AlterGuild and 13 Reasons Why

/ 11 July 2018

I love the AlterGuild podcast! I know I’ve written about it before, but that group of intrepid younger clergy continues to create provocative, interesting, and compelling discussions of current topics.

One of their most recent episodes (season 2, ep. 7) focuses on the promises we do, or do not, make to young people. I was riveted by their discussion, not the least because it was a real life example — that is, it is taking place in my community in real time — of the kinds of story lines in season 2 of the Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why.

The first season of that show was all over social media, with parents and school officials voicing alarm over its depiction of teen suicide. What I think many people missed in the general uproar over the show — and that may be because few of the alarmists actually watched it — was that it was a compelling portrayal of many of the social dynamics and challenges teens are facing today.

The show does not shy away from sexuality, from drugs and alcohol, from poverty, but it is also a fictional, constructed set of narratives.

The AlterGuild podcast, on the other hand, is four local pastoral leaders in conversation with parents of young kids, with people whose loved ones have faced addiction, with young people making promises in marriage.

This AlterGuild episode I’ve been so engaged by considers the many ways in which our young people are broken — broken by bullying, broken by peer pressures, broken by systemic racism, broken by awful schools — and yet are also resilient young people who are trying to make a real difference in the world. The pastoral leaders on this podcast explore what it means to be wearied but tenacious in the midst of these challenges. They offer hope simply by telling the truth of what is going on.

I think perhaps one reason why the second season of 13 Reasons Why hasn’t gotten the same social alarm, or even attention, as did its first season, is that it delves into the messy, complicated, systemic reasons why our young people are floundering. Much of the pain in these young people’s stories in this fictional drama stems from their isolation, from their fear of telling their truth to anyone because they don’t think they’ll be believed. Much of what is difficult about the show’s narratives invites adults to see our own complicity with these broken systems. That’s not a truth that is palatable — or one which easily lends itself to social outrage.

In this AlterGuild episode one of the moms on the show shares a story of how her 11 year old son came to her to tell her about something going on at school, and how she then tried to get the school to deal with it, and still nothing happened.

That’s the crux of many of the stories unfolding on 13 Reasons Why.

I love, love, love that the young clergy of AlterGuild — and the many thoughtful people they interview — are refusing to be silent. I love that these leaders are bringing their full selves to the challenges around us, and that they are inviting all of us to step up as well.

In the midst of the craziness and polarization we are immersed in, finding ways to speak our messy truths, to comfort each other through deep listening, and to remember we are not alone, is at the heart of what I believe we need to do. I’m so grateful to both AlterGuild, and 13 Reasons Why, for venturing into the messiness.