Echo Student Ministry Parent Forum


Primeval – Stories from the beginning
February 3, 2014, 1:39 pm
Filed under: Genesis | Tags: , , , , ,

Primeval---Title

Prompted by the soon released film Noah, Echo High School just finished a 4 week conversation on the first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis, a section often referred to as the “primeval prologue.” The book of Genesis is well named. Genesis means “origin,” and it is a book about beginnings. It addresses questions about the origins of the universe, life, human culture, evil, pain, and suffering. This section of scripture is a lightning rod for interpretive differences and passionate debate, and I think all the attention might serve to confuse the intended message instead of clarifying it.

The powerful message of Genesis’ early chapters is often obscured by modern debates regarding issues the text does not address and questions the text cannot answer. It is common today to debate what the book has to say about the origin of matter in terms of science, cosmology, evolutionary biology, and so on. People try to make the primeval prologue of Genesis into an alternative theory of origins, and the debate about whether or not to take Genesis literally or whether evolution or creation is behind the complexity and uniqueness of human beings.

We might be guilty here of reading modern questions into an ancient context, and in doing so missing the point. One of the keys to interpreting scripture is to allow the Bible to say what it wants to say, not what we wish it said. We have to avoid the temptation to let questions the Bible cannot answer distract us from the questions it is answering. Genesis is not a book about biology or cosmology. It is a book about theology. The tragic reality for many people is that they will miss the theology of Genesis because they are forcing on the text their questions about origin of species and creation vs. evolution. We can’t afford to miss the point, because the point is too important to miss!

Genesis IS NOT – a science book or a history book in the modern sense. Forcing modern questions and modern categories on this ancient narrative is futile and might actually lead to missing the point. It cannot answer questions that were not being asked (or even imagined) by its original audience.

Genesis IS – a story, or a collection of stories. It is sometimes poetic, sometimes narrative, and sometimes parabolic. Genesis certainly communicates to its ancient audience in the language and style of other such stories from the ancient world, yet it is unique. I think the question of whether or not Genesis is “literal” is the wrong question. The question is whether or not Genesis is true, and that answer is yes. It is beautifully and wonderfully TRUE, in that it is jam-packed full of TRUTH. Yet it does not need to be literal to be true.

I think we obsess in excess over the issue of literal vs. symbolic, as if truth can only be communicated in objective, modern, non-fiction styles. I think the idea of anything being truly “objective” even in the modern world is also silly. Even documentaries and modern journalism betray their bias. This attitude also underestimates how narrative was used to communicate value and truth in the ancient world. God seems to be more concerned with the heart than with the head, and stories and songs are the language of the heart and so they make up much of the language of scripture. Scripture actually gives us an example about how story can communicate truth without being literal. Look at the parable Nathan employs when he confronts King David about his sin with Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 12:1-7.

The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”

5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!…”

What we have here is a story designed to communicate truth best received by the heart and not the head. Nathan has the unenviable task of confronting and correcting a king that though himself above the law. He doesn’t do this with direct, didactic communication style. Instead, he uses the power of story to communicate the truth of David’s sin in a powerful and disarming way. Is Nathan’s parable TRUE? Yes! It might not be literal, but it is true. The rich man is David, the sheep is Bathsheba, the poor man that was wronged and abused is Uriah. In this case, we have both the parabolic story and the more “historical” story of David’s sin against Bathsheba detailed in the preceding chapters. How would we make sense of the story if we only had the parabole form? Would we be debating what color the fleece of the lamb was, or what town the man was from, or who the guest was that required the meal? All these questions are irrelevant to the point of Nathan’s parable.

For people that cannot wrap their head around the magic fruit and the talking snake and the flaming swords of Genesis’ primeval prologue, at least don’t miss the point of these stories because the details distract you. The fantastic and mythic quality of the stories fits well with the other such stories circulating at the time these were originally told. The question remains: does the primeval prologue of Genesis belong to the genre of parable or theological story or should it be read more literally? I tend to lean toward the side of “parabolic” history for several reasons. The narrative itself seems to suggest it with poetic structures and symbolic names. Adam means something like “humanity.” Eve means something like “mother of all.” The trees seem like symbols. There are parallelisms and chiasmus and other forms of poetic structures throughout the narrative.

Whether you read them literally or not, the theological point doesn’t change. These stories were first told to answer the question: “Why are things the way they are?” Why are we filled with spiritual curiosity? Why do we look into the mysteries of the universe and wonder? Why do we long to be more than we are? Why do we crave to be connected to God? Why have we been cast out of Eden? These questions need to be answered whether you view these stories literally or not. Whether or not they are literal is actually not the most important issue. The most important issue is the theology of these stories, what do they teach us about the nature of humanity and our relation to God? How would the ancient audience have understood these stories? What story does the Primeval Prologue of Genesis tell? It tells a story of something beautifully made and tragically marred. A story of paradise created and paradise lost.

When the movie Noah comes out, maybe you should watch it with your teen and have a lively discussion on parable, truth, history, and ultimate origins.



