Two disciples were walking down a road, they are joined by someone who’s identity is masked to them, is someone who asks them about the events of their weekend, in the place that they are walking from. Maybe they had a look of terror or fear on their faces, like the proverbial rabbit in the headlights, but also the sadness of bereavement. They were heading to a place that we later know was home.
The first question by the, at that time, unknown traveller is
“What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?” (Luke 24:17)
not, where are you going, where have you been or you look tired/shocked , but the question by Jesus (the unknown traveller) to the disciples refers to the way in which the conversations has been progressing, the conversation that Jesus has listened to, its a conversation with passion, confusion and consternation. one with intentful discussion.
Jesus invites the disciples to talk to him, by asking about the conversation, asking them to describe to him only what they had been discussing with each other already, nothing more, nothing less. And yet in this moment of arrival, Jesus is still masked to them, and so their response is to think that he is some way a stranger to the events, and he pursues this further, asking ” what things?”.
How we arrive in the space with young people , in places that are of their choosing, is a delicate one. On one hand with safety and professionalism in mind should we state intentions, purposes, and role at the outset; ” We’re a group of youth workers blah blah… etc” and in that moment interrupt any flow of conversation already occurring, yet is this actually respectful, and what does this say about the power dynamics of the conversation – have we assumed too much – and does this reduce the intrigue of our presence/role etc?
The other evening when out in the town, we encountered a group of young people who, because they saw the word ‘youth’ on our lanyards, made the assumption we were from the local youth club. And so what proceeded was the groups perceptions of the youth club, its impact, its unfairness, and where they were at now. later in the conversation we heard a full blown rant about his perceptions of growing up in the town. An alternative opening in conversation will be to respond the conversation occuring and keep things fairly open, in this case develop it based upon the assumptions that young people make of us on detached and seek to inform as the curiosity is aroused. Later in that particular conversation we did readdress the mistaken perception, but in reality the open arrival allowed for honesty, an exposure of reality and feelings. The exploration of our role/intention came out of the conversation naturally, not imposed at the beginning..
In a similar way the endings are important. How and when we leave young people on the streets, how and when we leave young people who we work with them relationally over a period of time, how and when we leave projects, teams and volunteers and churches.
For the disciples, back on the road, Jesus left them, once they had grasped the full reality of the new reality. The disciples then went back to Jerusalem and spoke to the other disciples. They had grasped new knowledge, from a point of sadness, trial and confusion, and though had been left alone again by the bearer of news, were invigorated.
The leaving part of working with young people is often the difficult thing. Not many days go past when i dont think about the young people from http://www.thesidewalkproject.org.uk in Perth, or the AC. Because, after all, moments with young people, moments being amongst them, listening to them and journeying with are emotional, affecting relationships. So leaving them should be done well.
Sometimes in detached work, we don’t get the chance however, the choice isnt ours to leave, and so moments of encouraging reflection, and revelation of new reality could be left hanging, hanging in the aura without adequate conclusion. Is this a responsible thing? well maybe it is, as this gives the onus back onto the young person to think, reflect and make sense of it in their own space, own community and time. Yet the unpredictability of detached work on a street or park may cause us to think about the preciousness of the words or actions we use, knowing that the moment we have is but fleeting, uncontrolled and voluntary.
If we do get the chance to leave, leave well. Leave so that others are empowered to take responsibility, to do greater, to think differently, to be more human. Leave with the same amount of respect as we chose to arrive.
Before we think too condescendingly of the two disciples, remember, we the audience looking back know more information than they did, they were acting in real time,,, no action reply. Our challenge is in Jesus question: ” what are you discussing so intently as you walk along?” is one for us to think about too isnt it? as we walk along, as we journey through the politics of our professions, meander through parenthood and home, create, live and be the humans in community that we are designed to be. What is it that grips us, challenges us, frustrates, annoys, inspires? Yet this question also infers movement, and progress, that we are walking along, walking faithfully , walking. Day by day, hour by hour. This question is for us, for us to hear that the risen Jesus wants to know, wants to hear the response of a frustrated, concerned, penitent heart and mind.
In how we arrive with young people in our detached work, and how we leave we could do no better that to re enact something of those treasured moments, surprising moments with Jesus and those weary disciples all those years ago.