Safe and Sacred Space

Sometimes I feel like I can look at someone’s face and read a story. That’s probably a personality disorder yet to be diagnosed, but really I do.

Walking by some folks on the street where I live in San Francisco, I read a tale of loss, addiction, and loneliness. Under cracked skin, dirty clothes, and tattoos there lives a soul who ran away from his problems only to step on the trap of heroine and methamphetamines.

Other faces bear different stories. Make up and designer clothing can disguise a tired woman who is desperately chasing a dream while presently discovering its shallow shell. Away from family and most friends who have known her well, she spends her time with friends form work and dates online. In slower moments, she thinks about checking in on her aging parents in the South but moves the event in her calendar app to a different week. 

In the lives of students who are part of my church, City Church San Francisco, I don’t have to lean on an impression or imagine a narrative. I get to hear the stories firsthand. As a youth pastor, I have the privilege of tuning in to the lives and experiences of students in junior high and high school. What strikes me most is the overwhelming nature of modern life and the insecurities it imbues within adolescents. 

Just recently I was speaking during a Sunday morning talk on the Christian concept of forgiveness. I was trying to communicate how God’s forgiveness of our bad actions is connected to how we are called to forgive others when they do us wrong. I felt like students were getting it. One student, who was clearly hearing me, piped in: 

“I know we’re supposed to love our enemies and forgive people, but it’s just really hard when they bully me.”

At that point, I knew we were going deeper. We were descending into the real world of a 12 year old entering seventh grade. We were descending into the world of a student who encounters everyday dangers and quiet pain. 

It’s easy to read or even hear about another person’s pain and cry a little, maybe think to our selves yeah, that’s really rough. And it is. Suicide statistics reinforce the often dark reality of teenage life.* It is telling that suicide rates are climbing swiftly among 10-14 year old girls.

There is a long conversation to be had about antidepressants, mental health, body image, and societal expectations. I believe each of these as well as a host of other factors play a part in finding a solution.

Amidst the various support systems, my line of work emphasizes spiritual health as the focal point. Youth pastors are part of a large community that seeks the good of people in adolescence, a critical stage in human development. I’ve referred young people to therapists, I’ve talked to parents, I’ve gotten to know the stories of many, and this is one thing I have learned:

Adolescents need a safe and sacred community.

And I cannot imagine a better community than the community that holds Jesus in high regard. Yes, I believe the church is the place to experience deep community in the journey of faith and friendship with God.

The Back to School Retreat this weekend provided a meaningful way to experience safe and sacred space. Having received feedback from numerous parents, students who came to Point Reyes experienced a safe and sacred community. And this safe, sacred community is a place to experience God, to ask questions, to look deeper into the things God and into the life and ministry of Jesus, God’s Son.


Sometimes, for adolescents, this looks like reflective questions and dialogue. I chatted for most of an hour during our 6 mile hike on Saturday with a student who was fleshing out the meaning of following Jesus. That evening, I shared some fairly heavy stuff during our campfire about my faith journey and how, a number of years ago, I experienced the loss of a friend to suicide. One young man sat and stared at the campfire for 20 minutes after that talk. I can only imagine he was contemplating things in his life, wondering and debating with God about matters of the heart.

Yes, young people express faith in any number of ways. Brain development and rapidly increasing cognizance certainly factors in to how students process their spirituality. But being in safe, sacred space is essential in discovering the mystery of God and moving forward in faith. 

Why I Love Zombie Shows

Ok, it feels a little strange to admit this, but here I go. I adore the zombie genre. For years now, I’ve been fascinated with the whole concept of human beings getting stuck in a world where they must fight for their lives against their formerly human brethren, banding together to preserve the human race.

Yes, I’m finally owning up to it. I love zombie shows

Darryl. Copyright The Walking Dead.

Why? Oh I’ll tell you-thanks for asking!

It has taken me a long time to discover this, but I think my passion for zombies stems from how every human being is wired: we want to lead meaningful, fulfilling lives. We want to see goodness triumph over the power of evil. We love stories about how the kid who was bullied about her acne ends up as the CEO of a really cool company. 

