It’s probably been 20 years since I last watched it, but Amazing Grace and Chuck still made me cry when I watched it this weekend. If you can suspend disbelief enough to “buy” the premise, you find yourself cheering for 12-year-old Chuck Murdock, the star pitcher of his Little League team who refuses to play baseball as long as there are nuclear weapons. (Like, at all. Anywhere.) He’s joined by “Amazing Grace” Smith, a Celtics player, and eventually scores of professional athletes. I won’t spoil you – in case you’re able to find a DVD or VHS copy – but I was a mess in the closing scene when those three fingers were held up in the air.
I am truly a sucker for this kind of movie, this Coming of Age film. The protagonist – often but not always male – goes through some sort of ordeal or experience that causes them to emerge more mature, more wise to the ways of the world, just a little more adult than before. My list is extensive, from classic kids’ tales such as Oliver Twist, Peter Pan (with its derivative Finding Neverland), and Bridge to Terabithia, to films from my own coming of age period like Stand By Me, The Black Stallion, E.T., Lord of the Flies, and Empire of the Sun, to recent ones including August Rush, Pay It Forward, and even Up. I’m sure part of the appeal is the frequent themes they share with all great storylines. Joseph Campbell’s seminal work on the Hero’s Journey (or monomyth) names universal elements of a great many narratives, from the experiences of Christ, Moses, Prometheus, and Buddha, to powerful contemporary storytelling from Lord of the Rings to the Star Wars and Matrix trilogies. I also believe that from the time I was myself “coming of age,” God has been nurturing in me a gift for recognizing and ministering to the particular challenges of young people entering their adolescent years.
I will go even farther. Not only do I believe God has called me specifically to walk with young men as they cross that 12-year-old threshold, it is uniquely critical even in the life of Jesus. In Luke 2:41-52, the boy Jesus is depicted at the precise age of twelve, and it is the only age between his early childhood and his public ministry at about thirty that the Holy Spirit chose to reveal in the Savior’s life. I share this fact every year with my group of 11- and 12-year-old boys at the beginning of the school year. I freely borrow the catch words “smarter, stronger, deeper, cooler” from Zondervan’s Luke 2:52 division, precisely because it comes straight from the verse which highlights Jesus growing “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Who could argue against these guys needing support as they mature intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially/emotionally? Every one of these areas will undergo enormous transformation as they enter their teen years.
Whether it’s the teachers in the temple engaging in conversation with young Jesus, a pro basketball player in Amazing Grace and Chuck, elderly uncles in Secondhand Lions, a Catholic priest sacrificing his safety for the young Jewish boy in Edges of the Lord, or teachers in Pay It Forward and The Man Without a Face, so many of these coming-of-age stories hinge on the transformative influence of certain adults in the young person’s life. I’ve heard it so often I don’t know the proper attribution for this, but it is said that young adolescents will always gravitate to the oldest person in their lives to take them seriously. What a joy when a kid allows you to be that person.
And that, friends, is why I will continue to invest as much as I can in the lives of 6th grade guys, as long as God allows me.