Reclaiming and Living Covenant Youth Supplement
This study is designed as a youth supplement to the Reclaiming and Living Covenant Lenten study for adults. However, it can also stand on its own. Reclaiming and Living Covenant was originally prepared for the Baltimore-Washington Conference of The United Methodist Church. In that study, we brought together covenant themes from the lectionary Scripture for Lent (year B) along with social policy statements of the UMC (the Social Principles and the Book of Resolutions) and videos highlighting faithful responses to the many ways that racism manifests in the world. This study for youth features edited versions of Scripture engagement exercises, an activity or video clip and related discussion for each week, a recommended Social Principle for discussion, and a “take action” item.
While the study focuses on antiracism themes and offers interpretations of Scripture that helps us reflect on racism, we intend it to be open-ended and relevant for communities of many racial identities - that is, it’s not just for white people. However, it is written to be accessible for white people, meaning that some of the videos and exercises are designed to draw white people into reflection where they may feel more vulnerable. We recommend previewing each session ahead of time and adapting exercises as suggested/needed, depending on the racial identities of your community.
The introductory material below is excerpted from the full study resource and is intended as preparation for youth leaders. To access the Adult version of the study, including many additional resources, find it here: www.bwcumc.org/covenant.
God’s covenant with us; our covenants with each other
Throughout Scripture, covenants play a powerful role in how we understand relationships. Covenants establish norms and boundaries; they help us understand how we should act, what we can expect from others, and how to prioritize values. Covenants tell us who we are. Covenants are lived.
The Scripture in the lectionary for the season of Lent repeatedly returns to the theme of covenant. We are asked to remember how we are called into covenant with God over and over again, with one another (John 13:34-35), and even with all of God’s creation (Genesis 9:9). These covenants create a web of relationships. We come to see that how we treat each other and the earth directly relates to how we worship and pray (Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 6:1-6).
This web of relationships, and how God uses covenant to bring us hope and promise in the midst of our wilderness wandering (Exodus, Numbers 21:4-9), are also themes that will run through this study. May we continue to look towards the reminder that we mark during Holy Week: that we are bound in covenant with God and with each other through the ministry, life, and death of Jesus. May God’s invitation to renew that covenant and reinforce our commitment to our shared life together refresh our commitment to bold discipleship this season.
On the practices and purpose of Lent
While each day presents us with the opportunity to repent, to turn, to re-turn, and reorient ourselves towards God’s covenant vision for our participation in a holy and just society,
Lent is a particularly appropriate liturgical season for this sacred and timely work. During Lent, we search our souls, confess our sins, and prepare our hearts for the events of Holy Week. We do this holy work personally and in a covenanted community. We consider the ministry of Jesus, who is God’s revelation to us and our path to liberation from unconscious and deliberate participation in personal and social sin. We walk the path of liberation with Jesus toward the events that will unfold in Jerusalem at the cross.
Lent is a time to renew our commitment to the practices of our faith that help us to receive God’s grace -- what John Wesley called the “means of grace.” You can find a longer list of these practices here, but this study will be focusing on reading and studying Scripture, exploring ways we are equipped to seek justice, learning about the experiences of other United Methodists engaged in the work of ending oppression, and creating accountability to and with each other. One of the ways that United Methodists express our commitment to creating a world that conforms with the witness of Scripture and God’s expression of justice is through the Social Principles.
While these topics are always part of our life as Christians and are expressed differently in responses to different needs in society, in recent years, more and more light has been shed on the legacies of racist policies and racist ideas in the United States and in nations around the world. As members of the Baltimore-Washington Conference and the world-wide United Methodist Church, we continue to reckon with this living legacy and our institutional complicity in maintaining it. Bishop LaTrelle Easterling has shared some powerful calls to action in support of justice for all people. We hope this study will draw us into both acts of sincere repentance and tangible reparation as we prepare our hearts to rejoice on Easter Sunday as “Earth and heaven ring with the harmonies of liberty.”
