After working with this group of five teenagers for a few week, two more asked to join the group. They weren’t enticed with milkshakes made from hamburgers and french fries, loud music, or corny games. In the words of one of the new participants, “I just want something real.” And that’s what they got. We talked about the “taboo” issues in the church, from creationism to immigration.
When it came to creationism, kids in that group believed everything on the spectrum. I still remember the heated debate about what the Bible says and what science proves. Eventually, they asked for my thoughts and I pointed them to John 2:1-11. At first, they questioned how Jesus turning water into wine had anything to do with the creation of the world. But, I told them to look deeper. I told them to notice what KIND of wine Jesus turned the water into.
It was the “choice wine,” the good stuff. Not the cheap wine made from a hodgepodge of discarded fruit that found its way to the supermarket shelves with a mass produced twist off cap. This was wine that tasted like it came from the most exquisite grapes, kept in barrels for years… aged to perfection. But, created at the snap of a finger. I remember watching the teens as the lightbulbs started to go off in their minds. If Jesus could create wine with age built into it, couldn’t he create the earth with age built into it as well. I mean, He is God, right?
These teens were learning to see the Word in a new light. They were learning to NOT skip over the passages they disagreed with, but to push into them. I taught them to expose the tensions they find in scripture, to wrestle through what culture tells us is truth and what the Lord says is true. And some of that was uncomfortable.
Then there was our monthly Bible Study and breakfast when we read through the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). At the time, the Syrian refugee crisis was all over the news because there was talk of no longer allowing refugees from certain countries (of the Muslim faith) into the US. I already knew some of the teens had strong feelings on this subject, on both sides of the issue. So, I invited a young women to the group who actually worked with some of these refugees when she lived in Greece.
After reading the Good Samaritan, I simply put down my Bible and said, “Okay, given that passage, what should our response be to the Syrian refugee crisis?” Some were quick to say things like, “We can’t let terrorists in our country!” My response, “Awesome, show me where you see that in the passage.”
I asked them if they had ever spoken to a Syrian refugee. The answer was no. At that point, I introduced them to Emily and asked her to tell them about her experiences. She told them about seeing families leave everything behind, fleeing on a black, inflatable raft, overflowing with so many people that collapse was more than possible. It was probable. She talked about people living in fenced in areas for months at a time, children with little to do…. some of them without parents to take care of them. She talked of the friends she made, the faces she would never forget. And, then I asked my question again: “Given that passage, what should our response be to the Syrian refugee crisis?”
I wasn’t looking for these kids to come up with an answer to our immigration problem. Paid professionals can’t even do that. But, I was asking them to look at the situation and filter it through nothing else but the Word of God, as followers of Jesus Christ. I told them that sometimes we’re tempted to look at these issues through a national identity (as Americans) and not a kingdom identity (as Christians). (Side note: I understand the arguments for the former, but if you NEVER allow the latter to enter into your thought process, you’re missing the point. And for the record… I think the latter should PERMEATE and dictate our thought process as followers of Jesus.)
This is what our group was about. We looked passed geographical barriers in our own communities. We tried to push back against our tendencies to look at things as a Republican or Democrat. We wrestled through the passages of scripture that made us uncomfortable. We did it together… and the number of teens in the group grew. (And no Happy Meal Milkshake was even necessary.)