When There Aren't Any Words

Talking to young people about life and legends and leaving a legacy.

Yesterday the world lost a legend. Kobe Bryant was a legend on the basketball court as well as in his daily life. We are shocked. I was on the phone with my son when he said I think Kobe died in a helicopter accident. I said, “Are you sure? It’s probably a hoax.” But unfortunately, a quick Google search confirmed the tragedy. Shocked.

I’m sure we are all asking the questions. Why? Why would God take him when he was so young? Take his daughter? Take the other parents and children in the helicopter as well? Good people gone so quickly. It doesn’t seem fair. So what do you say?

The honest answer…I…don’t…know. There is just no answer. It’s a question we ask every time we lose someone. And, we are not God. However, we know that God is good, and that there is more to our lives than this world. We must find the positive in everything that happens. When we are focused on finding good, we begin to heal. Somehow we need to cling to the idea that our lives have a purpose. We must celebrate the lives of those around us, taking advantage of every moment and being present with the people we care about the most.

When talking about losing a legend, like Kobe, it’s helpful to talk about legacy with young people. What is the legacy that Kobe will leave behind? What are his accomplishments that the world will always remember? What kind of things can we do on a regular basis in our own lives that help us to leave our own legacy? When we experience loss, it is often a time for us to readjust our own priorities.

No matter if you live or work with young people, make sure you are having the conversation. It is through discourse that we are able to process our emotions. Give teens and young adults the opportunity to express what they are feeling. Allow them safe places to ask the hard questions. And be OK with not having all the answers. Sometimes we just don’t understand, and don’t have the words to make it better.

Praying for Bryant family and for the families of those who were with him.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not depend on your own understanding,” ~Proverbs 3:5

Exile, the Prophetic Witness & Message of Peace

This is the second week of our Advent discussion. We are taking a look at the Exile, and how we can relate to the feeling of being exiled in different circumstances today. We will continue the Advent lectionary in Isaiah and look at his message of peace and the hopeful future he envisioned. Be sure to listen to the podcast to hear some thoughts and ways we draw the connection between scripture and our world today.

Teaching Points:

We probably cannot overstate the significance of the Exile as the matrix in which almost all of the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures are situated. It would have been the dominant experience on the minds and hearts of both writers and hearers of the vast majority of the Old Testament.

Scripture Reference:

2 Kings 17:5-23, 2 Kings 25 and Isaiah 11:1-10 (Advent Lectionary)

  • The passages from 2 Kings describe the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17) and the Southern Kingdom of Judah (2 Kings 25). It is helpful for readers to understand that Jerusalem was in the Southern Kingdom and was understood (by the Judeans, at least) to be the best or “most authentic” place in which one could worship the God of Israel. Thus, there was always some tension between the two kingdoms and a sense in which Judeans look down on Israel as being “less than” in their worship. This influences the tone in which the various kings are presented and the justification for Israel’s having been conquered some 125 years earlier.

Discussion Questions:

  • Certainly one of the themes that emerges as we read about the Exile is the truth that, like so many of our histories today, stories are often written by the “victor” or dominant party and never given unbiased renderings of past events. Where do we see that in our own time? Who gets to write our contemporary histories? Who decides the authors of how history is recorded today? How can this impact perception for future generations?
  • Another important recognition when we talk about Exile is that we know the end of the story, but they did NOT. We have to be careful when we only read or focus on those passages that speak very hopefully about a future to come; we must also remember that there was tremendous despair and hopelessness that came in the midst of the experience of Exile. Where do we experience this in our own lives? Are there times that we feel we are in the “wilderness,” and we really don’t know if things are going to turn out “ok” or not? (The podcast has some good discussion around examples in teens/young adults’ lives, please take a listen.)
  • [Side note: we are not taking much time to address the considerable passages of lament and disappointment found in the Psalms and in others of the prophetic books. They may warrant some mention and an acknowledgement that there is tremendous emotional depth and breadth as the people struggle through their reality and cry out to God for understanding and relief. This begs a potential question about whether we are good, in our own time and place, at acknowledging sadness, feelings of hopelessness and our human need to lament at some times. Do we just try to gloss over the really difficult realities that some folks are facing?]
  • What image does Isaiah use in verse 1 to symbolize rebirth? Why do you think he uses this particular item? (Make sure you discuss the how a tree changes with each season, and how to keep a tree healthy, etc.)
  • Who is the “He” referenced in verses 2-4? (An heir of David) How does Isaiah describe this person?
  • What is the new natural order that will take effect in verses 6-8?
  • The lectionary reading for the Second Sunday of Advent once again presents a beautiful vision for a hopeful future in which parties that we might expect be antagonist toward each other are able to peacefully live together. Where might we need such a vision in our own lives? What is the difference between embracing God’s vision for a hopeful future and just pretending that everything is fine?
  • This week for Advent our focus is on love. How do these verses in Isaiah bring a message of love to us today? Where do you see love in your life? In the world today? How can you bring more love to those around you?