The United Methodist Social Principles
If you’ve never heard of the Social Principles before, you are not alone. While not considered church “law,” the Social Principles are a prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation as historically demonstrated in United Methodist traditions. They are a call to faithfulness and are intended to be instructive and persuasive in the best of the prophetic spirit. The Social Principles are a call to all members of The United Methodist Church to a prayerful, studied dialogue of faith and practice (cf. ¶ 509 UM Book of Discipline.)
It’s important to know that the Social Principles referenced here have been entirely revised over the past eight years. They will be reviewed and acted on by the postponed 2020 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, which is scheduled to meet in August 2021 (at the time of this writing). We encourage you to use the 2021 Social Principles, but if you’d like to see the ones currently “in effect,” you can find them in the 2016 Book of Discipline, available online here. We encourage you to review the Preface and Preamble to the Social Principles to frame our United Methodist understanding of justice as a part of our discipleship before you begin this study with your youth.
Week 1: What kind of worship does God want from us?
Sometimes people accuse Christians of being hypocrites. Can anyone define that word for us?
A hypocrite is someone who says one thing but does another. Have you ever behaved in ways that are opposite the ways you say it’s important to act? In other words, have you ever felt like a hypocrite?
You’re not alone if you’ve ever felt like a hypocrite. This has actually been a big problem throughout Christian and Jewish history… and it’s mentioned in Scripture a lot! One of those places is in Isaiah 58:1-12 (use whatever translation is most accessible for your group; this is from the Common English Bible), which we’ll read together now. These words were written 2,500 years ago. As we listen to it, imagine how many millions and millions of people in those 2,500 years have heard this Scripture.
[If you’re meeting virtually, ask a few volunteers to read the Scripture as you screen share because it’s a longer passage. If you’re meeting in-person, consider having a different reader for each verse, going around in a circle.]
Now take a few minutes to read the Scripture silently on your own. Write down one word or phrase that jumps out at you as interesting, one word or phrase that you’d like to know more about, and one word or phrase that you don’t fully understand.
[Go around the group and ask the youth to share their responses to each category, and address questions as they emerge, including deferring them to the discussion below if appropriate!]
We have recently entered the season of Lent. What is Lent, anyway?
In addition to being the 40-day season when we prepare our hearts and spirits for Easter, Lent is sometimes a season when we practice “fasting,” which often involves limiting your eating to certain foods or to certain times of day. Remember, it’s absolutely not healthy for everyone to practice fasting, so it is totally fine if you’ve never fasted using food before! Sometimes people can use fasting in a way that is harmful for their bodies, and fasting for non-spiritual reasons can sometimes be related to disordered eating. Keeping this in mind, why do you think some people practice fasting as part of their faith? Do you know anyone who has done this? Consider your Jewish or Muslim friends!
Sometimes people “give something up” for Lent. What are things other than food that people could “give up” to help prepare their hearts and spirits for Easter?
In this passage from Isaiah, the Israelites were fasting as part of their religion. Fasting was one of the ways they worshipped God. But it seems like some of them were totally missing the point. How does God seem to be feeling in this passage? What words or phrases from the passage make you think this?
God seems to be saying that God doesn’t even care about the fasting/worship of the Israelites as long as their lives are not following the rules that God has set for how they are supposed to treat each other. Look at all of the phrases in verses 6-9a, like “loose the bonds of injustice.” What do you think these things mean?
Some of these things are big picture things, like “untying the yoke of oppression,” and some of them are things that individuals can work on by themselves, like “sharing bread with the hungry.” What ministries happen at your church where people try to do some of these things? What new things do you think might be good ideas of ways your church can do more of this?
One of the words we use when we’re talking about the rules we have for how we treat our neighbors is “covenant.” You’ve probably heard that word in church before. What does covenant mean?
It can be a hard word to define, but one way to think about how it relates to our faith is that God cares about all of the different relationships in our lives. God cares about how we interact with God, how we treat each other, and how our actions impact people we’ve never met. In this passage, the Israelites were not following the covenant God had given them with their neighbors. For God, it didn’t make sense that they were trying to worship God if they weren’t doing these other things too. God sees more than just our worship.
