Several years ago, I read “Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church” by Kenda Creasy Dean. Ms. Dean, Associate Professor of Youth, Church, and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary, tells us about the National Study of Youth and Religion and how it’s findings relate to the church. It’s a very good book and undoubtedly a great resource for anyone involved in youth ministry, as I was when I first read it. It’s been a while since then and, to be honest, I don’t remember all that much from it, with one exception. There’s a story from Robert Fulghum about noted peace activist, Alexander Papaderos. Fulghum had attended a lecture by Papaderos who took questions from the audience. As people were gathering their belongings, Fulghum asked “Dr. Papaderos, what is the meaning of life?”. Amid chuckles and dismissive laughter, Papaderos took a small, round mirror out of his pocket and answered:
“When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place. I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine–in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find. I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of the light. But light –truth, understanding, knowledge–is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it. I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world–into the black places in the hearts of men–and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.”
I don’t if it’s the power of the imagery or the personal aspect of it, but this story has stuck with me for over 3 years. Now and then, when I wonder what I’m supposed to do with my life, I go to the book shelf, pull down Dean’s book and open it to this page. We’ve never met, but Dr. Papaderos’ mirror has reflected light into some dark places for me. I only hope I can do the same for someone else.