(c) Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved
On the second Sunday of every month, we hold a Coffeehouse family service for everyone to enjoy but these services are especially targeted to young families and youth. The video at the below URL relates to the message topic of “Young Voices.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZZZQ1sZqH0
Please click here to listen to Rev. Doug’s message, Please see below to read it.
My messages this month relate to important events in a history of July’s – and what they can still mean to us. Today, I call us to reflect on the brief but significant life of thirteen year old Anne Frank. She epitomizes the title of my message this morning “Young Voices” because of the immense impact she’s had with her diary. Anne and her family went into hiding from the Nazi’s on July 5, 1942.
Anne’s father Otto had moved his family ten years earlier from Germany to Amsterdam – to escape the newly elected Nazi government. The escape was successful only until 1940 when the Germans invaded and occupied Denmark. Life for Danish Jews became increasingly frightening. When Anne Frank’s sister Margot was ordered to report to a work camp for Jewish teens, Otto made plans to hide his family in a secret annex on the third floor of his business.
For the next two years the Franks lived in almost perpetual quiet. It was a silence shaped by their fear of being heard and discovered. To pass the time, the Franks and several friends who had joined them read constantly. Young Anne read too – but she also wrote extensively in her diary.
The Franks lived in their hiding place until it was betrayed by some unknown person and they were arrested. All of the Franks were immediately sent to Auschwitz where they were forcibly separated. Otto was put to work at Auschwitz. Mrs. Frank is presumed to have died in the camp gas chambers. Anne and her sister Margot were sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where they lived until March 1945 when they both died from a typhus epidemic. Only four weeks later, the camp was liberated by British soldiers.
Otto was the only member of his family to survive the war. When he returned to Amsterdam and searched the hiding annex, he discovered Anne’s diary which filled several notebooks. In 1947, the diary was published and it was an instant best seller.
Today, The Diary of Anne Frank is required reading in thousands of high schools. It is one of the most widely read books around the world not just for its details about the Holocaust, but also for the insights young Anne had on life, people, relationships, and being happy in the midst of suffering.
What is especially remarkable is Anne’s youth at the time she wrote her diary. She was 13, 14 and 15 years old. One of her first diary entries said this, “Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I’ve never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl.”
Anne often questioned the value of what she wrote. Early on, she thought of herself as too young and immature to be able to write anything meaningful. As time went on, however, she gained increasing confidence not only in what she wrote, but also with the opinions she shared with others in the small group of folks hiding with her.
Her family and the others often did not take Anne seriously and yet she persisted. She realized she had opinions that were important and wise. She not only discovered an inner reservoir of self-confidence, she found her so-called “voice”.
As a teenager enduring hardships most of us will never experience, Anne arrived at, and then beautifully communicated, insights that influenced both her family and the larger world.
How she communicated her perceptive views have made her the greatest diarist of all time. Her young voice – and her willingness to share it – gave her greatness. But that is something possible for any of us – and especially teenagers and young adults. Far too many people, myself included, often believe we have nothing worthwhile to say, stand for, or strive to achieve. Anne struggled against thinking that way when she wrote, “Who would ever think that so much went on in the soul of a young girl?” But a lot did go on in her soul – and a lot goes on in each of our souls too – no matter how young, or old, we are. By thinking we have nothing to say of value, we silence our unique voices. We don’t share ourselves – and our ideals – so that we, too, achieve a figurative life after death that impacts others for good. And while I say this to everyone here, I especially mean it for those who are chronologically young – those between 13 and 40: find your “voice” and then share it. We each have a gift of ourselves to offer the world.
Only a year before she died, Anne wrote in her diary, “I don’t want to live in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”
Anne, however, had already written down pieces of wisdom in her diary that give her the lasting life she desired.
Among her profound thoughts, she wrote, “We have many reasons to hope for great happiness, but . . . we have to earn it. And that’s something you can’t achieve by taking the easy way out. Earning happiness means doing good and working, not speculating and being lazy.”
And here’s another, “Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy. I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”
And another, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
And another, “No one has ever become poor by giving.”
And another,“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.” That is an eloquent analogy for how any one person can be a light of goodness in a world of hate.
And finally her most famous and frequently quoted statement, “It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”
Anne Frank’s voice is one of charming idealism but also one with deep perceptions on how best to live a joyful and useful life even in the midst of pain and challenge.
I admire her wisdom at such a young age – and especially her ability to articulate her ideas in writing. I didn’t truly find my voice until I was fifty when I became the minister at the Gathering. Because that congregation was willing to see if I could be a half-way decent speaker, and I mustered the courage to take on the role of a regular Sunday speaker, I finally found my voice. It’s not perfect, or great in any way, but it’s mine, and I use it to promote values important to me – ones like empathy, humility, serving others, and kindness.
I lament that it took so long for me to discover my voice. I don’t recommend that for any young person. From my own hard won experience, I encourage youth to be bold like Anne Frank – and many other people who found their voices in their youth – ones like Emma Gonzalez who was a student at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School during the mass shooting there. She’s now a famous gun control advocate who has testified to Congress, given speeches to large rallies, and influenced gun laws.
There is also the Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai who survived a terrorist attempt to kill her because she encouraged girls to get an education. She’s now given speeches around the world, raised millions of dollars for her cause, and is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Or, there is Lillian Lennon, a 19 year old transgender activist who, with her bright pink hair, was primarily responsible for the defeat of Proposition 1 – a so-called bathroom law in Alaska that would have required persons to only use a restroom designated for the gender of their birth.
To find your voice, like these amazing youth, I suggest four steps:
First, be authentic. Be real. Be you. We all try to please the largest number of people possible, but the most important person to please is ourselves – and we can only do that if we live true to who we really are. Be proud of what makes you special. Be proud of your thoughts and opinions.
Second, I suggest that before one learns to speak their voice, one must learn to listen. Be willing to hear what others have to say. Absorb their advice and learn from them. Be open minded and extend to others the same respect and listening that you seek for yourself.
Third, figure out what makes you compassionately angry. What are the things you see in this world that upset you because others suffer from them? What makes you feel especially compassionate because someone endures an injustice?
Fourth and finally, after you’ve determined things that make you compassionately angry, what are the changes you’d like to see that will fix them?
Once you’ve taken these steps, you’ll likely feel empowered to be part of the solution – to influence your family, your friends, the groups you belong to, and your wider community. Speak, write, advocate, and above all serve. Not all of us are activist types but even with a quiet voice, a diary, letter to the editor, or an example of helping, we can speak our unique voices loud and clear.
As a young teen, forced to hide in a small, dark space 77 years ago this July, Anne Frank found her voice and through her diary spoke to hundreds of millions of people of hope, laughter, joy, and human decency. All young people, like Anne, have tremendous wisdom to share. I encourage everyone to find our voices and then use them.