While there are a lot of ways that our covenants with each other are broken, one of them is because of how racism impacts us. If God cares about “untying oppression” and “undoing injustice,” then surely God also cares about us doing what we can to undo the legacies of racism. As we “do Lent together” and prepare our hearts and minds for Easter, we’ll be having more conversations like this one and learning about ways that Scripture helps us to better understand how to faithfully live out the covenant in all of our webs of relationships, especially as it relates to racism.
Exercise: Race Card Project
It can be hard to talk about race. Let’s practice by writing 6-word “essays” about race.
In 2013, NPR launched The Race Card project, which invites people to write six-word “essays” about their experience of race. As a way to begin to express some of the complicated feelings that can accompany discussions of race, take a few minutes for each group member to write their own six-word essay about race. If you’re not sure what to write, try consolidating a powerful memory, or a feeling, or a question you have into six words. We encourage group members to share their essays as an expression of trust, but no one has to share.
What did you learn about yourself when reflecting during this exercise?
Read and discuss the Preamble to the Social Principles (page 6). This is longer than the other Social Principle readings. Consider inviting different readers to read each paragraph.
If you have yet to decide on a Lenten practice for yourself, consider choosing a practice that relates to something you learned today from our discussion of Isaiah 58 actions that are faithful to the “worship that God chooses.”
[optional additional Scripture reflection]
Read Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21. Are there any themes that are similar to what you read earlier in Isaiah 58?
While Jesus suggests that “we should give to the needy in secret” so that we’re not “showoffs,” when is it important to be public about how we support what we care about?
When can “giving in secret” actually limit the good work we are doing or the cause we’re supporting? Can you think of any examples, real or hypothetical?
What does it mean to “store up treasures in heaven?” Does it mean we shouldn’t invest our hearts and resources in the well-being of others on earth?
Why is investing our hearts and resources in “loosing the bonds of injustice” an important part of our faith? How are we investing our hearts and resources in using the influence we have to bring our communities more closely into alignment with the ethic of God’s Kingdom?
Close in prayer
Week 2: What is environmental racism, & does God care about it?
How long does it take your family to get to a grocery store? What mode of transportation do you use to get there?
Do you know where the nearest landfill is? What about factories? Power plants? Where is the most pollution in your town/city/region?
Have you ever done a trash clean up in your town? What was the weirdest thing you found?
This week, we’re talking about environmental racism, which means how racism and poor environmental conditions intersect. Remember, during Lent, we prepare our hearts and spirits for Easter, and that includes doing some soul searching about how we live and worship.
Our Scripture today is Genesis 9:8-17, which is God’s promise to Noah after the flood. This is an example of covenant, which you might remember we talked about last week. What do you remember about what covenants are?
Read the Scripture as a group.
Last week, we talked about the standards that God was looking for to show whether people were sincere in their worship. These standards reflect some of the ways we live in covenant with each other. This week, we approach the idea of covenant from a different angle.
Almost always in Scripture, when God creates a covenant, there is some kind of symbol associated with it to help remind God and the people about the covenant. Other than the rainbow here, can you think of examples?
[Abraham: circumcision. 10 commandments: Sabbath. Jesus: communion, etc.]
Who are “the parties” of this covenant? That is, who is the agreement between?
[God, Noah and his family, the animals, the land, and future generations to come.]
This covenant is more than just between humans and God, and even more than just between humans and other humans! In this covenant, God reminds us that creation is good. It may seem like the covenant is mostly a promise that God is making to not destroy the earth. But think about it: if God is saying that something is good and shouldn’t be destroyed, then maybe this covenant creates some responsibilities for us, too. What kinds of responsibilities might it create for us as humans?
We can be partners with God in helping to make sure that the earth doesn’t get destroyed again. And while we can’t necessarily control the rain like God does in the Noah story, we can make many choices that influence the environment. What are some examples of big things and little things that we can do to take care of the earth?
[youth might make connections to climate change with this question...because in some ways, humans do influence the wind and the rains!]
There are a lot of things that companies do to the earth that harm it. Have you learned about any of these examples in school, or in books or movies?
