Invitation to Thrive: Transformation Through Transcendence

Pamela Ebstyne King Identity, Spirituality and Religion 2 Comments

Pamela Ebstyne King
Excerpts from her installation address
May 5, 2016
Invitation to Thrive


Part 3:

Transformation Through Transcendence


In the previous excerpt from her installation address, entitled “Transformation Towards Telos, Rev. Dr. Pam King explained how she understands this goal for human development in 3 ways:

  • Conformity to Christ
  • Uniqueness
  • Relatedness


Continuing her discussion of thriving as happening through relationships, Dr. King went on to elaborate:

My scholarship has focused on a particular kind of relatedness—how youth relate to God—or the transcendent.

Transformation Through Transcendence

My research has demonstrated that not all relationships or not all interactions are the same. Interactions marked by transcendence or the sacred have the potential to be very powerful—for both good or for bad. In looking at a very special sample of youth—teens from around the world who were nominated for living with profound spirituality in their own culture—we found that experiences of transcendence informed meaning; they changed the way these youth understand the world and themselves (King, Clardy, & Ramos, 2014).

Transcendent transactions forge fidelity: they provide clarity of our beliefs and our commitment to them, which then inform how we live out our lives in the world.

For these exemplary youth, this sense of transcendence was not just some lofty new-age feeling. Rather, it was an experience of being connected and being known—of encountering and being encountered by something of significance, of something sacred.

As Christians we are not surprised by this “finding.” We know that an encounter with the loving God is transformative. We know that when we encounter grace and love we are altered. We know that when the Holy Spirit is involved—even us Presbyterians know that—we are altered.

We believe in salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we realize that through Christ, we are forgiven, we are not only released from the fear of death, but we are released to a life of love and fullness: of thriving.

For the exemplary youth in this study, mature spirituality or faith was not just a feeling; not just a connection to something beyond the self; not even a list of beliefs or a resume of appropriate and impressive behaviors. No, their lives were lived as a response to their encounters with transcendence.


Their lives were like a living “RSVP.” Their experience of transcendence—for some it was God, others Allah, others being a part of God’s covenant people—this encounter was an invitation. This invitation invoked a response. And that response was a transformation of beliefs and values, goals, purpose, and commitments—and of actions. They lived their lives differently because of their experience.

This is an important point about thriving: Remember that our telos is to become like the image of God in Christ, as our unique selves, but also as we make meaningful contributions to those around us. Transcendence enables us to sustain our parenting, our work, our engagement in society because we understand ourselves as part of a greater work in this world.

As youth today work out their lives—their sense of self, their identity, their purpose, their sparks—they have so many options to follow: Kids are invited to follow people on Facebook. They’re barraged with Tweets and Instagrams calling them to like, to belong.

Religion provides an alternative. It provides a grand story—a story to follow and to belong to. When youth know what story they are a part of, they can begin to find and understand their role in the story.

  • Whether that is the gospel narrative of being a follower of Jesus.
  • Whether it’s aligning oneself with the Jewish concept of Tikkum Olam, of being a part of God’s covenant people in the repair of the world.
  • Or whether that’s understanding oneself as a contributing citizen of a democracy.

Knowing the story to which you belong and your role in that story gives one a profound purpose.

God invites us into God’s ongoing work in this world. When we understand our lives as contributing to a greater story and can live out our role in that story—that’s thriving.

If we understand thriving in this light, then we understand God invites us not simply to accept of what God has done through the cross, but also to accept and embrace our part in God’s ongoing story. Our invitation to thrive becomes an invitation to a new order—one defined by the pattern of Christ.

So when Jesus says, “Follow me.” He’s not referring to Instagram or Facebook. He is referring to a way of life, to participation in his ongoing ministry here on earth.

The Peter Benson Chair

Peter saw the importance of youth identifying their spark—and having adults in their lives who fan it into a flame. I would add that when we see our spark, our purpose, as part of a greater work, God’s greater work of creation, redemption, and perfection, then our sparks ignite as part of a greater flame. And that flame reflects glory and light back to God.

We are God’s agents of transformation and thriving on earth. We need to not only enable youth to identify their spark, but also to understand their spark in a broader light—in the context of the Light of the World.

Peter Benson would often say, “If you have breath, you are on the team.” He encouraged all people to be resources for youth—by not only identifying what gives them passion and what they are good at, but how that fits into a broader story. Peter was fueled by a calling and a vision to change the way America sees and relates to youth. This came from a much deeper place than an individual passion.

Peter Benson was a man on fire. He was no Bunsen burner. And we do not want youth of today to be Bunsen burners. No, we want Benson burners. We want to raise a generation on fire. Ignited, full of God’s love, radiating with God’s light.

As I said earlier Peter helped light my spark. As I step into this position as the inaugural Peter L. Benson Chair of Applied Developmental Science, with God’s grace, I take this torch.

  • I see that my role at Fuller is to make sure that when we talk about thriving and flourishing—we are clear about what that means.
  • In the greater academy, my role is to ensure the rigorous study of the role of spirituality and thriving.
  • In the broader world, my role is to enable those who work with or care for, parent, coach, teach youth to see youth as not vessels to be filled—or fed—or disciplined—or trained, but as sparks to be ignited. Rather than problems or containers or recipients, youth are sparks that are to be ignited in the larger light of Life and be a part of a greater fire whose light further reflects the love of God.

In this day and age, we are faced with so many invitations.
We are chronically invited. We are electronically invited.
We receive invitations to follow, invitations to friend.
Invitations to like, invitations to be linked.
Even invitations to installations.

For me, this installation is a powerful invitation. Those close to me know that I do not take wearing this stole and serving in this position lightly. As I take on this role, I lean into my understanding of telos—that I am called to become more like Christ—but as Pam, not as Peter—and I will do so as I continue to work out my ways of contributing to the world around me. For now, that is to further understand and enable others to become who God created them to be—to thrive. To this invitation I respond, “Game on! With God’s grace.”


King, P. E., & Boyatzis, C. J. (2015). The Nature and Functions of Religious and Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence. Manuscript in preparation.

King, P. E., Clardy, C. E., & Ramos, J. S. (2014). Adolescent spiritual exemplars: Exploring spirituality in the lives of diverse youth. Journal of Adolescent Research, 29(2), 186–212. doi:10.1177/0743558413502534