For Youth Workers Post


Will Penner

“In the Habit” session for use with devozine meditations for June 1–7, 2015.


“As a high school honors English teacher, I try to instill in my students the activity of embedding quotations in their writing. Most of us love to pop off quotes from our favorite books, speakers, movies, and songs. Social media has made sharing them easier than ever. Often, however, we fail to give quotes a context or to explore their depths. Instead, after a brief nod, we move on to the next thing that captures our interest. In AP and college-level writing, students get marked down for quotes that are inserted into the text without some commentary about them. The rationale is that anyone can find a great quote, but knowing how to appropriate its meaning into a particular context is what demonstrates good thinking and writing.” —Will


Will PennerWill Penner has been in ministry with young people for more than two decades in Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches, public and private schools, and as a popular speaker at youth retreats, camps, and conferences. He has served as the editor of both leading professional journals of youth ministry and has authored or edited numerous youth ministry curricula and books, the latest of which is It Happens: True Tales from the Trenches of Youth Ministry. But most important, he is the husband of his amazing wife, Christine, and the father of five fantastic children ranging in age from six to twenty-three.



Bring the group together. Invite each person in turn to read one of his or her favorite quotations and then to tell the group who said or wrote it and why he or she likes it.


Scripture: Psalm 1

Invite group members to read Psalm 1. Ask:
       What does it take to make a tree grow?

Enlist some students to pour potting soil into a pot, to bury a seed, to give it a little water, and then to put it in the sunlight. Pause for a few moments and stare at the pot until everyone gets a bit uncomfortable. Then ask:
       Why hasn’t the tree grown yet?

The point is that trees need time and continual nurturing to grow to the point at which they will produce the proper fruit in the proper season. People are a lot like trees. We shouldn’t expect to receive quick snippets of wisdom and then immediately become experts in the field. We need to be fed and nurtured regularly so that when the right season arrives, we will bear fruit that is appropriate for the occasion.

Why, then, are we satisfied with 140 characters or fewer as our primary communication media? Why are we content with memes or images with no text? Why are we so willing to latch onto a song lyric, a scripture verse, a Shakespearean script, and other one-liners without truly delving into the meaning behind them?

One of the quickest ways to lose points in an Advanced Placement (AP) essay is to throw in a quote that has no context or commentary. Graders consider that extremely lazy. You hurt yourself more by doing it than you would if you had left out the quote altogether. So teachers try to help students learn how to embed their quotes within their writing. Embedding a quote needs to go beyond saying something like “This point is illustrated by the following quote . . .” A truly embedded quote must add some amount of commentary—for example: “Despite Maria’s vicious intent toward Malvolio in the letter he read in Twelfth Night, her insistence that ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them’ resonates with many who find themselves in positions of potential power or influence that they did not seek or expect.”

Ask group members to choose one of their favorite quotes and to create a short paragraph in which they embed the quote in commentary of their own. Encourage them to go beyond merely summarizing or paraphrasing the quote. Instead, they should add context to it, provide a brief anecdote (a short story) in which it occurs, or describe how the principle suggested by the quote could be applied to a contemporary issue or situation.

Walk around the room as people grapple with their quotations. Some will do fine with little interference from you. Others will rush through as quickly as possible without adding much of their own because they’re not thinking about it deeply. Try to push them to add a few additional sentences and go deeper. Still others will be completely lost and not know where to start. Ask some guiding questions about the meaning of the quote, trying to get them to simply explain to you what it means using words that are not in the quote itself.

If some group members are still stuck when one or two have finished, you might ask those who have finished to read their work. Sometimes having an example is helpful. Those who have finished should either be directed to help others (if they have the disposition to help, rather than simply doing the work) or they should tackle a second quotation.

Once most of the group members seem to be finished, invite volunteers to read aloud their paragraphs. Ask:
       What was difficult about the assignment?
       In what ways did you think more deeply about your quote because of the activity?

Mention that, as difficult as it is to embed another’s quote into our writing, it’s even more difficult to embed meaningful ideas into our lives.

Even quotes that get retweeted thousands of times make about as much difference in people’s lives as that seed has made in the potting soil. In order for an idea to take root, grow, and become fruitful, it needs to be nurtured over time. Take these ideas and meditate on them regularly in order to fully embed them in your life, remembering that some of the best ideas come directly from scripture rather than from songs, movies, magazines, or other media.


Invite the group to pray with you this prayer:

“God, we hear a lot of messages every day. Some are good messages; some are not so good. Help us to pause long enough to allow some of the good messages to get through, to change us, to mold us, and to develop us into better versions of ourselves. Help us to drown out enough of the clutter in our lives that we can learn what you would have us learn. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.”


  • Suggest that group members look through their diary, journal, Twitter feed, Facebook posts, Meme forwards, and so on, searching for pithy sayings they have reposted. Ask them to spend a few moments at the end of each day this week writing a paragraph in which they embed the quote. If they find that some are not worthy of their time, ask them to consider why they bothered reposting them. If the quotes are worth the time, in what way can developing their own commentary strengthen their appreciation of the quote?
  • Ask group members to consider these questions: What are some central themes you have to share? What lessons have you learned in life that others might decide are retweetable? Then invite them to try expressing their own ideas in ways that might be quotable.

—from devozine In the Habit (May/June 2015). Copyright © 2015 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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