[mining, mountaintop removal, oil drilling/spills, exploitative cash crop farming, nuclear waste deposits, general pollution of air/water, etc.]
If we find out that companies do things that harm the earth, what can you do about it?
[protest, boycott, write letters to your representatives, organize your classmates, write letters to newspapers, raise money to donate, etc.]
Often, when companies or governments cause pollution or otherwise harm the environment, people - along with animals and plants - suffer too. And when this happens, the people who suffer the most are usually people of color, and/or people who do not have the resources to fight back or to move away. Do you know any stories about this? Have you noticed this in your own town or city? Who lives far away from stores that sell healthy food? Who lives close to businesses and factories that pollute?
In this video, you’ll see a story about how one community is working together to change an unsustainable farming practice in their town in Kenya. Rev. Kennedy Mwita, a pastor and farmer, talks about the impact of tobacco farming on his community and on efforts to shift to farming chilis to restore the land and improve the quality of life of the farmers (fast forward to the 2:07 mark; 7 min).
Video: chili farming: video on the UM Social Principles
Read and discuss the Social Principle about Environmental Racism (page 10).
In central and southern Africa, there’s a famous Bantu affirmation of the ways that humans are connected to each other called Ubuntu. It means: “I am because you are.” Can you think of stories or lessons you’ve learned in church that sound like this? We are all connected to each other and to the earth; and it’s our responsibility to care for each other, even if it means making sacrifices sometimes.
The symbol of the rainbow found in Genesis can become a symbol that helps us remember that we can help support the spirit of God’s covenant with Noah. What other symbols might be helpful for you to remind yourself of this covenant and its impact on others on a daily basis? Is it a post-it note on your bathroom mirror? A sticker on your wallet? A drawing of a rainbow taped to the inside of your front door or the inside of your bedroom door?
Close in prayer
Week 3: We’ve gotta lose stuff to save our lives? Umm, what?
[leaders are invited to choose one or more of these questions based on your group]
Racism and privilege are big terms. Can you come up with definitions for each of these words? What feelings do you have when you talk about these ideas?
Why do you think racism exists?
Are there any spaces in your life where you talk about racism and privilege with people who are a different race than you? If not, could you find someplace in your community where this could happen? Or could you use technology to connect?
As we continue in Lent, we remember that it’s a time when we think about what needs to change in our lives to make them more like the kinds of lives God wants us to live. One of the ways we can do that is by listening to Jesus’ teaching, and actually using it in our lives. The discussion of covenant happens towards the end of our time with Scripture this week, but it’s coming!
The passage for today is Mark 8:31-38. Jesus is first talking to his disciples, and then teaching in a crowd. And both times, in true Jesus-form, he says some things that the people following him do not understand.
Read the Scripture together as a group.
Jesus starts this passage by talking about his own death. He is telling the truth about what he is going to experience because of his ministry and his message. Do you know someone who has told a truth that others didn’t want to hear? How were they treated? Did people ignore them? Or believe them?
How do you respond when someone tells you a challenging new truth?
Sometimes, people might say things like “my faith is just between me and God.” Do you think that’s true? Did Jesus live this way?
What do you think Jesus means when he says (in verse 35) “All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them.”?
What might we need to lose in order to save our lives? Do you think Jesus is talking about “saving our life” on earth, or in heaven, or both? Why?
When we decide what “we need to lose” in order to save our lives, we first have to take stock of what we have. Together, list different types of things that we “have.” Not just physical things, but other things that we carry with us too. [Leaders, consider the following list, depending on what your youth list.]
Is Jesus just talking about our physical possessions? Is he saying that we should give them all away?
Is he talking about our relationships? That sometimes we need to make different choices about our friends and family?
Is he talking about the version of history that we prefer to tell without questioning whether it tells the full story?
Is he talking about the assumptions we make about other people that influence our choices?
Is he talking about the things in our culture that seem “normal” but that might really be harmful?
How might our response to Jesus’ good news actually make our lives harder? Does that fit with your understanding of how we can “save our lives?” Did Jesus live an easy life? Should our lives be without sacrifices?
