Skip to main content

Stan’s Stuff

My teenage self would annoy me now!

When I think back on my teenage years, I blush. Why? Because I was such a know-all – a smart-arse! How come? I was pushed out of school at 14. My education such as it was, had no history, no language, no classics and no art. The high point was sheet-metal work.
 |  Stan Stewart  | 

And yet, amongst my peers and older teens, I was a loud-mouth. How tiresome!

I was literally a motherless child, living in a men’s hostel, 300 men, from the time I was 14 to 20.

For most of that time I was the only teen. I yearned to escape from that impersonal hostel and at every opportunity. My way of escape was through attending church youth conferences – some district, some state, occasionally national.

I was opinionated and loud-mouthed. I thought my Dad, who lived in the same hostel, knew nothing, so I really didn’t listen to him. I was always putting my peers right. I remember dogmatically debating with a university professor in front of 200 teens at a national youth conference. I blush to think of it.

When I came to Whitianga 11 months ago, I wondered what the town’s teens would be like.

What kind of teens would all this beach, surf, beer and barbecues produce? In fact, I haven’t met many of them. Those I have met I like.

I admire the young people who bring me coffee in the restaurants and help with the town’s various activities and attractions. The only obnoxious ones I have seen were obviously from out of town, I suspect from Auckland’s poshest schools.

In my young adult life, my know-it-all ways continued into my profession as a Baptist minister. However, in my 20’s I somewhat matured. Formal study helped. Maturing curbed my impulse to put right all the other church leaders in town.

Actually, shock, horror I found out that the leaders of the other churches thought they were right, and I was wrong.

Early on I realized that arguing with other church leaders was a dead-end street. Consequently, I said very little. But in my heart, I was smug knowing that in fact I was the only one with the truth.

Time mellows and life humbles. I grew to respect faith journeys that were different to mine.

Part of the process of this mellowing was the growing realisation that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. And there was more. I was aware there were many spiritual practices which had little if any religious content.

For years I had dismissed these practices as cultish, faddish and of no real value to anyone. I have since changed my mind. I have come to realise that many individuals find in these practices a still point in the chaos of life.

My friend invited me to a meditation session. I was dreading sitting cross legged on the floor and wondered if I would have to repeat some strange sounding mantra. But it was nothing like I imagined. We sat in comfortable chairs and were quiet for around 35 minutes. I was not exactly silent as I fell to sleep and snored (‘softly’ I was told).

However, I came to realise that my friend and many others found great benefit in the practice. This was not only valuable for him but it enabled him to contribute to others who were in stressful life situations. I learnt that my friend regularly led meditation sessions with prisoners in one of our large jails.

I had  treated other religions, non-Christian faiths with the utmost disdain. But time has mellowed me. What has changed me has not been the academic research but personal encounters. I have met people whom I find to be most admirable who tell me that their calm and generous disposition comes from the practice of their faith. There is a verse in the Bible that says “By their fruits you shall know them”. It is via this pathway that I have had to accept the value of other faiths.

For years some of my closest friends have been agnostics or atheists. Years ago, I would have thought such friendships would be impossible. Not so. I value these friends. We are mates, we are buddies. When it comes to issues, personal and international, we are sparring partners in the best sense of the word. Our understanding connects at a deep level.

Long ago, when I was a teenager, I was closed and dogmatic. Now I am open and enquiring. I’m glad I have left my rigid views behind. I find hope in my openness and acceptance. I don’t see any hope in closed minds and fixed opinions. This is true for individuals, for groups and for nations.