily lives. This rich collection offers a powerful and poignant counterwitness, displaying the complexities of engaging God in the midst of the ordinary. You will be stimulated, comforted, and challenged by these wonderfully gifted writers.
L. Gregory Jones, Duke University, author of Embodying Forgiveness

“A spiritual banquet, prepared by some of America’s finest writers and thinkers. If you’re looking for a fresh wind to blow through your life of faith, look no further than this gem of a book.”
Philip Gulley, author of If Grace Is True and the Harmony novels

“These meaty essays, generously spiced with personal stories, provide valuable food for thought about ministry, preaching and everyday life in Christ. What a rich feast! Savor this book.”
Lynne M. Baab, author of Sabbath Keeping and Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World

“One of the great gifts of my work is that I often get to ask the question of friends and folks I’ve only just met, “What is God up to in your life?” There are few things I’d rather do than listen to an honest response to that question. Here is a book full of responses by folks who write both honestly and well. Like so many of the folks I’ve listened to face-to-face, these authors give me hope that the Spirit is stirring to bring new life, even in the most unexpected of places.”
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, author of New Monasticism and The Wisdom of Stability

A Spiritual Life: Perspectives from Poets, Prophets, and Preachers

I am blessed with many wonderful friends.  Consistently, they humble and amaze me when I see their formal credentials in black in white.  (I’m just glad these fine folks will talk to me about life, parenthood, and what’s for dinner!)

Allan Hugh Cole, Jr.

My friend Allan has a new book coming out soon, and I encourage you to visit his website and check out all of his wonderful resources.  From managing grief, to soothing anxiety, to connecting with the spiritual lives of children, his body of work provides insight into some of the most important ideas in the human experience.

From his “Bio” page:

Allan Hugh Cole Jr., a noted author, serves on the faculty of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, TX.  He is appointed to the Nancy Taylor Williamson Distinguished Chair of Pastoral Care.  He holds several academic degrees, including the Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Davidson College, the Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, the Master of Science (social work) from Columbia University, and the Doctor of Philosophy from Princeton Theological Seminary.

The author or editor of six books, he is the founding editor of the Journal of Childhood and Religion, an on-line publication of Sopher Press.  For more information, see www.childhoodandreligion.com.  He also serves on the editorial boards of two journals, Pastoral Psychology and Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary.

He is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), having served congregations in New York.  Currently, he holds membership in Grace Presbytery (Dallas, Ft. Worth, Northeast Texas).

He is married to Tracey Cole and they have two daughters.

A Spiritual Life: Perspectives from Poets, Prophets, and Preachers (Westminster John Knox Press), will be published in early 2011 and is available for pre-order.  It includes essays by Gail Godwin, Sheri Reynolds, Greg Garrett, Lauren Winner, Will Willimon, Marjorie Thompson, Michael Lindvall, Philip Wogaman, Ted Wardlaw, Homer Ashby, Deborah Block, Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher, Ismael Garcia, Albert Hsu, Brad Braxton, Donald Capps, Kerry Egan, Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, Richard Osmer, Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger, Michael Jinkins, Elizabeth Liebert, Stephanie Paulsell, and Allan Hugh Cole Jr. 
http://www.amazon.com/Spiritual-Life-Perspectives-Prophets-Preachers/dp/0664234925/ref=sr_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1284090393&sr=1-6.