Culture is a sneaky thing! It’s what gives us our “default settings” when we’re born into our family and society. It helps us make certain decisions without even thinking about it. Sometimes, we let the default settings of our culture substitute for the covenant that God gave us for how to treat each other. [pause and repeat the last sentence.]
What is one thing in your culture that might actually be in conflict with how Jesus tells us how to live? What might you need to give up?
The default settings of our culture and families often impact how we experience and talk about race. How often do you talk with your family and friends about race? Daily? Once a week? Once a month? A couple of times a year? Never? Why?
How might changing your attitudes or actions regarding race feel like “losing your life and saving your life” at the same time?
Watch 5 Tips for Allies (4 min; a video by Franchesca Ramsey from 2014). Depending on the identities of those in your group, you may choose to discuss some combination of the following:
The experiences of youth who have experienced ineffective allyship (on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, etc.);
The difference between “being nice” and “being an ally;” and/or
Any terms or ideas in the video that were new to or confusing for those in the group.
Read and discuss the Social Principle about Racism, Ethnocentrism and Tribalism (go to page 29).
Think about which of the “5 Tips for Allies” resonates most with you.
Understand your privilege
Listen and do your homework
Speak up, but not over
You’ll make mistakes! Apologize when you do.
Ally is a verb
Most people experience privilege in some way, and we all should work to use what power we have to support others. Which one do you commit to praying about and implementing in your life this week? Think about it as an opportunity to “give up” your comfort and, in some way, to “save your life.”
Close in prayer
Week 4: Sacredness is everywhere, and what that means for us
One of the lectionary readings this week is Exodus 20:1-17, which includes the 10 commandments. As a warm-up for the group, try to name all of them without looking. After you have all 10, rank them as a group from most to least important. Notice what types of discussions come up!
For the Hebrew people who were freed from slavery by God through Moses, the 10 commandments created a new covenant with God and with each other. They were free from slavery, but that didn’t mean they could just do whatever they wanted.
Sometimes people may think that believing in Jesus means that they will automatically be forgiven for their sins and go to heaven. They may think that being free from “the consequences of sin” in an afterlife means that they don’t really need to worry about living in a way that takes Jesus seriously here and now. It’s a similar issue that the ancient Hebrews had! What are the real consequences of the freedom we find through our faith? We’ll talk about this more in our main Scripture below.
[A note for leaders. The passage below is John’s take on Jesus turning over tables in the temple, and the interpretation and questions below are informed by Professor Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish New Testament scholar who teaches at Vanderbilt Divinity School (see Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginner’s Guide to Holy Week, Abingdon: 2018). John’s version is very different from those found in the other gospels, perhaps most notably in that Jesus doesn’t remark about the Temple being turned into a “den of thieves” (cf: Matthew 21:13). In the gospel stories that use that language, it’s easy to jump to interpretations that explain Jesus’ anger as directed at those who rob their neighbors 6 days a week, and then come to the temple without fear of judgement or condemnation. They turn the Temple into a hideout instead of a place of accountability for how to ethically treat their neighbors, which is connected to the ritualistic reconciliation with God. If you prefer to discuss the story with this dynamic, read and discuss the version in Matthew or Mark in that light. Dr. Levine’s interpretation of John’s account is different, though ultimately related in message. We’ve prioritized it here since it’s the actual Lectionary passage for the week.]
In this story, Jesus gets angry (like, really angry) and then says some things that can be pretty confusing. As we continue to prepare our hearts and spirits for Easter, we keep our focus on ways to understand our responsibilities to God and to each other. We’ll read this Scripture and talk about all of these things together.
Together, read John 2:13-22.
Like we said, Jesus gets angry in this story. Have you ever noticed how angry? He’s like, throw-tables-and-scare-people kind of mad. Does this story about Jesus fit with the picture of him in your mind?
Have you ever been told it’s not okay to be angry? When are there times when it’s okay to be angry, and when is it not okay?