Podcast

In the Beginning…

Many teens struggle with the creation story.  Once they start learning science and  history in school, things no longer add up. We are living in the information age and teenagers have that information at their fingertips. So, it is our job to help them know how to filter all that information to find truths. It is also VITAL for us, as people who live and work with young people, to give them space to explore their thoughts on faith and life. Providing a safe place for teens and young adults to see how faith, science, history and life in general collide. If we don’t clear away time for this, there is a high probability they will walk away from their faith.

So, why not start in the beginning. Below you will find some resources below to help you walk through a small group discussion. Remember to give space for questions and don’t feel you have to have ALL the answers!

Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Students will understand that there are two creation stories in the Bible
  • Students will learn the value of both stories

Scripture Readings: Genesis 1:1-2:3; Genesis 2:4-25

Teaching Points

  • First, acknowledge that there are two creation narratives. They are completely different and demonstrate very different attributes of God. They cannot both have literally happened.
  • The first narrative is organize and poetic. On each successive day, God calls elements of the created world into order out of the existing chaos. It point us to a God who is organized, calculated, and in control. It is worth noting that this is a story about bringing order out of chaos, not a story about creating the world out of nothing. In this story, male and female are created at the same time, as the culmination of the creative process.
  • The second narrative is less organized and much less poetic. It jumps from subject to subject and from creative process to creative process. In it, the male human is the very first creative act.
  • There were many, many creation narratives being told at this time in history. Most of them involved a god (or gods) who created the earth or elements of the earth by slaughtering/conquering other gods. It is notable that in both of the narratives in the Bible, God is portrayed as peaceful, non-violent, and is perfectly capable of being creative without being destructive or threatened by other deities.

Discussion Questions:

  • What have you learned in school about creation/evolution?
  • Why did the biblical authors include two creation narratives? Why be confusion? Why not just pick one?
  • What is valuable and instructive about each of these creation myths?
  • Are there any dangers in over-literalizing these stories?
  • What might it mean for us to let go of the notion that these stories happened and start viewing these as stories that happen on an ongoing basis?
  • Is there anything helpful or empowering about considering that God might be persistent, creative in overcoming obstacles, adaptable, or some of the other qualities we see in these stories?

Resources:

 

 

 

 

What the what?!

How often do you give teens or young adults the opportunity to ask the really hard questions? I mean the really hard questions about faith/the Bible. We are about to embark on a study this school year that will help you, especially those youth leaders, like myself, who have not been to seminary, dive into a Bible study that will allow the Bible stories teens learn as children to collide with the knowledge they gain in middle and high school.

We MUST give them a safe place to explore and ask questions now before they leave us. So often we see young people leaving high school and leaving their faith. I believe there are several reasons for this fleeing, but one excuse is that they never make faith their own. The church does not give them the opportunity to grapple with their faith and really question it. Teens so often are afraid they are going to hurt our feelings if they question us, so they just go along to make the adults around them happy, giving us all the canned answers to our questions.

Throughout the school year, I will be teaching a high school Sunday school class along the way, they will be my “field study group” as we develop questions. There will be podcasts for you to listen to and/or to share with your group and this blog will give you questions to ask. It doesn’t matter if you are a youth leader, Sunday school teacher, small group leader, or young adult, we hope that this study will help you navigate through the Bible in a new and exciting way, and in the end, we pray that it will help you draw nearer to God and strengthen your faith. If you chose, these studies can all be done one after another, or pick and choose the ones that fit into other studies you are doing.

Here is how I recommend you begin week one with your group:

Start with expectations during the study of the group. What are the expectations of the students/teens of one another and of the leader? What are your expectations as the leader?

How would you describe the Bible to a non-believing friend?

Establish it wasn’t meant to be a science or history book.

