I didn't get a chance to post anything about the last day of the youth ministry forum. I had my German exam that morning and then I was exhausted, and then a F/friend from home visited for several days, which was fun, and then...well...I guess I have no excuse for the last several days. I've just been vegging out and not doing much of anything besides a bit of work and taking care of the kiddo.
Anyway, the last day of the forum was also excellent. I attended the final session by Douglas John Hall in my extended seminar, "What Christianity is Not." Then I went to electives called, "Lifecasting: Teens & Technology" by Andrew Zirschy, and "The Courage to Hope: Caring for Troubled Youth" by Greg Ellison. The conference rounded off with another plenary lecture by Andrew Root, author of Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry. All of these were excellent, but I'll try to just give a brief summary of their main points and what stood out to me.
Douglas John Hall entitled this lecture, "What Christianity is Not: a 'Religion of the Book.'" I found this very interesting, because he pointed out that it is not the Bible which is the Word of God--even according to the Bible. Instead, God's Word is living. It became incarnate in Jesus Christ and is active in the world today. Read without this living Word, the written words of scripture are meaningless. To me this seems like a very Quaker idea, but he backed it up with staunch Protestant names: Calvin, Luther, Barth, and going back further, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. It's good to know Quakers are in "good" company! Read through Hall's eyes, I actually like Barth... Hall emphasized that God's Word is prophetic, meaning it can't be once for all time, it can't be something codified and contained in a book. The Bible is a reminder of God's action throughout history, but we listen to the Word today because the living Word is a Zeitgeist, the Spirit of the times, speaking into our current context words of prophetic hope and peace. At the same time, Hall emphasized we need to get to know the Bible. He said, "Christianity isn't a people of the Book, but without the Book it isn't Christianity." I think both sides of this are things that we as Friends need to remember, and it is this very delicate, paradoxical line that often divides us. But we need both.
The elective on teens and technology was also excellent, and connected much more with youth ministry, which was helpful. Andrew reminded us that youth turning 19 were born in 1990, the year the Worldwide Web was created. That's pretty crazy! Anyone 19 and under has grown up with the Internet(s) as commonplace. He talked about ways teens are changing technology, and ways technology is changing teens. Basically teens are changing technology by making it ever more a tool for social connection. But technology is also changing teens. Although we have Facebook, what are such social networks doing to "face-to-face" interactions? Why are teens (and others) so drawn to such online social networking opportunities? Why do teens feel the need to text people all day and even throughout the night? (He told us that teenagers are the lowest demographic of people in the USA with computers who don't have email addresses--lower than the over-70 demographic. Why email when you can text?) Andrew's main point was that youth desire true intimacy, and they're looking for it in places other than the church, because they're not sensing that kind of intimacy available in the church. He asked the poignant question, "Does your church serve communion, or is it communion?" In Quaker circles maybe we would answer, "None of the above," but the point of our time of silence (whether for the whole meeting for worship or only a portion) is designed for us to commune with God. That's all well and good, but do we commune with others as well? Do we intentionally live communion in a way that creates intimate relationships with others in our meetings, and spreads out to others in the world? Andrew suggested this is much more important than whether we have the newest technology in our meetinghouses. What teens are looking for is relationships, not technology--they only use technology as a tool to build intimacy.
After lunch I went to the "Courage to Hope" elective. Greg Ellison taught the course and did an excellent job. I think the teaching style itself was one of the most interesting things I learned in the class. He incorporated drama, video, role playing (unbeknownst to the rest of the class he had several participants role play "troubled youth" throughout most of the class period), small group and partner discussions, and passionate speaking. The information he taught was also important. It fit well with the "Lifecasting" session, although from a different angle. Basically, both classes were emphasizing the fact that youth have no real place or purpose, and that can lead to loss of hope. Youth who can, try to fill this void with technology, and with trying to create intimacy, to be known, through casting their lives out on the Internets, pleading to be seen by someone, anyone. Other youth are made to feel invisible because of their race, class, disability or something else, and they lose hope over their future. They don't even feel safe to be seen, so "Lifecasting" might not be very appealing to them. Instead they act out in anger and violence either against themselves or others. Ellison suggested "solution-focused brief therapy," where you help with someone in this state of despair to use solution-talk (not dwell on the past), think of exceptions to their negative view of the world, and do role plays or imagination journeys where they think of themselves at the end of life, giving advice to their grandchildren (which means they have already made it that far, so they must have a future!). He based a good deal of this, he said, on Donald Capps' Agents of Hope (even though he, ironically, went to Capps' school and was made to feel invisible because of his race).
Andrew Root's lecture covered a lot of what he wrote about in his aforementioned book, but it was good to hear it again. He tried to bring his ideas down to earth by giving suggestions for real youth ministry. He said a real relationship has to be both open and closed. A major problem with "relational" youth ministry as it is often practiced is that the youth minister thinks they have to be always open: they have to be always available, an open book, for youth to come around at any time. Instead, a real relationship needs to have boundaries. This makes a person real, gives them dimension, not just a person I can use to meet my own needs but someone who has needs themselves, who has struggles, who has places of mystery. We need to create boundaries or barriers around ourselves that not only protect our own personhood, but also show others where they themselves stop and we begin. It's a process of helping us all become more truly human, and in the midst of this process we encounter the Divine Presence, who is there in the midst of our contextual suffering and unknowing. In this way we become partners with youth, on a journey to encounter God more and more fully, as we help one another become our true selves.
So, that was the conference, and my last seminary credit! It was a good way to get my last credit and I'm grateful for the experience. I have one more little thing to do for German and then my Masters of Divinity is complete! Graduation will be in a couple weeks, then we head home to the beloved Northwest.