There are a lot of different ideas about why Jesus was so angry in this story. But before we get into one of those reasons, we need to know more about what the Temple was like. Here are a few fast facts for you about the Temple in Jerusalem around the time of Jesus:
It was huge - you could fit 12 football fields inside it!
It was a tourist attraction for Jewish people and non-Jewish people, but the really holy places in the center of the Temple were only for certain people (sort of like how in churches, there are some things that only church members or pastors are allowed to do that first-time visitors might not be allowed to do).
It was the only place in the world where Jewish people could make certain sacrifices, which were an important part of their religion.
Jewish people from all over would journey long distances to visit it.
The Temple provided banking services for the people who came from far away and also allowed people to sell things that the travelers might need - including the animals they needed to buy in order to do the sacrifices.
Now that you’re “Temple knowledgeable” (you might know more than your parents do now!), let’s pay attention to Jesus’ words, since they help us understand why he was so angry. After he flips over a table or two, he says “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” Maybe he was mad that people were selling things in the Temple… but Jesus was Jewish, and he knew that for the people to use the Temple for their religion, they had to be able to buy the sacrifices. So, some experts have other ideas. The one we’ll talk about today relies on the fact that Jesus knew the Old Testament really well. Like, maybe you’ve memorized a few Bible verses, but Jesus knew… all the verses. He quotes the Old Testament all the time!
Lo and behold, there is a reference to a time when the Temple “no longer needs to be a marketplace” in the Old Testament; it’s at the very end of the book of Zachariah, 14:20-21. These verses talk about a vision of the future, and a paraphrased version of them reads, “The cooking pots in all the homes of Judah will be as sacred as those in the Temple … and so there shall no longer be traders in the house of the Lord.”
If the cooking pots everywhere -- in the dirty kitchens across the world -- will be as sacred as those in the Temple, do people need to come to the Temple anymore to do their sacrifices?
Maybe they won’t need to do sacrifices at all anymore! Maybe this is about a time when the Temple is transformed and the sacredness inside it and the paths to God that it holds are available from everywhere. It still might seem weird for Jesus to get so angry about this. But look at what he talks about next. Later in this passage, Jesus says that his body is the Temple. His body is what will allow for the sacredness of the Temple to be everywhere; his body is what will make it possible for everyone to come to God in their heart and home without needing to go to a different physical place.
Maybe he’s mad because he sees what the future can be, and he understands his role in it, and the other people around him are having trouble seeing it. Or maybe they don’t want to see it. Maybe it’s easier to keep the sacredness all in one spot. Can you think of reasons why people might like to hold on to the old understanding of the Temple, instead of the one Jesus is talking about?
[If the sacredness is all in one spot, then it’s easier to ignore it in your day-to-day life. The Jewish laws had a ton of beautiful ideas about how to treat other people, but if it’s easier to see those rules as separate from worship, maybe it’s easier for people to ignore them.]
Jesus demonstrates that there is no longer a need to buy things as part of receiving God’s grace. Grace appears -- conveniently or inconveniently -- right in the middle of our regular lives. This means that we have even more reasons to treat others in a way that matches their sacredness -- and our own. When are there times in your life when it’s easy to forget about the sacredness of other people?
What about when you spend money? Do you think about the sacredness of other people then? The way we choose to spend money is one way that we show what kind of world we want to live in… and these decisions can actually impact a lot of people! For example, list all of the people/jobs involved in making a pair of jeans that you buy in a store.
[farmers, cotton harvesters, workers who oversee weaving factories, workers who sew, designers, people who make the boxes they’re shipped in, people who transport them, people who sell them in a store, people who own all these businesses, etc.]
Not all companies treat their workers, or the earth, fairly. And overwhelmingly, the people who are most often exploited around the world are people of color. What are some ways you can learn more about supporting the sacredness of all people with how you spend your money?
If you’ve never really thought about everything that goes into bringing you inexpensive jeans, you’re not alone. And it might be something you’ve not thought about before because of privilege -- maybe your family and friends haven’t been impacted by these complex systems before. Next, we’ll do an activity that will help us become even more aware of how this might work in your experiences.
