Two generations apart!

So I believe this is my thirty-fourth year teaching confirmation class for middle school students. I teach this class weekly during the school year for two years, covering half of the Small Catechism each year. This year I have eight students, four of whom are new and four returning students who will be confirmed next spring.

On my drive home last night, it occurred to me that I am now fifty years older than my students. That is two generations of space between us. On the one hand, that makes me feel old. On the other, it makes me feel young. For about ninety minutes each week, I enter their world, teaching them the timeless of truths of God’s Word. I love hearing how the Gospel applies to their world, which is a very different place than when I grew up.

This year I have a parent sitting in each week so I’m not alone with the class. Last night’s mom commented after class, “I feel like I should go home and slap both of my girls!” (She has two in the class.) I told her that wouldn’t be necessary. I’ve gotten used to the unique dynamic of teaching twelve to fourteen year old youth.

I like a lot of interaction, questions and answers, shock and awe, and of course, laughter. So to the casual observer, the class looks and sounds chaotic. There are often several conversations going on at the same time. We change subjects often. We pursue wild tangents. Amazingly, we just about always end up at the Gospel, which is the whole point, right?

Here are a few things I’ve noticed that haven’t changed and a few that are radically different in the lives of the middle school youth that I get to teach.

  • Algebra and Geometry are still hard. (I never thought so, but I’m a math guy. I liked that stuff.) We sometimes plot graphs, solve quadratic equations and do a couple of proofs, just for my amusement.
  • Every kid in this year’s class has an iPhone. No Android devices in this group. From what I understand, phones are mostly used to watch YouTube and look at memes. Most have a Bible app loaded, but I make them use a print version for most of the class. Siri is an entertaining ninth person in the class, too.
  • Teachers are still totally unresonable. According to my students, they assign way too much homework, hand out referrals for no reason at all, and rarely smile.
  • Friends are still extremely important. Everyone tosses the names of friends around when we talk about relationships, trust, forgiveness, betrayal, feelings and love. That is where the rubber hits the road.
  • Sin is hard to identify. They are all little Pharisees who don’t worship idols, haven’t murdered anyone, haven’t stolen anything, and honor God’s Word in worship, Sunday School and youth group. It takes many weeks to reveal the selfishness, materialism, jealousy and hate in their hearts and minds. Pretty much just like adults.
  • Even though they are exposed to a lot of violence, corruption and sex in the news and video games, they cringe when I speak honestly about blood, crucifixion, war, sexual immorality, abortion, and other graphic Biblical topics. The looks on their faces was priceless last night when I talked about Moses tossing blood on the altar and on the people as a part of God’s covenant with them in the Old Testament.
  • At times their knowledge base is extensive. Other times it is limited. I have had to delicately explain “circumcision,” a “blunt,” “prostitution,” what contitutes “sex,” and what really happens when an abortion is performed. When I do, I always report to my parents the topics that came up. I’ll bet you don’t envy me.
  • This year’s group is unique in that they are all involved in worship and most are present for Sunday School and serve in youth ministry as well. For the first time this year, I told a family who wanted to send their kids to class that they were welcome to attend, but I wouldn’t confirm them. This family historically is way too busy to ever attend worship. I wasn’t very nice about it, though. I think I was having a bad day.

Imagine your grandfather teaching your confirmation class. Yep, that’s me, gray hair and all. It sure makes me feel younger though. That’s why I keep coming back for more.

Trust, old marinara and wet dog.

wet dogAs I reflect on last night’s confirmation class, I can’t get a couple of the student’s comments out of my mind.

The first came in the context of discussing the eighth commandment. I asked, “Do you know anyone with a really bad reputation.” Everyone shook their head yes, but one added some detail. “Everyone knows this kid is a liar, a thief and dishonest. But I trust him.” Every head turned and stared. “No really, he has my back.” Interesting choice of friends.

The other came in response to the casual question, “So how’s school?” “Ugh, I hate culinary arts! The classroom smells like a combination of old marinara and wet dog.” I’m familiar with both smells, but never thought to combine them.

Teaching confirmation class for seventh and eighth graders (and this year, a few in high school), is a unique experience for me and the young people. Altogether we met about fifty times over two years, getting to know a lot about each other. I get to know them better than many of those who joined the congregation as adults. They also get to know me better than most who attend worship. We develop a unique bond during this time.

s-Market-MarinaraThat relationship means so much. They may not remember everything I taught them. But they will know they can talk to me when life begins to happen, everything from graduations to children and beyond.

 

Taking the fifth

Screen Shot 2017-10-31 at 2.30.11 PMLast night was fifth commandment night in confirmation class. “You shall not murder.” So we ran through the gamut of the best known killing sins, from murder to abortion to euthanasia to suicide to manslaughter.

I guess my lesson gets pretty gruesome as I describe each, because several of the students bemoaned, “Do we have to talk about this?” “That’s horrible!” “Why are we even discussing this?” Which I find very interesting, because they are all gamers to some extent. They spend time in virtual worlds shooting people, crashing cars, blowing up zombies, and waging war. But when you actually sit down to talk about real killing, they get uncomfortable.

Perhaps that’s a good thing. We spend a lot of time in a virtual world of sorts, where shootings, explosions, fires, storms and epidemics fill our news feeds. Most of them don’t directly touch our lives, so it doesn’t bother us too much. It’s not till you sit down and talk about real killing — on your street, in your family, at the school — that we start to pay attention.

Maybe we need to talk about that more. We need to talk about what it really means to take care of someone in hospice, or with an unexpected pregnancy, or who has killed in war or law enforcement. Perhaps then we would understand the depth of this commandment and the importance of life to our Creator. We would better understand what we think are the “lesser” killing sins: anger, hate, bullying and hurtful language. We would better grasp what it means to take care of our lives, exercising, eating right, and getting enough. And maybe – just maybe – we would be moved to take care of others’ lives.

But if the class was uncomfortable talking about death, just wait. The sixth commandment is up next. Time to talk about sex!