Echo 2013 Review
February 3, 2014, 12:47 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Echo Middle School 2013

We had some excellent conversations about faith and culture in 2013!



Echo Parent Summit – Preparing for the college transition

Echo recently sent its largest graduating class ever out for their first year of college.  I have had many conversations with parents and college freshmen this month, some of them have been encouraging and some of them have been concerning.  Echo reaches many parents with older teens, and for them the college transition is very close at hand.  Others have young teens, and maybe you have even believed the myth that the college transition is a distant dream.  Here is the cold, hard truth: your child started the journey out the door the day they were born.  They will all leave, that is the way of the world.  How they will leave, whether they stay gone, and whether they succeed has SO much to do with how we prepared them for this challenge.  Your son or daughter will leave your door and go face the world with only the tools and wisdom that we have given them.  So what do you want to put in their suitcase? I am not talking so much about “what” as I am about “who.”  So much personal formation happens in this critical window.  

Asher Roth’s vision of college should be alarming to most parents. 

First off, we need to understand that the “script” has changed.  Your teen will enter a college scene that is different from the one you experienced.  College is much more expensive, morality is much more relative, the academic system has experienced shifts in attitude and focus, and the job market they will emerge into is totally different.  I recently heard of a dad talking about how he felt unprepared to help his son navigate the college transition.  He claimed that he went to college in the early 80’s.  His career path was suggested to him by a guidance counselor that knew him well enough to know his gifts, talents, and aptitude.  His tuition was completely funded by grants and scholarships, and immediately on graduation he started a job he worked for the next 20 years.  This kind of story might not have been normal for everyone, but it at least used to be common.  Now, the average student will change majors twice, 60% of them will use student loans to cover the cost (around $30-40 grand a year for a private 4 year college), attend 62 parties per year on average, and only 6 out of 10 of them will find a full-time job after graduation.  The more alarming reality for me as a youth pastor, and the one that Echo has looked most closely at, is the way that people statistically take a “recess” from faith during college.  We have been paying close attention to the research coming out of Fuller Youth Institute and adjusting our programs as a result.  Many students, even those that were involved in strong youth ministries (up to 40-50%) leave their faith in college.  This is alarming, but it is based on solid research.  How do we address this? Here are two “structures” we need to work together to build for each of our students.

1.  A Foundation they can stand on – This is purposefully preparing your teen for life without your guidance.  They are on the way out the door the minute they are born.  One of the things I notice is that young people have a hard time mapping out the “why” of college.  They need to have a vision for college, wandering can be an expensive experiment.  Most students will say that the goal of college is to get an education so they can get a good job.  That sounds good on the surface, but the truth is more complex.  The truth is that learning cannot be the highest goal.  It doesn’t really matter what our kids know if they don’t know what really matters.  From 18-25, huge questions are being answered about identity; not just what they will do for a living but what sort of person they will become.  They will form central convictions during this time that last a lifetime.  They need our help.  Their character will take shape dramatically during these years, as will their values, and those issues of “who” will both matter far more than the “what” of job/career. 

  • Laying the right foundation means we create space for true doubt, wrestling, and complexity while they still have some adults to anchor them.  It means that we anticipate and even catalyze their searching and their questions.  One of the most common complaints students in the research have voiced is that there wasn’t room for discussion, doubt, and disagreement in their churches or their homes when it came to faith.  They were encouraged to have “blind faith” and not to think critically.  We want to introduce our students to the many logical challenges to the Christian faith while we can still have the conversation
  • Laying the right foundation means connecting them to a bigger story.  Students that live on mission: to serve and heal and restore the world, have a much better chance of surviving college with their faith in tact.  This is one of the reasons that a “gap year” is a very good idea for many college students.  Students can defer their acceptance a year, and that year is spent on mission.  It is not sitting around, it is spent purposefully serving the world and discovering who they are and setting their priorities. 
  • We want to a lay a foundation rooted in community.  Relationships matter, HUGELY.  One of the issues here is that it is difficult for them to duplicate the level of community they experienced in youth ministry in college and beyond.  There are campus groups, but many students find “adult church” lacking in the level of relational depth they crave.  We have to be better about integrating them into the life of the church, not as a separate little church for youth, but as vital members of the greater church movement. 
  • Laying a solid foundation means facing difficult tensions and boldly asks the tough questionsThis means we need to address the challenges they will face long before they leave for college.  They need some practice wrestling with the tensions and temptations that will face them in college.  Issues that need to be addressed long before they leave your house include:     Debt – the average college student will graduate with over $30,000 in debt.  That is a heavy load to carry if the average starting salary is under $50k and 40% of them will not be able to find jobs right away.  Parties – The average college student attends 62 parties a year.  This party scene is not even enjoyable to some, according to the research, but they feel like they cannot connect meaningfully without it.  They need help finding another answer to this need to connect.  Dangerous behavior – 40% of college students admit to binge drinking.  Everyone made some dumb and reckless choices in college, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to prepare our students to make better choices! Dangerous behavior includes digital irresponsibility, the pictures of their foolish choices may follow them forever digitally and negatively impact future opportunities. 