Activity: Race and privilege
[This activity helps participants identify ways in which they may have experienced privilege. It’s intended as a tool for self-reflection and for youth and to help them raise their awareness of the many ways that they may experience privilege differently from their neighbors.]
The leader will read the following statements and youth will write down a number from 0-2, where 0 is no/never, 1 is maybe/sometimes, and 2 is yes/often. At the end, the youth will add up their scores. They don’t need to share their score with the group unless they would like to, but instead are invited to reflect on their feelings during the activity and any new awareness they have experienced.
You do not think that America is a land of opportunity where anyone can make it if they just try hard enough regardless of their race.
You have felt uncomfortable, uneasy, or angry about a remark or joke or comment about the amount of money people in your racial group have earned.
You have been discouraged from pursuing a particular activity, competition, or class in school because of your race.
You have been accused of theft, or followed in store, or accused of cheating because of your race.
You or someone in your family have been stopped by the police and you understood that it was because of your race.
You or your ancestors were forced to come to the US or forced to relocate from where they lived,
You or your ancestors weren’t allowed to live in certain neighborhoods based on your/their race.
You have overheard people saying that you and “your people” ought to go back to where you came from.
Your family has not employed house cleaners, gardeners, or full-time baby-sitters who are of a different race than you.
You rarely see people of your race portrayed in a positive way to sell a product.
It makes headlines when people of your race star in critically acclaimed movies or television shows.
After the final statement is read, the leader reads this verse aloud - Micah 6:8. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Take a moment to allow youth to add up their “scores.” Higher numbers are reflective of less racial and economic privilege. Discuss what feelings came up during the exercise and what surprised the youth most about the questions and their feelings.
Read and discuss the Social Principle about Poverty and Income Inequality (go to page 15).
Since how we spend money is one way we can show that we believe that sacredness is everywhere, and one way that we can respond to the legacy of racism and privilege in our communities, take a few minutes to research what businesses near your home are owned by people of color. Can you make a plan for how to support their businesses more with your family’s regular shopping? Maybe try a new cuisine with take out or buy a gift card depending on the pandemic safety measures in place in your state.
Close in prayer
Week 5: Seeking Peace with Justice
When have you felt impatient? How does impatience feel? How does it impact your body, thoughts, and conversations with others?
Sometimes, when we live a truth or experience a new truth, it can be really hard to be patient while other people are taking their sweet time to listen, or to see that truth, too. This is particularly true with issues of injustice; how long should we have to wait for wrongs to be righted, and for things like racism to lose their power? How can we gain strength while we wait?
This week, we review a popular Scripture passage and try to think about it in a new way. We notice that God continues to reveal more ways we can live in the light of the truth of Jesus’ teaching and its significance for our lives, during Lent, and all the time!
Read John 3:14-21
Many of you may have memorized John 3:16, but the Contemporary English Bible version, above, may be slightly less familiar. Or maybe you’ve seen people write “John 3:16” on signs to hold up at sports games. It says: “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” What’s your experience with this verse?
Even though John 3:16 is very popular, we risk missing the real meaning of the passage if we only focus on it!
In verse 17, Jesus says that he came into the world so that “the world may be saved through him.” How can the ministry of Jesus “save the world?”
Do you think it’s more common to hear about Jesus saving the world, or Jesus saving individuals? Can both of these things be true? Why or why not?
The end of this passage talks about how Jesus is like a light. We all have many experiences with light. What words do you associate with “light?”
How do you think Jesus is like light?
[Light reveals, it can heal, it can restore. It reflects. Light can even bend around barriers. etc.]
Earlier, we talked about impatience, and about how frustrating it can be to have to wait for other people to see a truth that is so obvious to us. The end of this passage reassures us that “if we do what is true,” we come further into the light with Jesus. In Jesus’ light, we can be seen and maybe even find connection with others. And we can help the light to grow, to spread, and to reveal more of what we need to know, and do.
We can work together to bring the truth of racism into a healing light. How does this idea of telling the truth about racism relate to the web of relationships in our covenant with each other?
