As part of the Lenten journey, invite youth to consider just what it means to follow Jesus.
Though we sometimes boil Christianity down to simply giving intellectual assent to a set of beliefs and declaring public our allegiance to those beliefs (something Marcus Borg calls "salvation by syllables"), it's hard to ignore that the gospel writers describe the Christian faith as something more -- evidenced by how much emphasis they place on how Jesus lived his life as a road map for the journey all followers of Jesus are challenged to take. I recently challenged my youth to consider what it would really mean to follow Jesus -- not just believe in him -- but walk the path he walked.
I started by adapting an idea suggested recently by a reader of this blog. I invited the youth to rank, in a perfect world, how important the following should be in their lives: friends, family, God, school, sports, Facebook, hobbies. I then asked them to rank the items again, this time being honest about how important each truly is in their daily lives. Of course, for most of the teens the rankings on the two lists were quite different, with God often trailing toward the middle or bottom of the list.
I then invited them to imagine that they live in a world, in the not-too-distant future, when it has been determined that religion is the cause of too much suffering and violence in the world and so is outlawed. That means that Christianity is no longer legal in the United States. My question to the youth: "If you were living in this future, could you be arrested for being a Christian? If someone looked at your life, would it be obvious to them that you are a Christian, and what would such a life look like?"
To aid this discussion, I provided youth with a handout that included a list of a variety of Jesus sayings from the gospel, particularly those related to social justice and encouraged the teens to consider if they could be accused of doing any of these things for which Jesus is remembered.
This was not an easy conversation. It was challenging for the young people to consider to what extent their faith is "lived" or simply something they have "declared." We considered how difficult it would be to follow all that Jesus does in scripture, and whether or not the goal is to be just like Jesus or simply to do our best to walk the path Jesus walked. We also talked about God's grace, even when we fail to do what we know we should. Ultimately, I hope that some of the youth left the conversation thinking a little more seriously about their Christian walk, seeing it not simply as a one-time decision but a life-long process of joining in God's mission of peace, mercy, forgiveness, justice, and grace for all.
You can download a PDF version of the handout for this activity here.