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A person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (such as God) is unknown and probably unknowable, A person who is unwilling to commit to an opinion about something, A person who is uninterested…  (Webster Dictionary)

Every semester, I ask my students at Chestnut Hill College how they would describe their young adult generation: Religious, Spiritual, Agnostic, Atheistic.  When I first became a professor of Religious Studies at CHC fifteen years ago, my students would respond in equal numbers with either Religious or Spiritual.  Keep in mind, Chestnut Hill College is a Catholic institution, and at that time many of my students had come up through the Catholic school system.  Religion was a part of their practice because it was woven into their educational experience.  Yet, with all that experience they still had very little depth to their actual faith journey.  Religious to my students meant keeping the rituals.  Spiritual took on a different meaning.  Those students were curious… unsure of what they believed but interested in trying to figure it out.  Those students were willing to experiment with ideas and practices to see what ‘fit’ their understanding of the world.  Admittedly, some of my students came up with some very unusual conclusions, but at least they were willing to explore the possibilities.

But now… my students almost unanimously describe their generation, and by association themselves, as Agnostic.  They just don’t care… about the questions of faith… about the purpose of life… about much of anything.  They are agnostic in the full sense of the word- “uninterested.”  Trying to generate a discussion with today’s students is like pulling teeth.  I start the semester by defining ‘agnostic’ and then letting my students know that to pass my class they will have to leave their agnostic ways at the door.  They will need to engage with the questions raised in my class whether they are interested or not.  They don’t need to agree with me, but they will have to think with me. Then begins the pretending of interest for the sake of the grade.  My students will sit with their laptops open, ostensibly ready to take notes, but what they are actually doing is surfing the internet.  Some try to hide their phones in their laps, under their desk, texting friends while we discuss.  I ask a question, to which my students reply, “Can you ask the question again?”  Teaching in this environment is frustrating… disheartening… so you might wonder why I continue semester after semester.  Surely, I have enough to keep me busy at Lenape Valley.  But I stay in the classroom for students like Chase and Shavasia, who are curious and thoughtful.  They may be few and far between, but those yearning hearts are worth slogging through an agnostic haze.

This year, my CHC experience has been countered by the joy of Monday nights at Lenape Valley.  Every Monday, I have been privileged to share dinner and study with eight teens and their energetic Youth Director.  These teenagers have chosen to share a journey of faith.  They are curious, energetic, a bit irreverent at times, but eager to consider the claims of the faith.   For eight months this unusual gathering of teenagers has been kicking the tires of those Bible stories told to them as children.  They have asked questions… wondered about the possibilities… tried to find a good partnership between what they are learning in science class and what the Good Book claims.  They have considered together who this Jesus really is… a man… a good man… a sad story of how evil triumphs… or is Jesus God… Savior… Lord?  Quick, simple answers have not been enough for this group.  I can’t just say, “because the Bible tells me so…”  I so appreciate their challenge, and their yearning desire to understand and find the Truth… even the One who is the Truth.

Last night, that group of teens stood one at a time before the Elders of the church and their families to share their faith statements.  Some took baby steps- their statements containing more questions than faith claims.  Hallelujah!  Every question they ask is an opportunity for discovery.  Remember the interaction of Thomas and Jesus after the resurrection.  We judge Thomas for doubting, for insisting that Jesus show his wounds for Thomas to believe.  But Jesus rewards Thomas for bringing his doubts and questions to him by allowing Thomas to be the first one to touch the risen Jesus.   I dance every time one of these students questions, because I know what Jesus can do with a wondering heart.  Then there were other students last night ready to take their stand, claiming the faith, even taking bold leaps toward Jesus.  I watched as Jesus was right there to catch them in a loving embrace.  My tired heart is renewed like the dawn in the afterglow of last night.

But lest you think that you have missed the opportunity to be encouraged as I am by these young people, have no fear!  On June 5th, this extraordinary group of teens will lead us in worship, sharing their energy and their faith journey with all of us.  Please pray for Natalie, Matthew, Laila, Anya, Erin, Dani, Eric, and Katarina as they prepare for June 5th, but even more, pray that this step is just the beginning of a life-long journey.  Join us on June 5th at 9am for worship led by our teens, followed by a Celebration in Fellowship Hall at 10am.  There will be joy in the house of the Lord that day!

With you praying for this emerging generation,
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