One example of how racism impacts lives in huge ways that we haven’t talked about yet is the criminal justice system. What critiques of the criminal justice system have you learned in school, books, movies, the news, current events, or church?
Are there any ways your church is working together with others to try to change parts of this system? If not, what are some things your church might be able to do?
One problem with the criminal justice system is that its attitudes about punishment sometimes seep down into school systems. People focus on punishment instead of helping people heal relationships. Do you see this in your school? Are there punishments that don’t include opportunities to learn and grow, or even to heal relationships?
Responses to situations where people harm each other that do try help them heal relationships are often called “restorative justice.” In this video, we’ll learn about how adding restorative justice programs in schools can have a big impact.
Fairfax County Public Schools - Restorative Justice practices in schools (6 min): https://www.fcps.edu/resources/student-safety-wellness/restorative-justice
Does your school have opportunities like this? Do you think they would work at your school? What do you think are the pros and cons of this system?
Choose at least three organizations in your community or state that are working to reform the criminal justice system for adults, the juvenile delinquency system for children, or the system of discipline in schools and learn about their priorities. Are there opportunities for students to get involved or ways that your youth group or church could partner with the organization?
Close in prayer
Week 6: Strength for the journey
This is the last week in our Lenten study! We’ll focus on gaining energy for the journey ahead; that is, energy to experience the power of Easter and energy to live how Scripture encourages us to live -- especially regarding racism.
We’ve read a lot of Scripture in recent weeks that emphasize our interconnectedness. What stories or main ideas we’ve discussed so far have stuck with you?
[Leaders may choose to summarize as desired, here]
Many of us share the dream of “being bound together in ties of hope and love.” It is often our personal relationships that help us to more deeply understand our interconnectedness with all people. Often our relationships help us better understand new things about the world more effectively than books or school or videos. Maybe they help us learn something about race, religion, gender, sexuality, or disability. Being careful not to rely on stereotypes here, share about how your relationships have helped you reflect on these things if you feel comfortable.
As we prepare ourselves for Holy Week, we remember that even though Easter is coming up soon, we have a long road ahead. Sometimes, it’s so tempting to abandon the covenant God gives us because it is risky. We’ll reflect more about that below with our Scripture exercise and a reflection about communion.
Together, read Mark 11:1-11.
The people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday greeted him like a hero. However, that celebration of Jesus as the new King dissipated quickly as leaders in positions of power heard about the disruptive nature of his Kingdom.
Sometimes, we might want to welcome Jesus into our lives, seeking the grace and salvation he promises. But then we hesitate when we learn more about the kind of covenant he calls us to. We welcome him as King, but do we really want to live by the laws of his Kingdom?
We are constantly presented with new challenges about what the love at the center of our covenant with each other looks like. What’s one thing you’ve learned in the last few weeks about what love looks like as it relates to healing racism?
What stories about responding faithfully to racial injustice -- from this study or from other sources -- remain lodged in your heart? How do they inspire you to act? And, do you see these actions as one of the ways we welcome Jesus’ Kingdom? Why or why not?
Activity: Communion reflection
One of the ways we express and remember the covenant that Jesus shares with us is through Communion. Take 5 or 10 minutes to reflect, write, or draw about what you experience during Communion. What do you feel? What words do you remember? Share your thoughts if you feel comfortable.
[Leaders may choose to play music during this exercise. Consider this instrumental version of the Taizé song: Nada te Turbe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YKEfplzxy0 (5 min)]
Each time we celebrate Communion, we ask God to transform us and send us out into the world to continue the ministry of Jesus, to be his hands and feet. This ministry includes using our gifts, our power, and our creativity to heal relationships and to heal policies and practices that harm other children of God. How can Communion help to remind you of the power we have to incorporate God’s covenant in all of our relationships?
Read and discuss the Social Principle: Basic rights and freedoms (go to page 35)
Commit to one way to continue learning about and discussing antiracism:
Follow antiracism social media accounts;
Watch more youtubers who are people of color;
Explore TV shows and movies that feature complex non-white characters;
Read books in your favorite genre by authors of color; and/or
Choose an action based on the brainstorming in your group!