Are You Grown Up?

READINGS
“If,” Rudyard Kipling (abbreviated and amended slightly for greater gender inclusiveness)

If you can keep your head when all about you   

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when others doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;   

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;   

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all persons matter to you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

    And—which is more—

You’ll be a Woman, my daughter, and

You will be a Man, my son.

READING             Letting the Days Go By, Talking Heads

You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
You may find yourself in another part of the world
You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?


Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again after the money's gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground



SERMON
Time isn't holding us, time isn't after us. Time is letting the days go by.

Do you know who you are? Are you grown up yet?

Perhaps growing up means that “little by little,
there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own,
that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world.” (Mary Oliver)

Or perhaps it’s a process of transformation — of evolving and deepening the ways we know and understand the world and our own role in it.

The days have gone by. It’s a new year. It’s time, in Leslie Takahashi’s words, to hope for, and feel ourselves a part of, the “new that grows from what has gone before, in the spiraling unity of years.” And to ask ourselves again – what might I do differently?

If you are grown up, what does it mean? When and how did it happen? Was it when you found and heard your voice and recognized it as your own? When someone said, “You’re a poet!” and you said, “I know it?” How have your ways of knowing and understanding and behaving changed, and how are they changing?

Letting the days go by,“You may ask yourself, ‘How did I get here?’!”

Am I grown up yet? Did I find my voice? When did it happen?

Not in college. I was not grown up when I finished college.

Maybe it was when I was first married, working my first full-time “real” job. I was 23. I ran the order department at Lender’s Bagels in West Haven, Connecticut, with a glorified title of “Director of Sales Service.” It was a fast-paced environment. I worked hard. Maybe I grew up there, processing orders, keeping inventories, maintaining grown-up relationships with food brokers and truck drivers and warehouse managers from all across the country. I also – uncertainly – fielded and fended off uncomfortable, confusing amorous advances from one of the bosses there in the office.

Maybe I became a grownup while I worked at Lender’s. Or maybe it happened a year or so after I quit, when I went back to visit. That boss told me then that he had been madly and distractedly in love with me. He said that if I hadn’t left to go to business school he would have had to fire me.

I was horrified, and angry, and fiercely relieved that it hadn’t happened that way. Part of Kipling’s century old prescription for adulthood is meeting with Triumph and Disaster, and treating those two impostors just the same. I would not have measured up, I knew. Being fired so unjustly would have devastated me.

If I wasn’t grown up then, I was getting closer. That boss’s revelation was a useful call to wake up and stay awake, on my own behalf and on behalf of all the women whose work lives have intersected with mine since then.


For some of us, there may be one notable event that marks the dividing line between the last gasps of adolescence and adulthood. That event might be a sad or traumatic one, like the death of a parent or sibling. Or, for some of us, adulthood is fully upon us when we become parents. Responsibility suddenly acquires a capital R.

Options close. We may sing “You can be anybody you want to be,” to our children, but we realize the choices we have already made have set limits on our own futures.


What does it mean to you, to be grown up?

Does it mean you are on your own? Does it demand inner toughness and invincibility: to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, to trust yourself when others doubt you, to be neither too good nor too wise, independent, someone to whom all persons matter, but none too much?

Kipling’s prescriptions are challenging standards to consistently uphold, but to some extent they are ones that many of us have internalized. A fierce and responsible independence of thought and action is in our cultural DNA, and it’s actually a part of our Unitarian Universalist heritage.

We find it in our principles – that free and responsible search for truth and meaning, and we find it, strongly, in the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. It turns out that Rudyard Kipling discovered Emerson as a child, and was a lifelong admirer of Emerson’s writings.

There are a various theories of what it means to be grown up. The most well know theory of adult development is the one advanced by the recently retired Harvard psychologist Robert Kegan.


One writer summarizes Kegan’s insights by saying, “Becoming an adult isn’t about learning new things,… it’s about transformation — about changing the way we know and understand the world.”

Kegan’s theory says that people move through phases, evolving the elements that shape our identity and self-understanding from those to which we are subject (and are therefore largely out of our control) towards those we experience as object (and are more within our control).

The first adult phase is what Kegan calls the social one. Psychologist Natali Morad writes:

In the social phase we “experience ourselves as a function of how others experience us. We often take an external view of our ourselves (“They’ll think I look stupid”) and make it part of our internal experience (“I am stupid”). This may mean we take too much personal responsibility for how other people experience us, and look for external validation to derive our sense of self.”[i]

In the social phase we are subject to, or unable to see, the ways we are formed by our relationships, our cultural environment, and cultural norms. This may sound like adolescence, but research by Kegan and others suggest that about 60% of adults fall in this category.

Kegan calls the next stage self-authoring. At this phase, we are more able to understand the ways we are shaped by other people, our experiences and our environment, and make choices about who we are in relation those influences:

Little by little, leaving voices behind,
…there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own..

Kipling’s man, keeping his head, able to be himself with commoners and kings, is self-authoring.

Kegan called the final stage “self-transformational” - very few are said to get there.

This kind of modeling has been applied to spiritual development and faith formation as well, most notably by Robert Fowler.

Are you grown up yet? How grown up? You can read more about all of this if you are intrigued.

But there are problems with these models. They can feel limiting and prescriptive. Women have criticized them for being from a male perspective, and many have criticized them for being culturally biased, without acknowledging the bias. They can feel judgmental: Could I possibly be stuck in that first, social stage?

I do think that Kegan’s and Fowler’s models can give us insights if we use them cautiously, gently, in the spirit of self-discovery. It is very likely that any of us shows characteristics of different phases, depending on the context and on the emotional content of a situation in which we find ourselves.

Natali Morad suggests that the concepts behind these models are similar to the Buddhist concept of an evolving self — a self that is in constant flux, ever changing.

And they are similar to Buddhist ideas around detachment. Detachment is not indifference, it’s a growing ability to see things more clearly, as they are (if that were possible) in themselves.

At the later phase proposed by both Fowler and Kegan (the one, they say, almost no one achieves), a person’s sense of self or of faith is not tied to particular identities or roles or belief systems. Fowler and Kegan say that these people tend to be more altruistic and compassionate. They are able to relate to almost anyone.

Perhaps we might hope for the time, or for more sustained moments in time, where curiosity and delight in discovery prevail. Times where our identity and faith are an ongoing creation that happens through new experience and exploration, formed through and informed by interactions with others.

Formed through and informed by interactions with others.

We are all grown up, and we are never grown up. Growing up is a process of transformation — of evolving and deepening the ways we know and understand the world and our own role in it. We are formed and informed by our interactions and relationships with others regardless how grown up we have become. And so we are always becoming, always growing up.

It is a new year. May we celebrate, together, our continual becoming – as individuals and as a community of faith and action. May we, together, “feel ourselves a part of the new that grows from what has gone before, in the spiraling unity of years.”

 

[i] //medium.com/@NataliMorad/how-to-be-an-adult-kegans-theory-of-adult-development-d63f4311b553">https://medium.com/@NataliMorad/how-to-be-an-adult-kegans-theory-of-adult-development-d63f4311b553>