To All the UU Youth Who Fell Off a Cliff

To: uuyan-digest@TerraLuna.Org
Date: Fri, 31 Jul 1998 18:16:56
From: Sharon Hwang Colligan
Subject: To All the UU Youth Who Fell Off a Cliff

Hi All,

GA was awesome. I'm still sorting through all the stuff I brought home.
Here's one I thought others might be interested in. It reflects current UU
YA history as I understand it so far.

---Sharon Hwang Colligan, San Francisco

In my work doing UU Young Adult organizing I have met many other ex-YRUUers
who still suffer from the loss of their spiritual home in the vibrant and
intimate UU youth tribe. The absence of UUA Young Adult programming created
a Cliff at the end of the high school years, instead of a Bridge to a
spirited UU Young Adult 18-35 experience. My pain at meeting so many
wounded ex-youth, combined with my hopes generated by the growing UU Young
Adult movement, including the very moving Bridging Ceremony at GA, prompted
me to write this fantasy letter from the denomination to the 90% of its
children who never return home.
  --Sharon Hwang Colligan, July 1998
  (San Francisco congregation, age 29)

A Letter From the Elders
To All the UU Youth Who
Fell Off a Cliff:
We're Sorry

For all of you, our beloved UU youth,
who were pushed from your spiritual home
just because of a number or an age:
we're sorry.

For all who tried to walk the Bridge
to Young Adult community
and found it led to nothingness
or worse, to injury at the hands of other UUs
further along the bridge to nothing:
we're sorry.

For you who search with such skill and energy
In so many other places
Trying and trying to find the home you have lost:
we're sorry.

You deserve better.
You deserve your own natural UU home
the home you blessed with such powerful magic as a youth
the home that belongs to you.

It was our mistake to send you away.
We somehow imagined it would make you more free.
In our own past, most of us left the church of our youth.
We thought that you must want to do the same.
We forgot about the pain.
We're sorry.
We did not mean to stop loving you.

We're working now on building a Bridge.
But we know that for a long time there was no bridge at all
Just a cliff at the end of your childhood
Or a bridge that led to something incomplete.

A new Young Adult should be welcomed with joy
But instead we told you goodbye.
We're sorry.

We do love you.

Some of you survived the abandonment
and went on to shine bright and strong.
From our distance, we do watch you proudly.

Some of you fell hard and were hurt.
In your eyes we see your shock, anger, fear
cynicism, indifference, and loneliness.
From our distance, we do weep in pain.

Some of you got together and tried to build the bridge yourselves,
bravely brick by brick,
with no strong connection from the other side.
We have watched the valiant half-bridge
dwindle and twist, crumbling in its incompleteness,
seen many young travelers stumble and fall
leap off in disgust
or even be thrown by protective bridgeowners.
From our distance, we kept quiet,
telling ourselves that your loneliness was freedom.

Some of you stubbornly climbed the cliff,
returned to us,
woke us from our trance of shame
demanded we write this apology
moved us at last to action.
We do it gladly:

We're sorry we sent you away.
It was a terrible mistake.
We love you. Please come home.
We will make you a warm nest
and a room of your own.

We treasure the gifts that you gave us.
We're sorry we hurt you.
Come home.
Come home.

Members of UUYAN-L Respond to the Cliff Poem

Wow, that was a really intense poem/letter, it really struck me. I WISH I could hear that from the mouths of the previous two generations, because it is exactly how I feel and have felt ever since I graduated high school and discovered that there is nothing in UUism for me until I buy a house, have children, climb into the comfortable middle class, move to the suburbs, and start voting Democratic instead of Green. It is particularly ironic since my highest aspiration is to become a UU minister and give back to the denomination that gave me so much as a child, and yet now I feel stabbed in the back by my own spiritual leaders and community who only pay me attention on the occasions that they think about me as a potential threat of some kind to their sedate existences because of my age and tax bracket. I’ve been trying like hell to make it on my own for the last five years and imagine I was still a part of the UU community, but it’s really only stubbornness, not sense of connection, that keeps me from just going over to the Buddhists instead and getting with a community that understands how to nurture everyone. And the stupidest part is that this is by FAR the most difficult and spiritually challenging phase I’ve ever gone through in my life, and my own birthright Church couldn’t care less. ARGH!

That’s FABULOUS! Exactly how I’ve felt all these years and why I started YA organizing at age 20… May I post it to [my local group’s] WWW site?

Sharon, your letter moved me and I would like to see it published in the World.
–One who built a bridge with a lot of help

Thanks for the lovely poem, Sharon. The cliff at the end of the YRUU rainbow is indeed nothing new (you can’t be 20 on Sugar Mountain*), and, unfortunately the bridge you speak of is very difficult to piece together– but very much worth it, in my opinion.

At least it’s probably better now than it was for LRYers in the late 1970s. We didn’t exactly “fall off” the cliff– it felt more like being PUSHED (along with a note that said “good riddance”). And yes, then as now, some of us climbed back up. Most didn’t. I still have friends from that era– some now in their early 40s, who still hold onto the sort of pain you describe. And, needless to say, they are no longer UUs or, like myself, only peripherally active ones.

The problem is only compounded by the transitional phase that is both youth and young adulthood. As people go in many different directions as far as college, work, etc., the powerful feeling of belonging to something as close-knit as YRUU or LRY becomes increasingly difficult to hold onto. And, quite frankly, many churches are primarily family oriented and don’t have much use for college students or overworked, underpaid, mostly single young adults.
That can change under the right circumstances, though.
… I hope UUYAN will continue to grow and meet the needs of more and more UU young adults.

*apologies to Neil Young

Quite a letter! It was hard for me to form an opinion about it because I feel somewhat ignorant of the issues involved. But for me, the disconnect always seemed to be more the result of inaction on my congregation’s part instead of an intentional pushing away. I think everyone has their own experience. However, the end result is what remains the problem.

I also felt a deep chord strike in me when I read Sharon’s poem. I would like to add that the whole bridging problem is quite complex.

But, we can provide some insight into what is going on by being aware of the different classifications of religious heritages of UU young adults and the different religious needs of individuals from the various backgrounds. Being able to articulate these concepts to other UUs will help in terms of being able to communicate UU young adult needs effectively to other UUs.

Since reading Sharon’s poem and since attending SUUSI for the 5th time, I’ve decided to make some major changes in my life. I’ve decided to add a major of religious studies to my current major of music at Ithaca College. I’ve been considering the possibility for a long time but it feels like now is the time for me.

Page compiled August 12, 1998.