I had the pleasure of hearing Ryan Groff speak yesterday. Ryan is the program coordinator for the Jerusalem and Athens Forum, and his talk, entitled “Accept or Attack?: Reflections on Teen Suicide and Faith Seeking Understanding,” took me by surprise. It’s not that his chosen topic was somehow out of place (addressing teen suicide is a crucial and ever-growing need, especially from within the church). What surprised me was that rather than trying to be a sociologist or a counselor, Ryan spoke from what he knew: he spoke from philosophy, and from church history—and made his compelling case on those terms.
So speaking to a room full of students and parents, siblings and friends, he walked through several examples, from Tertullian, who rejected all worldly philosophy in favor of exclusively biblical study (Tertullian is famously quoted, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”), to Augustine, who favored accepting the beauty of truth wherever in this world it is found. His mini church history excursus ended with a discussion of Anselm, who coined Gordon’s oft-lauded phrase “Faith Seeking Understanding.” This is the crux of it, Ryan insists. It’s our faith that drives us to engage the world. And here too is where he brought us back to teen suicide: Do we reject those who are different, whose beliefs don’t line up with our own, who we think are “weird”; or do we accept the wonderful handprint of the divine evident in each and every one of God’s children? Do we seek to understand and love one another? It is the attitude of rejection that creates a culture of bullying, drawing far too many teens into thinking that suicide is the only escape. And it is the attitude of acceptance that can free them.
But this wasn’t the only meaningful connection we made today. After Ryan finished, he opened the floor for comments, and we heard from Lorraine Perry. Lorraine felt encouraged, after hearing Ryan's words about the power of acceptance, to share her own story. Lorraine lost her own daughter, Hayley, to suicide only four months ago. She shared how she and her family have, since that time, made it their mission to share the acceptance Ryan spoke of with other hurting teens in their community. Lorraine and her sister, Leslie Blake, have started Hayley's Hope Foundation, which is aimed at preventing teen suicide through outreach and community support. “My phone number is right there on the website,” Lorraine commented. “Teens know they can call me at any hour, day or night.” After his talk, Ryan and I were honored to be able to speak with Lorraine and Leslie about their journey for a while longer. Sometimes compelling topics can spark important connections.
[Photo: Ryan Groff]
John Mirisola ’11 is a Gordon alum and writer for the College. He will be blogging at SoulFest all this week, keeping you in the loop on all things Gordon College around the festival.