devozine

For Youth Workers Post

WHO R U GOD?

Lanecia A. Rouse

“In the Habit” session for  devozine meditations for Sept 28–Oct 4, 2015.

MAKING THE CONNECTION

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
Mary Oliver

“I was an inquisitive teenager, especially when it came to matters of faith and theology. I was curious about who God was and what being a disciple of Jesus’ God meant. I was one of the youth who were unafraid to ask and always sought out older sojourners who would not give me trite answers or make me feel ashamed of questioning what I was taught about God. When I was 16 years old and discerning my call to ministry, a mentor, to whom I often brought my questions, encouraged me to get comfortable with the fact that I may not fully comprehend certain aspects of God and to allow what I do learn about God to soak in, to inform my being, and to lead me further into the mystery of faith. He also told me that as I continued grow in love and knowledge of God, my faith would become more simple and my theology more complex.

“At the time, his statement didn’t make sense, though I was intrigued by it. Now that I have matured in life experiences and thought, I am thankful that along with guiding me toward answers, my mentor encouraged me to rest in complexities and mystery. Those years and relationships were formative for me and helped me as I struggled to understand who I was and to whom I belonged.

“The teenage years are formative years, as youth are learning more about the world, discovering who they are and what they believe. They have questions about who God is, and they want to know the answers. Our job as church leaders is to create a safe place for questions to be asked and a community to help the youth not only to grow in their understanding of God, but also to live a life informed by what they discover along the way.

“This world is drenched in the presence of God. God’s love, beauty, creativity, energy, and truth are all around us, revealing glimpses of who God is. May this session help you guide your group to be disciples of Jesus Christ as they grow in the knowledge of who God is and to become lifelong theologians who find rest in mystery and grow daily in God’s knowledge and love.” —Lanecia

MEET THE WRITER

Lanecia-Feature-SQLanecia A. Rouse is my name. I am a creative photographer, artist, and writer. I live, love, teach, and create in Houston, Texas. Before becoming a full-time creative in September 2014, I was the Project Director of The Art Project, Houston, a therapeutic art and self-empowerment project of the Bread of Life, Inc., serving my neighbors who lived on the streets of Houston, Texas. Prior to the move to Houston in March 2011, I served in youth ministry for 13 years, most received with the brilliant, bursting, beautiful, youth of Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

STUFF YOU WILL NEED

  • Bibles
  • paper
  • pencils
  • scripture references (listed in “Exploring the Word”) printed on strips of paper
  • bowl or basket
  • small poster board for the vision board
  • glue sticks
  • scissors
  • old magazines (O Magazine, National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, and Nature magazines are usually good. You will want to make sure that the magazines do not have content that will distract or open up conversations you are not prepared to have.)
  • a candle and matches
  • Print-Friendly Version of this session

PLUGGED IN

For generations, Christians have been writing spiritual memoirs, telling the stories of their lives. Each story sheds light upon who the writer understands God to be. In preparation for this session, read or view as many spiritual memoirs (books, blogs, articles, movies) as possible. They can enrich your understanding of who God is from a variety of perspectives. Writers such as St. Augustine, Mother Teresa, Howard Thurman, James Baldwin, Elie Wiesel, Barbara Brown Taylor, Lauren Winner, Gungor, Rachel Held Evans, Enuma Okoro, Shane Claiborne, Julian of Norwich, and Desmond Tutu are a few of the beautiful voices, telling their story of life with God.

CHECKING IN

Before group members arrive, receive some time to think through the session. Invite volunteers and youth workers to do the same. If you are able, plan a time for your leadership team to meet. This could be a time for the team to reflect on the session, to do the activity, and to discuss the questions. If time does not allow a meeting beforehand, email the session to volunteers and youth workers, and encourage them to work through it before the session. This will not only help with leading the session, but will also empower and support the spiritual development of your leadership team.

A great daily practice is receiving time to pray for those you lead and the ministry in which you share. Pray for the time you will spend with the group, for those who will participate, for those who are not present, and for the life of your church community.

When the youth arrive, welcome everyone, extending a special welcome to those joining you for the first time.

Following your welcome, invite everyone to stand in a circle. Invite group members to join you in an alphabet prayer. Invite each person in turn to name an attribute of God that begins with A, B, C and so on. (The first person may begin, “God, we thank you because you are amazing.” The person beside him or her adds “benevolent.”) When the group has prayed through the alphabet, conclude the prayer. This is a great fun way to get group members to pray and also to get them thinking about who God is.

Then introduce the topic of the session: “In the next hour or so, we will be turning to scripture and to our experience to explore answers to this question: Who are you, God?”

EXPLORING THE WORD

Scripture: “I am . . .” statements found in these passages:

This is not an exhaustive list. If other “I am . . .” statements have been meaningful for your understanding of God, include them in the study.

