On Pentecost Island in the South Pacific, male villagers demonstrate their faith in a unique way — by climbing a makeshift tower constructed by 20-30 men, tying vines around their ankles, and plummeting headfirst toward the earth. Only then will God ensure a good harvest and protect his people from starvation, according to this particular group of Christians.
Nine-year-old Bebe feels determined to become a man, one other aspect of this ritual . He and his father go out into the jungle to procure just the right vines for his jump. The lowest platform reaches a height of 10 meters. The ideal jump is as high as possible and is considered successful if your head brushes the ground.
The mother stands below and holds an item belonging to her child. After the jump, she will throw it away, symbolizing her son has now reached adulthood. Did I mention that Bebe is NINE???
So, I’m trying to picture myself standing at the base of a tower next year holding Yoggie while Austin climbs 10 meters into the sky with the intention of plummeting to the earth using vines that have been eyeballed for good use. Jumps can end in severe concussions, paralysis, or even death. How do those mamas’ hearts survive?
Let’s compare this for a bit to our own culture. I’m going to relate several examples of situations I feel are motivated by fear. I may be wrong. There may be legitimate reasons for the decisions made. I don’t have all of the details, but I still feel like the following are indicative of something unhealthy in our society.
- Many once commonly accepted childhood games are now being banned across the nation. Red Rover is becoming an activity from the history books. The latest culprit is tag, which has been deemed too unsafe to engage in by school districts from Washington State to New Hampshire. Oh, and dodgeball has been targeted, as well. Frankly, I miss those old wooden teeter-totters where you could make your partner’s brain jiggle.
- Maybe you heard about Ahmed Mohamed, the teenager in Texas arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school. The teacher was suspicious about its construction, fearing a bomb, and next thing you know he found himself in handcuffs. The good thing for Ahmed is that with all of the attention he received, he’ll likely have no trouble getting into a college of his choice when the time comes. I had a student one year who verbally declared he was going to blow up the school. We had to take it very seriously, even though I knew he was just spouting off. Just remember, teachers and administrators can be bound by rules that are in place.
- Last Saturday was Halloween. It’s the newest holiday to meet the chopping block across our nation. A school system in Connecticut told parents they would no long be celebrating with costume parades because too many kids were being left out. You know, I think that time in 8th grade I couldn’t participate in gym class because of my back they should have cancelled the class instead of just having me sit out. My junior year I sat out of a song in show choir because I didn’t agree with it. That was my choice, and I would never have expected the teacher to not do the song. Also, I was painfully legalistic at the time. We all grow and change.
- Suicide and depression rates are increasing among college students. Some attribute it to the problem of helicopter parenting that is becoming more prevalent. Julia Lythcott-Haims, former dean of Stanford University has written a book called How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. She writes, “We want so badly to help them by shepherding them from milestone to milestone and by shielding them from failure and pain. But overhelping causes harm. It can leave young adults without the strengths of skill, will and character that are needed to know themselves and to craft a life.” I find it interesting that struggle is a necessary part of becoming an emotionally healthy adult.
- When I was teaching, our school performed regular safety drills to practice what might happen if an intruder entered the building. I hated these so much. Who wants to practice cowering in a corner and trying to explain why? School secretaries sit behind locked office doors, but the reality is that one gunshot to the door is all it takes for any amount of “safety” to become void. All of our procedures might only delay the inevitable. I’m not saying these things aren’t necessary, but are they only a band-aid to a deeper problem?
These are just a few examples, and I’m sure some of you could argue that they are not really indicative of fear, but I think they are, especially when you contrast them to the accepted practices on Pentecost Island.
There is a meme that has gone around Facebook recently that says, “The phrase ‘do not be afraid’ is written 365 times in the Bible. That’s a daily reminder from God to live every day being fearless.” When I first read it, I thought, “How amazing.” Then, I thought, “Wait a minute.” A little research proved this isn’t really the case. I suppose if you threw in a lot of related phrases about fear and worry, you might be able to come up with that many, but the quote simply isn’t true. However, the Bible does repeatedly remind us to not fear and to trust in God. I think we could all use a healthy dose of that.
So, I’m not encouraging you to have your kid leap from a tower anytime soon, but I think we all need to evaluate our motivations for things that hold us back in fear, both with ourselves, and with our children. I always say life is messy, but how much of the mess are we responsible for?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Watch Bebe’s dive here. Yikes!