Look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Ask the following questions:

  • When Paul wrote this, what did he mean by “ALL” scripture? (OT, the gospels were not considered scripture yet.
  • What does it mean to be “inspired” by God? Has God ever inspired you? Has the Bible?
  • The Greek word “theopneustos” is being used here and translates to “inspired by God.” See if students can guess the meaning of this compound word: “theo” (God) and “pneu” (to breathe out).
    • Interesting that scholars think Paul made this word up because it is not found anywhere prior to Paul using it here. What are some words that have been made up in our language in the last 5 years? Why are new words made up?
  • When else have we read in the Bible about God breathing? (Gen 2)
    • We are going to get to this story next week, but why is God’s breath talked about in Genesis? (God breathing life into man.)
    • How is God breathing life into man similar to God breathing into the authors of scripture?
    • What about His breath actually breathing into scripture?
    • Is scripture alive? (You want them to get to a place where they see that it is alive and relevant in our lives today.)

What Biblical stories did you learn as a child that now you think, “What the what”?  -start a list-

Ask if anyone can (or maybe see if they can work in groups) write out a Biblical timeline (this only works if you students have grown up in the church).

There are plenty of resources available, but I have found Making Sense of the Bible by Adam Hamilton helpful and the basis for this lesson.

Let’s start this journey together with our young people. You don’t have to have all the answers or agree with everything we discuss in the podcast/blog. The important point is to just open up the discuss and allow teens the opportunity to ask questions and make their faith their own.

Reaching College Age Students

Summer is here and so are our college students! What are you doing to interact with them in your faith community? We always think it needs to be a blown out program, but ministry with college age students can be simple and meaningful all at the same time. We talk about this very thing today in this podcast. I am excited to have Rev. Laura White, a lead pastor at a church in Ashland, Rev. Kyle Woodrow, the chaplain at Mount Union University, Char Messenger, Regional Coordinator and Director of Discipleship at a church in Canton all with us to talk about how they have connect with college age students in their contexts. I hope this will inspire you to find some way this summer to reconnect or begin a relationship with a young adult in your community. This is the first podcast in a series we are doing about reaching this age group, be sure to check out more to come!

We are all welcoming…but not affirming

We are Christians, of course we are nice to everyone! There are few members of our congregations who would say that they are not welcoming and nice to ALL people who want to come to “our” church. The kids in our youth groups would say the exact same thing because that’s how we raised them. That is…until someone who isn’t like us walks through our doors. That “someone” could be of another ethnicity, another race, another socioeconomic background, another sexual orientation, then we may be welcoming, but only to an extent. Let’s be honest. Anyone different than us is welcome to come to “our” church, and we will even allow them to become a member(after all, it could mean more money in the plate each week to help us pay the electricity bill), but when they start wanting to join committees or lead our children,  or join our Sunday school, that is where we draw the line. You see, it is time that we realize that just being nice sometimes isn’t enough. After all, Jesus went above and beyond just being nice. He had conversations, He sat down and ate with those who others dismissed. Even some of His inner circle of disciples could be seen as “less than.” So, let’s dig deep and really evaluate the difference between being welcoming and affirming. This podcast is an honest conversation on just that and what it means in our churches/youth groups. For more information on the Trevor Project 

Info about United Methodist Church’s advocacy for justice is here.

Moving Forward…Through Hurt

We have all been hurt one time or another by people (those we love or perfect strangers). Sometimes those that hurt us do it intentionally; other times, it is inadvertently. There are times people hurt us, and they never realize what they have said or done affected us at all. So what do you do? How do you handle hurt that comes from another person? While there are lots of options, ignore, confront, talk through it, move on, hurt them back, your decision has the biggest impact on yourself and your own mental health. As a United Methodist, I am navigating life post-general conference while trying my best to rise about the hurt, move on and find ways to focus on the things that matter most. This podcast addresses the pain that has been felt on all sides. What I have come to realize since general conference is NO ONE is going to “win” no matter the direction our denomination decides to take. Someone (many people) will be hurt. So, I am choosing to start asking God to direct my actions, my path, my decisions in ways that don’t cause pain for someone else. My prayers are not about denominational decisions, my prayers are about people. God, help me see people the way you do, love people the way you do, treat people the way you would. God, help me be more like you, help me make this the most important thing in my life today.

***Picture credit: http://www.freepik.com