Say this or something similar: “Throughout history, people have asked the question, ‘God who are you?’ and sought answers through prayerful reflection, study, faithful listening, and paying attention. Even though the fullness of God is beyond human understanding and some questions that will only lead to more questions, God has been revealed to creation in ways that lead us toward life and draw us further into the Mystery, into the love of God, neighbor, and self. Jesus lived among us and helped us grow in our understanding of who God is and the way of life God calls us to live.

“In the Bible are dozens of scriptures in which God speaks, saying, ‘I am . . .’ These passages help us grow in our understanding of who God is. We will explore a number of them all the while asking, ‘God who are you?’”

Prepare by printing out the scripture references listed above. Do not include the words in parentheses. Cut the paper into strips with one scripture reference listed on each one, and put the slips into a bowl or basket. Invite group members to draw a slip from the basket, to read the scripture listed, and to search for the “I am . . .” statement in the verse or passage. Once everyone has read one or two scripture references, ask them to reread one of the scriptures and to reflect on these questions:
       What “I am . . .” statement did you choose?
       What does it say about the nature of God?
       What are some ways you have heard, seen, or experienced God as the scripture describes God?
       What questions arise from the “I am . . .” statement that you would like to explore further?

Once everyone has had time to search the scriptures and to reflect on the questions, bring the group together. Invite each person to read the “I am . . .” statement he or she chose and to tell the group what it says about the nature of God.

Invite discussion by asking one or more of the following questions:
       What did you learn about God?
       Of all the “I am . . .” statements, which understanding of God resonates with you? Why?
       Which is difficult for you to understand? Why?
       What has your life with God revealed to you about who God is?
       What boundaries have been created about who God is and what God can do in the world? What boundaries may need to be taken down?
       How have you seen your understanding of God expand since you first learned of God?
       Who or what has helped you grow in love for and knowledge of God?

Within each of us is a deep well of creativity. Whenever we have a chance to tap the well, we express the image of God and we create space for growth, life, transformation, and joy. Being creative can be especially helpful for youth who are learning to think theologically, to imagine a life lived with God, and to find rest in mystery.

Ask each participant to choose one, two, or three of the “I am . . .” statements that either express their faith or push them to know God on a deeper level. Then invite them to tap into their creativity in one of these ways:

  • Write a poem based on the “I Am . . .” statements they chose.
  • Write a letter to God in words of thanksgiving, struggle, question, longing, hope, and/or love rooted in the “I am . . .” statements they chose.
  • Create a vision board using images and words that reflect their understanding of the “I am . . .” statements they chose. Vision boards can be powerful in helping us remember what we believe, long for, and know in times when life may make it difficult to remember, hear, see, and know God.

SHARING IN PRAYER

Ask group members to stand or sit in a circle. Light a candle to signify the presence of God. Invite people to speak their prayer concerns to the community. Then say a prayer, offering God their concerns.

Next, pick up the Christ candle and pass it around the circle, inviting each person to answer the following question:
       When did I see or experience God this week?
If a person chooses not to speak, instruct him or her to pass the candle to the next person.

Once the candle makes it around the circle, close with the prayer below or another prayer:

“God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob:
Thank you for being our creator, salvation, king, the first and the last,
teacher, Lord, good shepherd, bread of life, alpha and omega.

Thank you for being with us and for providing us a way of life and a light in the world,
holy, merciful, almighty, compassionate, truth, steadfast,
the root from which all good things spring forth, and love.

Thank you for all that we know you are and so much more.
As we walk in love and grace, following the way of Jesus Christ,
give us eyes that we may see you, ears that we may hear you,
courage to speak our questions about you and to walk in faith
at times when you are beyond our understanding. Amen.

TAKING IT FURTHER

  • One way to take it further is to invite group members to take photographs that express one or more of the “I am . . .” statements. Invite each participant to write about the images he or she takes. You may want to suggest they use prompts such as these:
           How does this image reflect the nature of God?
           What word, phrase, or scripture comes to mind when you look at this image?
           How does this image and its understanding of God make you feel?
           As you reflect on this photograph and the “I am . . .” statement, how is God inviting you into a deeper or new way of relating to God?

    Have participants email you the photographs they are willing to share with the group along with the “I am . . .” statement connected to the photo. Print the images and use them to create a way for group members to encounter them. Pinterest has a number of simple and attractive ideas for displaying square photography. Or use the photographs as prayer cards with so that the youth can practice visio divina.
  • Another way to take it further is to have a month long series of dinner conversations. Invite people from the church community who live authentically to participate, sharing a meal, telling their faith story, and engaging in conversation with the group. Choose a diversity of people. Make sure you meet with them ahead of time to listen to their stories, to tell them about the group, to answer any questions they may have, and to let them know exactly what you are inviting them to do. You may even want to give them a copy of the “I am . . .” statements used in the session, and invite them to choose one of the statements to help give shape to their story about growing in the love and knowledge of God.
  • If you have a blog, website, or newsletter, have one of the group members interview the guest. With the guest’s permission, ask the interviewer to find ways to use the interview in the group’s media platforms. These stories of faith can be a powerful gift of grace in the life of others who seek to know God and follow Jesus.

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

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