Ready for the segue to the journey of faith that I always infuse into my blog posts? Here goes! Hang on! Stick with me-I know zombies might feel like a stretch! 

The final book in the Bible’s New Testament-the Testament featuring the life of Jesus, God’s Son-is a book called Revelation. Not Revelations, just Revelation. It’s called that because it reveals the hope God has stored up for the world since its beginning. Through a course of wild events, the writer, John, has an epic encounter with the living God. The “one seated on the throne” [who I am pretty sure is Jesus, God’s Son] says this: “look! I am making all things new!”

Maybe my zombie thrills are such a draw because zombie movies epitomize the “making all things new” concept. We all desperately want to see things being made new, being made right. We feel every moment with the characters on the show, hoping against all hope that they’ll make it to some safe destination, away from the scary zombies and united as a community, bound together through their experiences. We all seek out the good life-strong friendships that last, enough time/resources for camping and good food, and a legacy that matters after our death. 

Even though it is hard to make sense of this sometimes, we want our lives to matter. We all have a picture of how life is meant to be lived, and we all seek to somehow make sense of things. We all long for something good. In zombie movies, the characters are forced to figure what life is for and whether they want to survive in a difficult and dangerous world.

In The Walking Dead, a rather intense yet well-executed show, Tyreese, a really cool black guy, loses his girlfriend [in part, at least] to a tragic sickness. Though stricken with grief, he finds a way to move forward with his other companions, and he realizes his life still matters, that people still count. He goes far out of his way to keep a tiny baby alive and return her to Rick, her father, and Carl, her brother. He discovers hope. He finds deep meaning in the companionship he discovers in the group of survivors who have banded together during a very dark and dangerous period. 

The screenwriters of The Walking Dead just can’t seem to keep religion out of their show. It just keeps showing up all over the place. So many of the characters struggle with faith and doubt. Some lose their sense of purpose and get angry at God. Some question whether God cares at all. Others, like Tyreese, seem to cling to the hope that God is giving them hope and strength to move forward.

In the show, they think of God in a lot of cliché sorts of ways. God, in The Walking Dead, is pretty much a one-dimensional force that weak people cling to for comfort. At least on the surface, that’s what you might see. But it’s deeper, more complex than that.

In another episode, zombies try to take over the barn in which our beloved characters are sleeping. The zombies push against the barn door. They are thirsty for blood, hungry for flesh, and bent on destruction [I could insert a great connection here to how our lust for money, promiscuous sex, and power can be like internal zombies waging war on our true and better selves, but I’ll refrain].

Turns out, the zombies don’t take over the barn. As the band of survivors push against the door, the gentle rain breaks into a thunderstorm. The scene cuts to the next morning, and two heroines step out to realize all the zombies were crushed by trees that had been struck by lightning. As they stare out at a beautiful sunrise over a field, they express deep sadness about their losses. But they also look at the rising of the sun and the serenity of the moment. They wonder if hope could really be out there.

I don’t know about you, but I have the same kinds of moments. I have my share of doubts about how God is at work. I wonder about how human relationships work, and why the earth is so filled with sadness, why I keep walking past people on the sidewalks here in San Francisco who are so angry with each other.

But I also have a sense of hope, a sense that God is making all things new. That’s my view of why the characters in The Walking Dead keep moving forward. Sometimes they have faith, sometimes it wavers, but they walk on with the mere idea that something better could exist.

And so much of the time, that’s what our faith looks like. So much of the time, those of us who don’t give much though to God in any typical way are actually giving our Creator all kinds of glory simply because they are acting as if there might be something better out there. There might just be a God who has revealed himself to the world, a God who has done things in history and who is working now in not-so-subtle ways to continue revealing himself to humanity. 

You probably wonder if something better exists. You probably even work toward it and invest yourself and your resources in this idea. Parents often believe this when they believe their child might have better opportunities than they did. Friends believe this for their friends when their friends can’t believe it for themselves. 

When you do exercise hope, even with the smallest portion of it, I’ll bet-if you look close enough-you’ll discover God at work in that moment. And that might just tease you into believing he created you, fills your lungs with air, and desires the best for you.

And you might just end up believing that he’s making all things new. 

And that could change everything.