2.  A Net to catch them when they fall – We all hope that our child will succeed.  One of the hardest things about statistics is that we can assume hopefully OUR kid will defy the stats.  We hope we have prepared them to succeed, we hope we have given them the tools they need.  Still, we need to also prepare them in the inevitable event of failure.   They are going to mess up.  They are going to miss a class, to struggle with grades, to bow to social pressure.  They are going to be homesick or to be lonely.  How will they respond?

  • Grace – This is the most important thing we can teach them.  It is ESSENTIAL that they understand the heart of God toward them.  Your faith becomes robust and resilient when you learn how to get back up after you fail.  Many students think something like: well, I already screwed up and now I’m tainted, I might as well stop trying.  This is an actual conversation I have way too often.  This is why faith that is based on human merit or behavior will never work.  True Christianity is not about what we do for God, it is about what God has done for us.  Grace needs to be the face that loves wears when it meets imperfection. 
  • 5 Invested adults – 5 seems to be the magic number.  Do you have 5 different adult voices that are invested in the success of your teen? Adults that know them well, know their story, and want to see them succeed in life and in faith? A youth leader, a coach, an older sibling, they need 5-6 voices.  There are going to be so many times when they don’t want to turn to a parent, even if they have the best parents in the world.  What will the net look like that catches them?

These are actual interviews of college freshmen.  I can’t help but notice how much these students needed help in the form of grace and the wisdom of other loving adults! If your student was to fail, what net would catch them?



March 28, 2013, 4:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

justinbaki:

This classic echo series was the foundation for last week’s Palm Sunday family service @ DCC.

Originally posted on Echo Student Ministry Parent Forum:

As we continue to talk about love as a choice and not as a feeling, Sunday’s echo experience brought us to one of the most challenging teachings of Jesus: the call to love our enemies.

Luke 6:27-38 records one of the times that Jesus issued this challenge. This is a revolutionary teaching about love. Jesus turns the conventional ideas about love and fairness updside down. When it comes to love, conventional wisdom says “love those that love you.” This is rational and logical; it happens naturally. It is an easy thing to love the people that are good to us. Jesus explains that for children of God, it is not enough. They are called to love their enemies.

Is this even possible? The word Jesus chooses to use here is agape, which is a different sort of love than the kind you would have naturally for your close friends…

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March 28, 2013, 4:24 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

justinbaki:

Love This! First appeared in summer 2009, but we brought it back to our middle schoolers March 2013. Join the conversation today.

Originally posted on Echo Student Ministry Parent Forum:

In a culture where love is all out of whack, “self-love” has been distorted as well.

When Jesus included the call to “love your neighbor as yourself” in his list of the greatest commandments, he was assuming that people do in fact love themselves. This is a pretty safe assumption to make – we as creatures tend to love ourselves first and foremost, and to put our own interests above the interests of others. Selfishness is a reflexive attribute of our fallen state.

What is different about the world you and I grew up in and the world that first received this teaching of Jesus is the idea of “self-esteem.” We have been told that the most important thing to have is this stuff called self-esteem, that we are to believe in ourselves so we can achieve something important. In this age, trophies are not only for the winners, but…

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March 28, 2013, 4:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

justinbaki:

Out of the archives and repeated this March in Echo Middle School.

Originally posted on Echo Student Ministry Parent Forum:

This series in Echo, we have been talking about love, which is not a feeling, but a choice. When Jesus was asked what was the heart and soul of this whole religion thing – what is a relationship with God all about, the conversation turned to the “great commandment.” Love God with everything, and love your neighbor as yourself. This week it was all about loving our neighbor.

Luke 10:25-37 recalls how a teacher of the law wanted some clarification. His question was: “who is my neighbor?” If I am being commanded to love someone, I want to know who that someone is. This sounds at first like a great question, but Jesus seemed to to think it was the wrong question to ask.

Jesus answers in a very unexpected way. This is a great example of Jesus doing what he does best: masterfully helping people who are focused on…

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March 28, 2013, 4:19 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

justinbaki:

We first did this series back in 2009, but since this was our topic again this March in Echo Middle School, we are dusting off the blogs to keep our parents connected.

Originally posted on Echo Student Ministry Parent Forum:

Love-This
Love is in the air at ECHO! We just wrapped up our first week in our “Love This!” series. Some thought from last Sunday that are worth talking out with your teenager:

Sometimes people talk about falling in love, like falling into a puddle or something…as if it were an accident; completely uncontrollable. This attitude sometimes makes us think that love is some mysterious feeling that we cannot harness – like “the Force.” We hear songs with lines like “you can’t help who you love,” and the general attitude of our culture is that love is something that happens to you. Then we hear about people that “fell out” of love. Brad used to be “in love” with Jen, but then he did a movie with Angelina, and he must have fallen out of love with Jen and then fallen in love with Angelina. Couples that were so…

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