Tuesday, January 09, 2007

    In the "Fish Bowl"...

    We had a really great youth group meeting this past Sunday night. It was one of those nights when I wasn't expecting much to happen -- just a relaxing evening to help us ease back into our regular schedule after the holidays.
    We kicked our program time off by inviting each youth to write an "I am" poem. I gave them sheets of paper with the phrase "I am" written about ten times down the left side. The youth were encouraged to then finish that phrase over and over, creating a poem that would help reveal something of themselves to the group. To my surprise, no one balked or complained "This is like being in English class!" They worked quietly and intently and then many shared what they had written with the group. I've worked with some of these youth for years and even I learned new things as the poems were read. Some of the more interesting responses included: "I am the ink in your pen." "I am the bird who wakes you up in the morning." "I am song lyrics written on pairs of jeans." "I am guilty of thinking with my heart instead of my head." "I am depressed." "I am awkward." "I am curious--I could write a book on anything--even a water droplet." "I am one scale in a sea of fish." Some students were eager to share what they had written. Others shared only reluctantly and some not at all. However, I think it was a good activity for each of them as it tapped into their intrapersonal intelligence and into their verbal/linguistic intelligences. It is important, I would argue, to tap into as many of the intelligences and learning styles as possible when working with diverse groups of youth. In this way, we connect with different parts of their brains and help them to process their faith and their view of the world in different and stimulating ways.

    After this opening activity, we invited the group to sit in a circle and we played a version of the game called "Fishbowl." In this game, one person at a time draws a pre-written question from a hat, answers the question (or "passes") and then the question goes around the circle with each person responding. Only the person holding the question may speak, so there is no debate or commentary going on as people share. In this version of the game, the adults sat on the outside of the circle and were only allowed to add their observations at the end of the round. This approach helps to alleviate the problems of talkative adults who might want to monopolize the activity. Some of the questions were deceptively simple: "What makes you happy? What makes you sad? What is the biggest problem facing teens today?" Other questions challenged the youth to stretch their brains a little further. I was particularly interested in the responses we got to the question: "What is the role of the Church in your life?" Here are some of the responses:
    • The Church is a place I go for guidance.
    • A place I learn about my faith.
    • A place of paranormal experiences.
    • A place I get different perspectives on how the world works and why.
    • A place to come for forgiveness.
    • A place where I am accepted.
    • A place of comfort where I don't have to worry about anything else.
    • Where I go to learn how to be a better person.
    • A place to focus on things I worry about.
    • A place where I find support and guidance.
    Interestingly, no one said anything about the Church's role in salvation. No mention of heaven or hell, which is probably typical for most moderate/progressive mainline churches such as ours. Relatedly, consider some of the responses to this question: "If a person is not a Christian, what happens to them when they die?"
    • I think all people go to heaven.
    • I think what happens is a reflection of what you believe. If you believe in heaven, you go to heaven. If you don't, you go somewhere else.
    • It depends on whether you're good or evil.
    • Some people say they are Christian, but they aren't. It has more to do with how you live your life than what you claim to believe.
    • I think God loves everyone and everyone goes to heaven. I don't think hell comes after we die. I think we live in hell right now -- here on Earth.
    • I believe everybody goes to heaven and Jesus helps some people there learn how to be better.
    • I think you go wherever your particular religion tells you you go.

    The youth offered some particularly thoughtful responses to the question: "If Jesus were here today, what would he think of our technology?"

    • He would think it was a waste of time. We don't NEED it. We just need him.
    • He would think: How come these people can be so smart and so stupid. They can invent an Ipod that holds thousands of songs, but they can't stop having wars.
    • He'd have his own homepage.
    • He'd be shocked at all the technology we've invented to help people and all the technology we've developed to kill each other.
    • He would like it but he'd think we spend too much time with it.
    • He'd be upset that we live over-materialistic lives and at all the money we spend on computers instead of people!

    The ultimate goal of the evening was to not to critique, analyze, or indoctrinate. Rather, it was to create a safe space (the "fish bowl") where the youth could feel free to explore their thoughts and listen to the thinking and experiences of others. In coming weeks, I will incorporate the responses to this activity into our Bible studies and discussions.