Let's do a quick word association.
If I said the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, what would you say?
Perhaps you would say words like mainline, traditional, denomination, bishops, synods, liturgical, baptism, Paul, or grace. These are words and ideas often associated with my denomination.
Want to know a word that isn't?
Now there's something we just don't talk about.
Nor do we tend to place much emphasis on the end times.
Yet these two topics – exorcisms and the end times – will serve as the focus of my high school youth ministry's discussions for the next three weeks.
Because when I asked my students what they wanted to talk about, this is what they said.
In reality, this should not be a surprise. Both exorcisms and the end times are a major part of pop culture. Think of the movies, the TV shows, the books, and the magazine articles that address these topics. For better or worse, pop culture shapes students. It influences what they think about and what they believe. So of course students are curious about these things – especially when pop culture has more to say about them than the church.
As I've been preparing for these discussions, I've also been reading Rachel Held Evans fantastic book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. In it, Evans says, “Sometimes taking the Bible seriously means confronting the parts we don't like or understand and sitting with them for a while.”
This is why I will unashamedly spend the next three weeks talking with students about things that are rather taboo.
One of the things that I want to teach my high school students to do is to “keep loving, studying, and struggling with the Bible” - even the parts that make them uncomfortable, that make no sense, and that read more like a horror story than the story of our faith.
I want to discuss these parts of Scripture with students so they can learn to sit with them for a while, in awe, wonder, and sometimes even in horror. These are the stories that I want to teach students to confront rather than avoid. Just as Evans learned to do, I want to help students learn to love the bible “for what it is”, not for what we want it to be or wish it would say.
In her book, Evans concludes, “When we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick it in front of another loaded word we tend to ignore or downplay the parts of the bible that don't fit our taste... More often than not, we end up committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says.”
That's a dangerous proposition – for us, our faith, and the church.
That's why I want to teach students to wrestle with what Scripture says – regardless of how taboo a topic might be. I want to teach students their faith matters in all facets of life. As a result, there is nothing we won't discuss in the safety of the church. I want students to know that faith is not easy, nor is it simplistic. It is, however, real and because it's real, faith is also very messy. Yet, somehow, in some way, God is in the mess.
I want to teach this way because maybe, just maybe, if we courageously wrestle with more than the warm, fuzzy, happy parts of Scripture, students will learn that the messy story of their faith pertains to the messy story of their life in ways they never imagined. Maybe then they'll understand they don't have to pretend the not so great parts of their story away in order to be a follower of Jesus. Maybe then they'll taste grace – the kind of grace that can only come from God and that has the power to change everything – even us.