This conference, the first (and possibly only) of its kind has been such a blessing. In these short 2 1/2 days I have learned and absorbed so much through listening and engaging in conversation with professionals, volunteers, non-christians, deeply conservatives, deeply liberals, etc. It is exciting to know that within these times of conversations and learning, we have not been offended, put-off or beaten down by opposing views or positions. We've offered respect and honor to one another, a willingness to listen to differing opinions and opposing viewpoints. What if we could teach such communication skills to the children and youth in our respective countries (7 total)? What would the future hold for the Church?
The day began with a rousing and inspiring key-note by Almeda Wright, Assistant Professor of Religion and Youth Ministry at Pfeiffer University (Misenheimer, NC). Almeda's topic was "Personal Jesus, Public Faith" which asked the question "when does 'my' Jesus become 'our' Jesus"? Her talk argued that youth are confused by serving in Christ's name. They see community service as something that fulfills an obligation, not an extention of our faith. They don't feel empowered to be involved with things they worry about, especially those in relation to civic and political service. Youth are comfortable with religion that makes them feel good, helps them make good decisions and their own problems or troubles as if God is a cosmic butler or divine helper. Youth prefer to keep their religion in the private part of their lives, not in the public portion. So, what if God needs them? What if He requires something of them? There is the challenge. Almeda suggests that we need to help them see God as more than their personal butler, but rather as a powerful and transformative part. God needs them to want to publicize their beliefs. Rather than apologize for him, what if they were proud to serve others in his name?
After a short break, I attended a workshop about the spiritual significance of the dinner table. Liz Perraud discussed why the dinner table is an opportunity for parents and children to share in faith formation. In today's world dinner is less defined. It is more about convenience then about tradition. We eat dinner in the car, at separate times, or in front of the tv or computer. But what if were intentional about carving out time in our day to meet as a family around the dinner table. No tv. No cell phones. No computers. Perraud challenged us to redefine dinner: what happens around the table, becomes the table. By starting early, parents can establish an important and vital dinner tradition that allows for spiritual growth for every member of the family. Set the table with serving dishes so each family member can serve others by passing the dishes to one another. Be willing to listen to one another. Respond to and engage each member in the conversation. By simply taking the time several times a week to have dinner together, families can strengthen their spiritual and emotional lives together.
The next presentation had four separate presenters. The first presenter talked about Godly Play and its ability to help children discover God through play. Children are rooted and grounded more deeply in tradition and faith through this curriculum model. It is imaginative and Montessori based and builds community through the rich history and stories of the Bible. Next we had a video presentation from Faithhouse Manhatten. Samir Selmanovic talked about the importance of interfaith dialogue. Because we have the tendency to see God vertically, up and down, measureing good and bad through higher or weaker, most powerful, richest, etc. Children see God horizontally. God moves sideways, using symbols and metaphors that are unexpected. We need to be willing to know God through the strangers we read about in the Bible, and we meet on the street. We do so by making connections with other religions and faiths, not continue to separate ourselves.
The third presentation was by my personal hero, Shane Claiborne. Shane encouraged us to promote the importance of being more like Jesus. Today non-Christians view Christianity and church as anti-gay, judgemental and hypocritical, to name a few. He challenged us to recapture our imagination on how we do faith formation. We need to help youth and children learn that people are transformed by love and grace. Good news spreads best not from force but thru fascination. How can we help this generation to naturally be moved to put others before themselves and live in the light of Christ. We must put flesh on our doctrines in order to share them with others. And we need to be honest about our contradictions and hypocracy. Kids and youth long for authenticity, and we must show them it can exist in Christ.
The final presentation was by another hero, Joyce Ann Mercer, and her writing partner, Dori Baker. They discussed the voices of girls. God rises out of the voices of the oppressed and voiceless. We need to start listening to what girls have to say, and about how they feel. We need them to redifine how they are accepted by society. Rather than outward appearances, we need to help them see the value in their individuality, warts and all. And we have to stop letting the world define who girls should be. Jesus listended to everyone, including the women and girls he spent time with. We must follow his example.
Tomorrow morning I'll share more about today, but honestly, I'm beat. So much to take in such a short period of time. Good night!