Affirm Youth Questions:
“I need proof that God exists before I believe” was the beginning of rich and meaningful, ten-minute conversation initiated by a youth. As I listened, I was privileged to get a glimpse into this junior high student’s complex thoughts on science, faith, and eternity. At the end of the conversation, I affirmed their questions as being rich and meaningful- questions that many of would like answers to. There was a look of surprised puzzlement when I said that it wasn’t the church’s job to make anyone believe in God. “It isn’t?” they asked. “Then what does the church do?” My answer is that the church is a community of people who worship and serve God while asking important questions and trying to figure out the answers together. As if on cue, fellowship snacks were set out and the donuts proved more interesting than conversation.
Later, during youth group, I facilitated an experiential group discussion about what and how we know what we know about God, what seminarians call the sources and norms of theology. The goal of this exercise was to increase students’ understanding and practice of theology and to generate ideas for an art piece we will be creating on our upcoming retreat. At the retreat an artist will help us express our understandings of who God is, and who God is not, visually.
Describe God in One Minute:
The discussion began with each person writing as many adjectives about God as they could in one minute. Kind, loving, righteous, and all powerful were some of the many responses. We also took a minute to write down nouns representing images of God. Creator, rock, shepherd, light were some of the descriptors written on the whiteboard. Then, we wrote adjectives and nouns describing who God is NOT on the reverse side of the whiteboard. The youth wrote that God is not evil, racist, hateful, death, Santa, war, or darkness. I found that part of the exercise to be surprisingly powerful.
With the whiteboard full of words describing our understanding of God, it was time to critically examine the claims we had made. Referring back to confirmation, we discussed what Wesleyans call the “Quadrilateral.” The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is often attributed to Wesley, but was actually a phrase coined by Albert Outler. It is a tool for thinking theologically using Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience, which are the sources of theology.
Use the Wesleyan Quadrilateral:
Each corner of the youth lounge became a corner of the quadrilateral where an object from the room, chosen by the students, symbolized the source. The Bible represented Scripture, a hymnal represented tradition, a traffic cone (which youth spontaneously decided to put on their heads) represented reason, and a small fan represented experience. Together we chose three of our words from the whiteboard to examine critically. Students rotated around the corners of the room, giving them a chance to use Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience to evaluate the claims we were making God. Here are some of the ways the students evaluated the claim that God is the Creator:
Scripture: Genesis 1, God creates the universe.
Tradition: In our Baptismal service, the thanksgiving over the water references the waters of creation.
Reason: According to one youth, this gets ”controversial” because people think you can only believe in science or God, not both. We talked about how the Bible is not a science text book, but a library of writings collected and saved because they help to reveal who God is and why God created the universe. In our tradition, faith and science are fully compatible; both are unique gifts which, together, help us more fully understand the world and God’s hope for all creation.
Experience: Human diversity and individuality are beautiful examples of God’s creative nature.
These recent conversations reminded me that youth are not only capable of having deep conversations, but yearning to have them. Adults, too, are longing for these rich experiences. The quadrilateral is beautiful tool that can be used by all ages as we seek to know God better. May our churches be communities where people may ask important questions and search for the answers together.
I can’t wait to see what our finished art piece looks like. My friend Nicole Farley from A New Creation will be our facilitator. She’s been flexible and super-responsive as we figured out how to create this piece. Stay tuned for the finished product!