Lesson 1: The Reading Groups

Many years ago my daughter and son-in-law asked me to lead a reading group for a few high school students. Before long it became apparent many more were interested in discussing their faith seriously. At present 30 plus high school students meet in my home every month,12 to 20 young adults gather every other month, and 20 plus college students come by twice a year. My wife prepares a fine dinner, and I lead a discussion based on a topic they have chosen at the end of the previous meeting.

My wife and I often reflect how much joy and hope these young people have brought to our lives. Every time we suspect the next group of ninth graders might not show up, they surprise us. Sometimes we wonder if they come, because every young person appreciates another set of grandparents. They say they enjoy my wife’s fine cooking, often applauding as she takes the third entree of the night out of the oven. But beyond that they talk of appreciating what other think about important matters. Notice they speak of “others”, not the “pastor”. They often ask why there are not other places where they can express themselves honestly. I suspect part of our success begins with the opening statement each year: “We have only one rule, no put downs”.

I think you will find the topics they have chosen in the past few years very interesting. They are usually more interested in how Christianity is practiced than what Christians believe.  They often picked something in the news. Thus the title suggested by Penny Risen, “Faith Behind the Headlines”.

The high school youth want to discuss Christian groups they question. Twice in the past year they asked about Westboro Baptist’s anti-government protests at veterans’ funerals. That brought up issues such as separation of church and state, freedom of speech, human sexuality, war and peace, and demonizing those you oppose. They talked about evangelicals at a work camp who told them they were going to hell, because their confirmations were not personal decisions for Christ. They, also, often respond to what is happening to their friends. They examined suicide when a schoolmate took his own life, death when another died of cancer, and addiction when a third went off to drug rehab. Every time their primary concern has been how they could help.

The Young Adults tend to focus on lifestyles. Although they are open to alternate social groups, they still want to know how others perceive them. They are very honest, sometimes asking if others think this or that is a sin. They are not very interested in institutional religion. I think only two or three attend church regularly.

All the groups want to know more about world religions. The college students looked at Islam when riots broke out on their campuses after Ben Laden’s assassination. Most of the Young Adults have studied Buddhism; some practice meditation and mindfulness. The high school kids  talked about the congressional committee and other groups they felt mistreated Muslims. All the groups shared ideas about whether Islam leads to terrorism. The value of sharing was apparent when one of the college students reported on her experiences living in a Muslim nation. .

The posts will be the one page papers I write and send out as discussion starters. Some parents report they have used them to engage their children in thoughtful conversation. I am going to use the first “comment” on each post to summarize the youths’ discussions in hopes this might entice more of you to go to the site and perhaps post your comments there. Scott has updated the site, so we can share our ideas more easily. We would find the discussion as profitable as the youth have.


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